Dear Millennials Header

Dear Millennials — A Letter To The Lost Generation

“You are all a ‘génération perdue!’,” the garage owner shouted at the young mechanic, who couldn’t fix Gertrude Stein’s car fast enough.

Dear Millennials Car

“That is what you are. That’s what you all are … all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

Stein later told the story to her dear friend, Ernest Hemingway, who’s largely responsible when historians today refer to those born between 1883 an 1900 by said name.

What Hemingway alluded to in The Sun Also Rises isn’t lost in the sense of gone, missing or forsaken, but disoriented, wandering, directionless — a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war’s survivors in the early post-war years,” as Samuel Hynes points out in A War Imagined.

When I look at my generation of fellow millennials, I can’t help but feel as if history is about to repeat itself.

Hence, this open letter.

Dear Millennials,

the war is over. It wasn’t a war waged with weapons, but with wires, pixels and bytes. The dot-com bubble has swelled, stretched and burst. Rosen from the ashes of reckless investments and failed IPOs have we…

…the first generation of digital natives.

What we’re left with after this revolution of both technology and attention, is a world that’s changing faster than we can comprehend.

A world full of questions, full of uncertainty and scary decisions. Life feels like an endless game of poker.

But we’ve been dealt the best hand to deal with it. We’ve got so much going for ourselves.

So why do we stand paralyzed as we’re facing a world of abundance?

Looking at the scorecard of wealth, work, health and heart, it’s only in the health department that we’re collectively winning.

We’re YOLO-ing away our financial future.

We know there won’t be any social security system money left for us to retire with, yet we remain blindly optimistic wealth will somehow work its way toward us.

We’re not making enough.

We’re not saving enough.

We’re not investing enough.

We’re not backing up the optimism about our financial future with the actions that are needed to make sure it won’t remain just optimism.

We’re too fancy at work.

Currently, the way we go about our pecuniary and professional careers is…by demanding more work life balance in exchange for our insanely expensive, debt-financed college degrees.

We’re not willing to do ‘menial’ work.

We’re blinded by soda machines and ping pong tables.

We’re hoping for the big payday in the distant future that will never happen.

We’re not rolling up our sleeves and asking ‘What can I do to help here?’, because we feel entitled to something we’re not yet ready to deserve.

We’re immature with our relationships.

Alas, the coping mechanism we’re deploying to deal with the disappointments of work might be our biggest shortcoming of all. We curl up in the safe bubble inside our parents’ homes, deferring commitments left and right.

We’re not marrying.

We’re not having kids.

We’re not moving out.

We’re delegating our sense of belonging to funny baby commercials, hitting a like button and meaningless Tinder dates, running away from the real thing full-time.

We’re called the Peter Pans, the Snowflakes, the Generation Confused of the new millennium. These calls echo from our parents and our grandparents and the worst thing about them is they’re right.

We’re too childish with our money. We’re too soft with our work. And we’re scared stiff with our relationships. 

I can’t help but wonder. What happened to patience? To responsibility? To commitment?

What happened to vision, to trust, to gratitude? To work ethic, to maturity, to self-awareness and acceptance?

We’re told we can have everything, be everything and do everything we want. And we want to believe it so badly we’ve stopped questioning it.

The truth we share with our ancestors is an uncomfortable one: we can’t. 

Even we — can’t.

We have more opportunities than our parents, grandparents or any generation ever before us. Yet we linger in a state of paralysis by analysis, squandering those gifts, ending up months later, having done, been, and owning nothing at all.

But who to turn to, in times of frustration, depression and sadness? I think I know.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien

Above all, one thing is carried forward to us in the comforting words of the man who’s created one of our favorite books and movies: hope.

So I say today let’s not fret. Let’s briefly avert our overly optimistic gaze from a bleak future to an admonitory past, for in the words of another mentor of the ages:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

~Benjamin Graham

As their strong, old words haven’t withered, so shan’t the lessons of history. I implore you:

If you’re a wanderer, if you feel disoriented, directionless – pause.

Pause to reflect on history. Look to where your steps have taken you. Seek the path of those, who have come before you. See where it has taken them.

For only if we honor the past can we build the future we aspire to. So…

Let’s do away with the impatience.

Let’s do away with the fanciness.

Let’s do away with the immaturity.

But most of all, let’s do away with the distant, dying dreams. It’s our turn now. 

Let’s make those dreams a reality by finally committing to our visions in the clouds and sticking our hands into the dirt.

Like Hemingway, born in 1899. Like Graham, born 1894. Like Tolkien, who was born in 1892.

All members of a lost generation. 

I think we’re going to be okay.

Sincerely yours,
A Fellow Millennial (*1991)

If this letter spoke to you, please forward it to a fellow millennial

PS: The number one thing you can do to make me a better writer is break the silence and leave a comment with feedback. What did you think of this article? Let’s make sure the next one’s better – together.

Niklas Goeke

I am a German student on his way to becoming an entrepreneur!

  • Cathelynne Français Walker

    Thank you for the wonderful read.

    I think what sets our generation apart from the rest is not the fact that things have changed, but that things have changed so quickly. In previous generations, it was easier for the seniors to give practical and meaningful life advice to their young, because although society wasn’t exactly the same as back in their day, but it was at least comparable.
    When we look at how much has changed over the past few years, we start to appreciate the strange phenomenon that is the young teaching the old – and how frequently this has been happening of late. While all generations have felt that their parents / caregivers just “don’t understand today’s society”, I think this feeling is much more prevalent in today’s times, when it is true that those who do not keep in touch with the trends and developments really do not understand society. This can leave a millennial feeling extremely lost, and in turn, lead to bad decisions.

    I could be entirely wrong, however. Just a thought.

    • Thank you! Great points Cathelynne! I of course can’t say how it felt to be part of the young post-WWI generation, but I bet to them it must’ve felt similar in terms of how rapid the change was – however I definitely see your point, because for us, the speed with which things change not only is fast already, but it keeps getting ever faster. So we won’t have to deal with one massive, quick change, but a world that keeps changing faster and faster and that’s really hard to wrap your head around.

      Great thoughts – sending my best wishes your way!

  • Steve Wood

    Nice work. I agree that things seem to have changed so quickly for our generation, and the areas on which our parents felt they could depend, such as the ubiquitousness of not just work, but careers, and the dependence on older generations of your family (to help care for your children, for example) has been eroded. We seem to have turned inwards and opposed to trying to forge a place in the world, instead we “can’t adult today.”

    I feel that many aspects of the modern world have held us back, such as increased automation and globalization, plus financial buffoonery, meaning jobs, never mind careers, are increasingly difficult to come by. Our parents had much less discretionary cash for things like entertainment, but even on a low salary people could afford to buy their own house, a luxury afforded to an ever-diminishing few nowadays.

    I remember reading something along the lines of, in the last hundred years there have been one thousand years worth of change. Even to myself, born in 1981, the modern world can feel an unfamiliar place. As a dad, I feel like I’ve moved up an echelon and now almost look down on those who are younger than me, though out of bemusement rather than a feeling of superiority. Perhaps I’m getting to the stage where life is beginning to pass me by, and I do feel a nostalgic yearning for how things were in my childhood, before tablets, smartphones and other such inventions made such a monumental impact on how we live our lives. Perhaps every generation feels this way.

    Anyhoo, those are my rambling thoughts! Thanks Niklas. You’ve provided some very interesting food for thought.

    • Thank you Steve! Congrats on being a dad 🙂 I also have these feelings of being nostalgic a lot, which I didn’t think would happen so early in my life – but it makes sense given how much change we’ve already lived through I guess. And it does feel like we’re kind of childish at times – maybe that’s what makes it looks funny to slightly older people 🙂

      Anyhow, thanks for the feedback!

  • Sophia Wai Kwan So

    I think our generation is fortunate. Our parents are relatively wealthy and social welfare system rather comprehensive so we have the abundance of time and resources to spend a lot of time with books, theories, imagination, fantasies, and ethics. We are also knowledgable since we know everything from the East to the West and every theory from the past to the future from the web and search engines. The down side is perhaps each of us had just spent too much time thinking such that we are not willing to dirt with our hands whilst the pay is low and future seems gloomy. We have been living in our castles as princes and princesses for too long that we often forget we are merely ordinary persons. Reflection on the past, learning from our ancestors, as well as a willingness to be lowly and humble, as suggested in the Article, might be ways to help us overcome our inherent softness and weakness. But I think it is not at all bad because we are more respectful, considerable, loving and educated, and selfless than our ancestors. I still believe that we will be able to drive positive changes in the society – in a more humanistic way. The future is bright. It is a nice read, thank you.

  • bennylope

    Note from a friendly pedant, Benjamin Graham was explicitly quoting philosopher George Santayana when he included those words in The Intelligent Investor, “No statement is more true and better applicable to Wall Street than the famous warning of Santayana: ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'”

    • Oh, thank you, I think I ran across that name before too – I found it verbatim like this: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”