Once upon a time, there was a girl who was told she could have everything. She believed what she heard. The world was there within her reach, waiting for the moment she stretched out her small, optimistic hands.
There were dreams and schemes and fairytales, all very well in concept. Praised constantly but given no practical tools, she floundered in unfamiliar waters. Ironically, she’d done much the same when actually learning to swim, forever traumatized when thrown in and expected to fend for herself.
She was a product of an era that encouraged children to dream big and shoot high, but which gave them no clear path that enabled success. Some got lucky and found a way despite the lack of foundational stability. Most did not, and many stumbled into adulthood with jaded hearts and a sense of desperation at inheriting a world not particularly kind to dreamers.
Whenever she had the courage to express her doubts and fears, she was told she’d figure it out. They all seemed so sure of it, she supposed that she must behave in kind. The path she chose had only a marginal chance of success but she had no idea what else to do. No one sat down with her and helped her determine other possibilities. She was out there on her own, a tiny boat tossed amongst the waves of an uncertain economy, with a brain that was capable of much but could not settle on any one thing. It was both her greatest asset and most tragic undoing.
It didn’t much matter what her passion was because no one taught her how to overcome her fears. Every time she conquered one, a thousand more arose in their wake. It terrified her. She was always sensitive as a child but circumstances forced her to squash her emotion, to push it down, to forgo curiosity in favor of chasing perfection.
A parent must never underestimate the effect that their every word and action has on their impressionable offspring. Perhaps if she wasn’t paraded around by her mother when she was young, bragged about for this and that, then she wouldn’t have felt the need to constantly achieve more and more in order to matter at all.
When she reached adulthood, she was still stubbornly chasing the same “passion” despite having lost her ambition and drive long before. There seemed no alternative. How could she devote so many years to one goal only to forsake it? She did not know how to do anything but pursue excellence, and to let go of something that clearly no longer served her still meant failing. If she did that, she lost all sense of self.
No one ever told her that there’s no shame in failure – in fact, it’s necessary in order to learn. Most consider it crucial to their eventual success.
But that little girl – no, she was given no whisper of the notion that mistakes were normal, even welcome. She was promised that she could climb to the highest heights, but when she readied herself for the journey, there was not a path to be found. Faced with a shadowy chasm full of the unknown, she faltered. This wasn’t part of the story. No one explained the guidelines. All she knew how to do was follow the rules as closely as humanly possible. That was supposed to guarantee her success.
It was all a massively horrible lie, she soon discovered. There was no magical path and the rules no longer got anyone anywhere. A special kind of creativity was required to keep afloat in the world she entered.
She began slowly, confusedly carving out a route for herself, but without any idea of who she really was or what she wanted. There were countless missteps, dead ends, and return journeys to familiar ground. She cried into her pillow frequently, and on the nights that she felt particularly alone, life forced her to get uncomfortable and dive into intense self-study. It became the only way she understood how to grow and change, little by little, in the most necessary of ways.
Today, she is still resentful of the world left to her and her peers by the generation prior, the parents who promised the moon and then left them crumbs. She’s well aware that her path will never be a simple one, but she’s learned to appreciate the joys along the way. The fleeting instability of life is not lost on her. It may not always be easy, but better appreciate it while it lasts.
She’s far from alone, and this gives her a morbid sense of comfort. Everyone she knows was spoon fed this Millennial fairytale and most face the same predicament of confusion and groundlessness. For what it’s worth, they will muddle through together, and eventually perhaps discover their own iteration of a happy ending.
(Originally published on ThoughtCatalog.com)