The pursuit of perfection

Flowers in a vase

Are millennials obsessed with being perfect?

I have a love/hate relationship with my 20s. I looked the best I’ll ever look but was so self-critical and plagued with self-doubt, I couldn’t see it. I had a difficult relationship which damaged my self-esteem for a very long time and I let my lack of confidence get in the way of opportunities.

Yet, I also had a lot of fun and some of the best times of my life. Nights out would start after work and end sometime the next day. A cafe latte was the height of sophistication, pinot grigio our drink of choice and we all wanted to dress like Kate Moss. Yes, there were some nights I’d rather forget but there was no social media to record it all by and people weren’t particularly judgemental.

Working with lots of millennials has made me reflect on how different they are to my generation. They are much less likely to rock up at work hungover after a couple of hours sleep and a good time is focussed on exercise and a green juice. They’re very earnest tending to be career driven (sometimes with a sense of entitlement), serious about life and their goals, mindful of money and the need for a good night’s sleep.

Economically, life is very different now from my twenties. I graduated into a boom economy and despite being painfully shy and tongue-tied, I managed to land a pretty decent job after travelling for a couple of years. The property market was still difficult but it wasn’t so out of step with wages and it didn’t seem like such an unmanageable goal (not that we ever discussed it). I didn’t have much money left after paying rent and bills but drinks weren’t so expensive and house parties were the norm.

These days it’s very hard to survive in London unless you live with your parents or have some family support. The only millennials I know who own properties had £300k deposits given to them and the majority are paying back student loans. It’s hard to be carefree when you have lots of financial responsibilities.

There also seems to be much more instruction on the ‘right’ way to be. Instead of eating food, we’re supposed to eat clean. The gym is where we’re supposed to spend the majority of our time becoming #strongnotskinny. Veganism is an aspirational lifestyle choice and yoga a series of Instagram posts.

These are all really great and admirable pursuits and many of which I do myself – but there is a bit of me that wonders if this continual pursuit of perfection is that healthy?

Perfection and mental health

A survey of 40,000 college students from the USA, Canada and the UK covering almost two decades looked at how much pressure people were putting on themselves. They found millennials were much more likely to think they should be perfect than previous generations, which was impacting on their mental health. Researchers attributed this to growth in social media and comparing their lives to others and the fact that millennials have far more metrics to measure themselves by.

There has also been a growth in the rise of orthorexia, which is when an obsession around healthy eating can lead to malnutrition. The #eatclean movement has created such a focus around what is seen to be acceptable, that there is shame now in eating food which would be considered dirty.

There is also the danger that too much introspective can also lead to becoming self-absorbed and too much striving for perfection can come at the expense of having fun. Are millennials pursuing clean living because it’s what they want or because it’s what they think they should want?

Thirties as the transition decade

For my generation, the cycle of life was that your thirties tended to be the period you made a lot of changes. Suddenly you got a glimpse of older age, hung up your disco boots and focussed on your health and wellbeing. There comes a point when early nights become more appealing than late ones and you start to recognise what no longer serves you.

There is an element of going on a journey and leaving your youth behind putting new patterns of behaviour in place. Most of our learning is through making mistakes, self-reflection and change.

For me, self-awareness and self-development have grown with experience. I understand my own patterns of behaviour much more although not always to the degree that I’ve overcome them. Whilst, I’m definitely still a work in progress, I can also see a positive impact of making some changes in my life.

It’s ok to not be ok

As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that life is full of ups and downs and the only way is to learn to navigate through and grow along the way. Life suddenly won’t become better if you lose weight, have a partner, buy the dress etc, it’s about how you feel inside. Sometimes it gets better by recognising that there’s no such thing as perfection and that actually it’s ok and more characterful not to be ok.

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