Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where grumps, groupies and groupers alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about potential and meaning.
I’m ostensibly of above-average competence, but I’m doing fuck-all with my life. What’s wrong with me?
Well, ain’t that just the question of the millennial generation? Everywhere I look, I feel like people in their early adulthood are looking up after years up grinding through checkbox after checkbox, gazing around, and realizing they’re not at all where they expected to be. This is not their beautiful house, and it’s certainly not their beautiful wife, because instead they’re trapped in a spiralized shithole of debt and lackluster employment and bad tinder dates.
There’s a lot of reasons for that. Some are external: many of us came of age in a lackluster economy working for companies with a deeply shaken faith in global capitalism, and it’s really hard to make up for the decreased earning power that came into play at the very beginning of our careers. Others are systemic: the achievement ladder we spend the first 18-25 years of our lives climbing is actually more like an achievement Stairmaster. You put in a lot of work, but at the end of the day, you haven’t really gone anywhere, and all the gold stars and accolades you racked up in school don’t mean a thing when every entry-level job you apply for requires five years’ experience and a PhD.
But some reasons are internal, too, and while they’re, in many ways, the most difficult to tackle, they’re also the only ones you can actually change.
Think for a second about how you spend your time. I’m sure you do plenty of things you really enjoy; maybe you watch a lot of smart, interesting documentaries, or you hang out with all your smart, interesting friends. Maybe you go out to a lot of brunches and happy hours. Whatever it is, though, I bet there’s a good chance that you spend a lot of time consuming things, and very little time making anything. Wait, don’t go! I promise, I’m not about to tell you to take up needlepoint or anything. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.
Seriously, though, I think this is where a lot of the millennial ennui comes from (besides the whole lack of jobs and opportunities and the swirling vortex of debt, I mean). There is a wholesome fulfillment to be found in making something. We’re bombarded with so much content, so much noise and fuzz and flashing light, and none of it’s really ours. At best we shoot some opinions into the ether, and maybe a few friends reflect them back at us in the form of likes or reblogs or enthusiastic circle-jerks. As entertaining as that is, and as soothing as it can be to tune in and shut down… it’s not a way to live a life.
When I say you need to create something, I’m not (necessarily) talking arts and crafts; you don’t need to make your mommy a pencil holder unless that’s what moves you. Maybe it’s making music, by yourself or in a group. Maybe it’s designing an app, or a mod for a program you already use. Or maybe it’s writing an advice column for a little, podunk blog. Hell, maybe you have no idea, no fucking clue what you want to make; that’s okay, too. This isn’t another step on the Stairmaster, 3021; it’s your life. Screw around, try some stuff, mess up. If something sucks, move on; if you hate it, don’t do it again. But eventually, I think you’ll probably hit on something that resonates for you.
I’m not going to pretend that this is going to turn your life around. You’re probably not going to sit down at the pottery wheel and find your calling, become an overnight sensation, and get rich on your magnificent, avant garde vases. But finding your thing, and using it to make something outside yourself, will create some very important space in your brain. And in the quiet of that space, you might just work through whatever it is that makes you feel like your life is made of fuck-all.
I don’t know whether you need a different job, to go back to school, to move to the other side of the world, to dump your significant other or marry them. But getting outside yourself in the way that only creating something can do will help you see things from a whole new angle. And hey, you might make some sick cross stitch or whatever along the way.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.