Thursday, 17 October 2013

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy - My Response to that Huffington Post Article

This week, I read a pretty widespread article here in the Huffington Post on why Generation Y kids – my generation, may I add – are so unhappy. This article has been linked to me more than once, and I’ve read it more than once – in fact, I’ve read it over and over, because for a while now I’ve been fascinated by what exactly it is that makes our generation – and even worse, maybe, the generation below me, the ones in Educating Yorkshire who seem to think that natural eyebrows are a kind of infectious disease  – so miserable.

And we are miserable. Depression is on the rise. Phrases like ‘panic attacks’ and ‘anxiety disorder’, which would have been basically unheard of 20 years ago, are now commonplace – bordering on fashionable. Half of us don’t have jobs and the other half have jobs we don’t want. According to the Huffington Post, the reason for this is essentially that we all think we’re special, and that therefore reality can never meet up to our expectations. Stop thinking you’re so great, the article tells us, and life will kind of work itself out. The trouble is, I don’t think it’s that simple anymore.

I was a reasonably intelligent child in that I always did well at school, and didn’t smoke or get pregnant when I was thirteen, and I was brought up to follow a fairly well-trodden path of school-university-job. It wasn’t a fairy tale, nobody told me I was going to be editor of Vogue or the next Enid Blyton. The message – from my parents, from my teachers, from society – was simple; if you work hard, you’ll do alright. So I did. I got a job as an editorial assistant – for peanuts, obviously, but that was okay, I told myself I’d work my way up the ladder.

Unfortunately, I happened to graduate from university in 2008. Three months after I started work a weary manager took me into a meeting room and told me that she was really sorry but actually, they couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I remember getting my monthly railcard refunded, feeling slightly shocked, thinking, ‘never mind, I’ll get back on the ladder again.’ The trouble was, I quickly realised, I couldn’t reach the ladder anymore. Us graduates stood around on the ground looking up hopelessly at a ladder hanging down from a house way up in the sky. We jumped, but we couldn’t get there.

I started out applying for editorial roles, but in the end, I applied for absolutely everything, and I know so many others who have sat in that chair, sending CVs into black holes, waiting for a rejection letter which will never come. Not enough experience to work in an office. Too much experience to work in a shop (you’ve got a degree, haven’t you? So you’ll never stick around). Even internships wanted experience, never mind to have you work for free with only the vague hint of a job at the end of it all. Telling your friends brightly about how you might go travelling soon, you’re enjoying a well deserved rest -  then going home to stare at the Guardian Jobs website for half an hour, wondering if maybe recruitment was your dream after all. Trust me, after months of this – and it was months, for me, but for other people it’s even longer – I didn’t feel very special. I felt worthless. I got a job, eventually, but it wasn’t remotely involved in anything I wanted to do, and in a way, going down a path I didn’t want to go down made it even worse – I felt like as time went by I got further and further away from where I wanted to be, swimming helplessly against an impossible tide. So yes, I was unhappy.

Reality doesn’t meet expectation because we were told that if we worked hard, we’d get a good job, and lots of us didn’t, and so suddenly our life plans, all the lessons we’d learned – so well-taught that I would say they were almost forced upon us – fall to pieces. I remember turning to my Dad and saying ‘I just don’t know what else to do,’ and he felt awful. He felt that he’d given me bad advice or worse, false promises. I’d grown up to believe that the world was fair – always an element of chance, yes, but fair. He said ‘I want to complain to someone. I wish I knew who to complain to.’  

So then yes, reality didn’t meet expectations – but I don’t think it’s fair to say that that’s because we expected too much, or more than our parents did. That’s true for a few people, certainly – people who have watched too much Made In Chelsea and think doing nothing for a living looks fun, or that setting up a business means idly saying ‘ooh, I’d like my own jeans line!’ and tweeting about it.

But I felt defensive of my own generation reading that article. More than ever, we’ve put the effort in. We worked hard at school, we jumped through hoops to get into university just to work even harder, because we were told by people we trusted that this would lead us into happy, meaningful careers. I think most of us would be prepared to keep working in order to make our way up the ladder. It’s just – like I say – that we don’t know how to get to that first step.

I do have a job I enjoy now, incidentally, if not one I ever thought I’d have -  and I also have this blog, which is whimsical and frivolous and allows me to indulge the side of me that always thought I’d write for Cosmopolitan. I enjoy my life and so no, I’m not unhappy. But I wanted to stand up for the people in Generation Y who are unhappy. Maybe their expectations were different from their parents. But I think it’s important to remember that reality was different too.  


  1. Awesome post, I couldn't agree with you more! It's something that I mention quite a lot myself on my blog and in conversation.

    No we don't think that life should be handed to us on a silver platter but most of us have worked bloody hard and when you've been ducking and diving for a couple of years after graduating, doing jobs unrelated to your degree, it's frustrating. At the same time, I don't agree with people who sit on their arse waiting for opportunities to fall into their lap, I mean a job is better than no job but you're right, we're not spoilt, we're becoming a bit of a lost generation. That article speaks of the minority not the majority.

    Danielle xo

  2. Fantastic post and realllly rang true for me. I dreamt of being a journalist and writer for many years, made all my decisions around it and now I'm in sales!!


  3. This was so interesting to read!

  4. Wow, I really loved that, great post!! Thank you! :)

    I'm also in Generation Y, but have still got about 2 years of school before university left in front of me. It makes me so sad that people who've got so much potential and great education and everything can't get jobs because of the economy (but I'm glad that you've got one that you're happy with!). I really hope it turns around soon!

    And also thank you for being so lovely on leaving a comment on my HP post, haha :D I hope that you have a wonderful day and thank you again for the very interesting insight!


  5. This was so well written, and really resonates with me right now. I graduated in June (with a good degree, from a good university, with a good classifcation) and nada so far! Well, I'm back home with my parents and got a little job at a cafe to keep me going in the meantime (luckily they were very nice and willing to employ me even though I was very open about the fact I'm applying for graduate jobs) but obviously, that's not where I saw myself after working my ass off during school and university.
    I'm currently applying for jobs (my ideal job is in the UK's smallest profession and is very competitive) and have had some interviews with more lined up but there's no guarantees, and if I don't have anything by the new year I'll have to start applying for jobs that are not my ideal career. Fingers crossed!
    I have practically turned this into a blog post of my own but it's so rare that people actually talk about this, and I find it difficult talking to people who don't know my situation and will inevitably ask "so what are you doing now?" So thank you very much for sharing this!

  6. This is probably the truest post I have read in quite some time. It frustrates me to know end that people in our generation get stereotyped so negatively. Truth is there are a lot of lazy Gen Y's but there are also so many more that work really hard for what they have. I grew up with the mentality that you go to school and then you get a job and you move out of home and have children. It doesn't make us bad people to want a different path. It also doesn't make us bad people to not want to settle for something mediocre because we know how much more is out there. Gen Y's definitely deserve some slack. Loved this post!

    Debra Bros Blog

  7. Brilliant writing Cate, really kept me engaged and wanting to read all of it! I should be starting uni next year and I'm sure it will be daunting but I look forward to the experience, sometimes my mind wanders to what will happen after graduation, jumping into working life. However I think it's important to have no high expectations and not to be disheartened by rejection or feeling lost in a world of competition. You have summed up the struggles young people are facing and I appreciate this post.

    Essence of Jess

  8. Such a good read! I followed the school-uni path and got a retail job! I experience a few years of anxiety and was not able to work! I don't think the whole mental health is just our generation thing maybe now it's more spoken about. It can be so disheartening not finding a job, being out of work and trying to find a place in the work place. I'm glad to hear you have one, enjoy and are happy! I don't know what others want out of life, but a job and being happy and content would be perfect for me lol. Yes my blog is a place I enjoy myself and imagine I'm a magazine writer lol thank you the lovely comment x

  9. This is a really interesting response Cate. The article sparked many a discussion amongst me and my friends who are also in the recently graduated limbo where ambition and reality start to jarr. It's exactly this kind of post which made me nominate you for The Versatile Blogger Award which you can see here on my blog: ! Thanks for the read! xxx


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