Always Anxious, Never Relaxed: Notes on a Millennial, Gen Z Problem

Lately, I’ve been thinking about where my perpetual uneasiness, my perennial discontentment, and my constant weariness stems from. I think it’s a millennial/Gen Z/ young person thing to always feel anxious and never feel completely at peace. We live in a fast-paced and demanding world where it always feels like there is something to do and achieve – and that once something is done and achieved, it must be quickly followed up by another thing.

While previous generations were told they either had to become doctors or engineers, there are a million things we could do and be today – there are so many new job opportunities which didn’t exist before. Suddenly, it’s also become attractive to denounce nine to five jobs and strive to be your own boss.

But nowadays, it’s not even enough to have a job – everyone’s also playing an instrument or creating art, travelling to exotic places and spending their nights with friends at bars. Social media makes it feel like everyone is living their best life, even as we struggle to keep it together.

Even a second spent not doing something productive seems like a waste of time. And this isn’t just a pandemic phenomenon, but an ongoing problem which never seems to go away (I’m writing this at 2 am, because it feels quiet and calm and the perfect time to be productive).

Inside, I think we all know what we want from our lives to some extent. We might not know exactly what career we wish to be in, but most of us have an inkling of what excites us and what doesn’t. But the illusion of choices is continuously confusing, and with all of them, what I never feel like I have time for is relaxing, truly chilling, just watching a sitcom, laughing or reminiscing with my friends, or playing tug-of-war with my adorable puppy without feeling like there is a ticking time-bomb at the back of my mind.

Also read: It’s Okay If You Didn’t Do Anything Today

Doing something just because you love it has almost ceased to exist. In lockdown, having a hobby was fetishised; it wasn’t enough to just bake banana bread or paint the sunset, you had to make sure everyone knew you were doing these things, because momentarily, hobbies were fashionable. It feels like we’re not allowed to feel happy privately – you must scream your happiness through a ten-second Instagram story which people will heart react to. We want instant validation for everything we do – otherwise, why did we even do it?

We also don’t talk about how much time and effort goes into things like starting your own business, writing, or playing an instrument. It appears as though everyone is already an expert at what they’re doing, but the truth is we don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes: the years that go into honing talent, the hundreds of rejections, and how being your own boss is less about coming late to work and having a lovely office and more about always having work on your mind, struggling financially, and really just struggling to survive.

People who do have millions of followers on YouTube, a loyal readership and a start-up aren’t given due credit either. There is a notion that anyone can just start making YouTube videos or blogging and they’ll get famous, without any analysis of what it takes to make popular videos and blogs. And then, being moderately popular isn’t great either – 85 followers is nothing compared to someone who has 100,000. The value of a few people who really love your work is replaced by the amount of people who just kind of like it.

At once, life then seems exciting with endless things to do, yet limiting, because everything that could be done is being done by someone who seems to be naturally better at it. Everything seems infinitely possible, yet completely out of reach. Everyone seems happy, and yet, when you meet them in real life, they are unhappy because they want more.

It’s hard to remind yourself that everything is possible, but that it requires hard work and dedication. I often read about how many years stand-up comedians spend bombing on stage and how the musicians who sell millions of records now started singing when they were four and only became amazing years later.

I try to remember how every author’s advice is “just keep writing” – so don’t spend time dwelling on rejections. And I try to take breaks from social media and talk to friends about how they’re really feeling.

Sonali Mathur is a recent graduate of NYU and a writer, bookworm and dog-lover. She tweets @SonaliMathur20

Featured image credit: Swapnil Dwivedi/Unsplash