A Millennial's Rediscovery of Self-Care
By: Jasmine King
In my family, I’m caught up in the middle; Not only have I felt pressure to prove my generation worthy to my parents but also to show that mine is worthy of role-modeling the next generation. I’ve had to constantly ask myself what my legacy is, what OUR legacy is.
"I pushed myself further than I could ever imagine."
One characteristic I appreciate about my generation is our strong sense of advocacy - for ourselves, for the world, for justice. Thankfully, throughout the chaos of my upbringing, my working-class father taught me something that has always held true across the journey of my life. He instilled within me a strong work ethic and motivated me with a word that stings when I hear it: complacency. Similarly, laziness has been commonly used to describe the millennial generation. But, I’ve always known that is not how to be. I’ve applied this philosophy not only to myself as an individual but also to how I’ve interacted with the world and to how the world has interacted with me. I could never quite settle with injustices and inequalities of this life. Looking back, my normal was applying myself in the best way I could with what I had at the time.
In college, I found my breaking point.
I propelled myself into a 4-year university right out of college, just as society seemed to expect of me. At times, it seems as if my generation is put in a similar situation while still looking forward to years of debt, a limited job pool, and a lack of affordable housing and nutrition. Going to college was my only chance of overcoming my struggle, but I was not ready, and yet, there I was. I can’t tell how many times I almost found myself dropping out because I was stretched so thin. As necessary as college was for my future well-being, it was definitely out of reach. I was working two jobs, and double-majoring as a full-time student. I often found myself working nearly 40 hours a week and sleeping what felt like no more than 5 hours on most nights. I was financially independent for the entirety of my undergraduate career.
It’s hard to understand where the “lazy” and “unmotivated” portrayals of the millennial generation come from when I feel as if I am constantly surrounded by incredibly driven people. My graduating class consisted of majority first-generation college students, those who had to propel themselves through it all without readily available advice. We were the ones who challenged ourselves in ways our families had not been able to do before. And while I still marvel at the opportunity I had to seek an education as privileged and promising as was mine, I can’t help but think about how drained I was throughout it all given the support I lacked.
"It's not worth the cost of my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being."
I began to think about how abnormal it is for us to accept and praise working THAT hard. I worked twice as hard to obtain some of the same things people were handed. I signed a lease for my first car in my fourth year of college, and despite how much effort I put into obtaining it, I still felt like I didn’t deserve it. I often felt like I was failing if I took breaks or days off. I was in constant fear that I should be doing more because of how other generations looked at mine.
It took a lot to unlearn the perception that all people must fit into particular functions within their lives, and that resistance to such is deemed failure. As hard as this process has been, I’ve chosen to not buy into this idea of failure, and neither are many in my generation. Ultimately, I took an extra year to finish my degrees, and I had to prove to myself time and time again that it was the right decision for myself and my well-being. I knew I wouldn’t be putting my best self forward if I rushed through at the pace I was expected to. And, I found that I excelled far less when I was not taking care of myself. Considering such, I began to accomplish things at my own pace, and I saw that the more I nurtured myself, the more I’d be able to give to others.
The desire to eliminate complacency in one’s work should not drive the complacency of one’s self care. Despite the doubt and the questioning, advocating for ourselves and our well-being can only bring positive change into our lives.
There are a lot of expectations placed on us to figure out how to change and improve the world, but we have to do so within ourselves first. As I worked two jobs in college while going to school full-time, I found ways to relieve stress and take care of my well-being, but I still felt guilty about it. Why? I was constantly being told to “keep up the good work” by older generations in my family. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the push and motivation, but it was all my mind kept playing on repeat. If I wasn’t constantly “keeping up the good work”, then what was I doing? There was no room in my mind for rest. In many ways, this hurt me more than I could have imagined. I thought if I just worked hard as I was told to do, I’d get everything I’d ever want out of life. But, that wasn’t true. There were interviews I showed up to with huge bags under my eyes and a slowness to my voice that showed I wasn’t in the place to give my best. There were exams I stumbled into, hair undone and an unshakable exhaustion hanging over my head like a rain cloud, that caused my GPA to spiral to a place I had always hoped and dreamed it would never fall to. I was tired at work, I was tired during my visits home, and I was even tired during time spent with my favorite people.
In retrospect, I realized it’s not normal or reasonable to be so exhausted all the time. I used to believe as long as I was “keeping up the good work”, that’s all that mattered. How wrong I was.
In no way do I believe my older family was entirely incorrect in telling me to work so diligently, but when I told them how hard it was and how tired I was from my two jobs and five-course load, they just responded by saying that it’s all “worth it”. But, the funny thing about that was that I still had many friends that graduated and waited on jobs to come up for years, that found themselves working a low-wage job with little benefits, and with nothing to look forward to at all. I’ve wondered if it all really is worth it. If I’m not investing in myself, then what energy do I have left to give? Who’s going to see a bright light in me if I’ve pushed myself so hard I don’t even know what a full night’s sleep is?
We are beginning to challenge the notion that we need to work ourselves beyond what we can really handle. It's not worth the cost of my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. I've begun to take better care of myself now, and I only hope to role-model and instill the value of self-advocacy and self care into generations to come.