Confessions of a millennial
Each soul dances to its own rhyme, for each of us is a constellation of countless quirks that make us unique. But we are also the products of our generation.
As the German existentialist Martin Heidegger put it, we are born into a world not of our own making, but instead “thrown into” (Dasein ist geworfener Entwurf) one, which shapes our state of mind (Befindlichkeit).
Born shortly before the euphoric evisceration of the Berlin Wall, we are the fin de siècle children who grew up on the cusp of a new century. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s intoxicating tunes and playing then state-of-the-art Nintendo were once our most passionate hobbies.
Perhaps more than any other generation, we benefited from the most protective parents while enjoying the most prosperous age in human history. After all, the end of the long Cold War held the promise of untold “peace dividends,” namely rapid globalization and military demobilization.
Hence, we “millennials” have often been portrayed as the most materially pampered and historically naive. In fact, the word “millennial” is often deployed derisively (“millennial kasi!”) to imply supposed self-entitlement and unreliability among the youth.
The defining existential element for my generation, however, is not comfort and complacency, but perpetual anxiety. Many of us came of age during global cataclysms, which have scarred many lives.
On paper, many would consider me as someone “who made it.” Just over the weekend, I joined CNN International’s Fareed Zakaria to break down America’s place in the world. The other experts were no less than former British prime minister Tony Blair and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, who now heads the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Throughout the past decade, I have had the opportunity to, among others, give book talks at the world’s leading universities and regularly share my views with global media outlets. I am truly grateful for such privileges, and know in my heart that it took immense sacrifice, especially by my family, and faith in the Almighty to be able to come this far in my life.
What many folks don’t know are the unfathomable difficulties millennials like me have had to overcome throughout the past decade to gain some foothold in our ever-changing world. I graduated from college just after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
If not for the kindness of a former professor who hired me as a consultant, I am not sure how decent my employment prospects would have looked like a decade ago. After finishing graduate school, and while working full-time during weekdays, I formally applied for a job for the very first time.
My prospective colleagues, however, refused to even grant me an audience during the final interview day. It was soul-shattering. Soon after, I hit rock-bottom upon realizing one memorable night that I didn’t even have enough cash to buy gasoline en route to a date. For hours, I had to dig through my entire apartment to come up with enough coins to cover my basic expenses. And yes, I had to ask help from my parents yet again.
Deeply traumatized, I spent the rest of the decade working as hard as I could to avoid the humiliating experience of total helplessness. Over many restless years, I taught as many classes as I could, published thousands of articles, and welcomed any decent side-job offered me.
Living in the shadow of perpetual anxiety, many of us have skipped marriage or have chosen to postpone raising our own families. Ever-rising expenses and precarious jobs hardly inspire the impulse for settling down, even if we desperately seek love and stability.
And here, at the cusp of a new decade, my generation is yet again facing another global cataclysm. A growing number of my peers have lost their jobs after eking out a decade of unstable careers, while others like myself are earning barely half what we did a year ago.
And the twin challenges of technological disruption and climate change are only exacerbating the existential anxiety, which has defined the backdrop of millennial life. Rizal once said the youth is the future of the country. As millennials, however, we need to have a greater say in running our country now, because not only our future but also our very present is at stake.
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