Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of taking time to pause and reflect on life. Yet, many people (including myself) struggle to do this in a meaningful and enriching way. As an adult, I have always found the New Year to be an ideal time for reflecting inward and devising an action plan.
Maybe you have too?
By turning inward, the arduous process of self-understanding and mastery gets developed through a combination of thoughtful action and reflection. Life will always unfold before us no matter what we do but with enhanced awareness, attention, and intention, things can make more sense and lead to a more enriching and meaningful existence.
Many older adults underestimate the time that it takes for Millennials and members of Generation Z to develop self-awareness and personal identities, let alone wisdom. The fact is, the world has changed a great deal since the days when the oldest members of our present-day society were young.
Since I am now very recently married and in my early 30s, life feels immediately different. It is as if a threshold into my future has been passed. It does feel as if a “new me” is here and ready to conquer the rest of life. This feeling is much more pleasant and enjoyable than I could have ever imagined.
In this article, I will share some of my self reflection with you in hopes that it will be relatable and engaging, but first, let’s examine self-reflection through the lens of something we (mostly) all learn to overcome – childish selfishness.
As children, we do not have a clue about how any of this ‘self-reflection’ stuff works but we learn things over time, whether we want to or not. Life has a way of imposing its lessons. When young, we lack understanding about how our actions affect others. It takes time to recognize patterns and to look beyond ourselves and our short-term, selfish interests.
Some call this process, maturity.
While living through the formative years of life, a self-centered disposition is actually a helpful personality trait. This is not a sin, it is a natural and appropriate part of anyone’s development. When growing and developing, a preference for putting your own interests before others is necessary.
The word ‘selfish’ rightfully carries a negative connotation because the fact remains that when you behave in a self-centered way, the negative impact on others who are longing for your attention or affection is often unseen.
As a young adult, there have been many cases where I have felt comfortable and as if everything was falling into place, only to have circumstances reveal that life’s puzzle was still just a mess.
Who knows, that cycle may be repeating itself. But for now, let’s move on.
Can I Self-Reflect Instead of Selfishly Reflect?
If you are in your 20s or younger, the answer here, may be ‘no.’ It takes time to learn lessons in life and since it can be difficult to recognize selfish reflection, we are often unaware of our behavior. To an untrained young person, it is difficult to be well ‘put-together’ even in your late 20s for many reasons that older generations often do not understand.
One easy way to note the difference between productive self-reflection and selfish reflection is by observing how each affects feelings. If your self-reflection adds negative stress to your life or divides you from others, chances are it is more self-centered than necessary.
I have certainly been there, whether to prove a point to others, or to stumble awkwardly in a hasty attempt to move excessively fast into power and prestige. Like just about everyone, my youth was characterized by key life rituals like “getting a real job,” “settling down,” finding a spouse or having children, but as is not uncommon, the latter two were severely delayed in my generation.
What I learned is that before any of those key ‘coming of age’ life events could happen, I had to figure out who the hell I was first.
The ‘I’ll Show You’ Approach
“When our goals become milestones for self-respect, that’s when it becomes dangerous.” – Vironika Tugaleva
Otherwise known as the “prove ’em wrong” mantra, the “I’ll show you” approach is one that I have used. While still in high school, I came across a post on social media that posed the question “what motivates you?” One of the top answers was “haters.”
At the time, this resonated with me. Among many teenage dreams, I hoped to excel with some vague promise of glory on the basketball court once I got onto the varsity team. This did not happen.
“Being motivated by something is better than nothing,” I thought. Some fuel is better than no fuel, even if the reason why it all mattered was unclear, or dubious in nature.
A lack of wisdom has its price and it is amazing how easy it all is to spot, years later.
At the time, I didn’t know any better. Millennials were usually encouraged to not fall into the same traps that our parents did. Parents of Millennial children would encourage us to live, to enjoy life, to travel.
“Don’t do what I did.” “Don’t get married young.” Well, is it surprising that we took our parents advice? To our parents, maybe yes. To everyone else, perhaps it is all quite rational.
Like other Millennials, I was encouraged to fulfill my destiny, to create my own reality. I was motivated and ready.
Fuel up the engines. It was time to get going. I was excited and ambitious.
But as I would soon realize, I wasn’t mature enough yet in my mid 20s.
The Lost, Lonely, Selfish One
When I was hired as a recruiter at a local staffing firm in my mid to late twenties, I was ecstatic. This was a huge stepping stone in my career that would help me earn a high salary (in due time). It was a calculated risk and in the worst case, I reasoned, I would learn some sales skills and get a job with one of the company’s clients if I failed. This would grow my professional network and lead to more skill development.
Strategically it did turn out to be a smart move for my career but the story unfolded in ways I never would have expected.
On the job, success did not come easy. In fact, it was an agonizing experience that consumed me and left me broken down financially and emotionally. Throughout the normal daily execution of my job duties I felt awkward, unnatural, and challenged through every moment of every day. I couldn’t shake the feeling. I couldn’t cut loose. I couldn’t behave naturally.
I made far more calls than my peers, staying a couple hours late each night putting in extra effort. Despite this, beyond my base salary of $30K, the highest monthly commission check that I received in the year-long period that I held this job was a measly $147.27*. In fact, this was the only check I received in the triple digits (unless you count decimal places). 🤷
*Yes I have the exact commission numbers. I use spreadsheets for everything. Don’t you?
Some of my managers and coworkers went out of their way to help me. A few of these folks, I will always appreciate and remember fondly because they graciously provided positive encouragement and let me know that they believed in me. They “saw something in me.” This of course made me feel good because I “saw something” in myself too, even if I still didn’t know what it was.
Unfortunately (or fortunately – depending on how you look at it), this positive reinforcement was the exception, rather than the norm around the office. From the passive to the aggressive, from the group text chats that openly happened around me which I was excluded from, to the puzzled and condescending looks that I remember receiving, the job was what they call in the industry, a bad personality fit.
I was utterly unprepared for this type of work environment. It was like nothing I could have imagined experiencing.
Crossing the Professional Line
In this type of sales environment, the easiest way to earn respect is to produce. Make calls, build relationships, and make money so everyone can see that you are a success. If you do not become a success, everyone will know that too since the sales numbers lived on a paper printout, placed strategically on the wall next to one of the two conference rooms.
One coworker who always sat right across from me, despite multiple assigned seating changes, was especially open about his disdain for me, as he was with others in the office whom he didn’t like. It made me feel the same way about him (funny how that works). I didn’t like him or his style of recruiting much. I still don’t.
But he was a producer, albeit one who made it a point to do just enough to not get fired. But in the staffing industry, that is enough. Achieving your goal pays for your seat and when you do that, you get to stay. One day this co-worker would step across the line of human decency and professional decorum in a fairly major way.
“He was a habitual, line-stepper.” – Charlie Murphy (Rest in Peace)
Despite his mediocrity as a recruiter, in the bullpen, this enemy of mine was a “made-man” and because of this, combined with his personality and dislike for me, he stepped across the line, and did so habitually. You could call him a habitual, line-stepper.
One day he called the office from home. For some reason, this was common for him and other colleagues at the company. People would call in and offer to grab a coffee, or breakfast. The person who took his call this one day addressed the group to let us all know he was on the line and that “he didn’t care” who took his call, he just needed to speak to “somebody.”
I volunteered to take his call. I reasoned that maybe it would help get closer to viewing me as his equal. Suspecting that he hated me anyway, part of me wanted to put my theory to the test. Maybe I could discover why?
“Hello Travis” (not his real name). I said in a tone he clearly did not like.
“Who’s this?” He muttered, sounding as if he had just been woken up from a morning nap after I stepped on his dog and insulted his family.
I found it peculiar that despite sitting across from each other for 6 months making phone calls, he still did not recognize my voice.
“It’s Ryan.” I responded.
“Nah. I don’t wanna talk to you.” He retorted as he hung up the phone.
“He said he doesn’t want to talk to me.” I announced to the sales floor. “Maybe he’ll call again and someone else can deal with him.”
I didn’t say much about this event after except to other confidants who this guy had also rubbed the wrong way. Although a few colleagues seemed to latch onto him, it turns out, he’s not very well-liked. How you treat people has consequences. That’s right, your grandmother’s advice was correct. Go figure.
“Someday I will show this guy. I will beat him.” I promised myself.
I would stop at nothing to show him what a schmuck he is by beating him at his own sales game on the scorecard and by making him eat his words and regret every one of his belligerent behaviors toward me. Every act of intimidation, condescension, and outright hostility he ever performed would be nullified by my ascent to power.
I knew the only path to actually achieving this was to pass him on the score card. It would be the only way to earn the respect of him and everyone in the office. So I pumped myself up.
“He was lazy and a complainer.” I thought. “If he hits his goal early, he will hardly do any work for the rest of the year.” This is when I would pass him and be sure to let him know about it.
I was determined.
The Fire Inside
“On to the street, on to the next. Safe in the knowledge that they tried. Faking the smile, hiding the pain. Never satisfied. The Fire Inside.” – Bob Seger, “The Fire Inside”
As a single 26 year old man who lived with a roommate at the time, my priorities were work, personal “growth,” (despite not having a clue what that really meant), and trying to convince girls to spend time with me. Without much stability in my life, traction in my career, or true knowledge of myself, it was easy to see how an obsessive goal to “prove my haters and doubters wrong” consumed me.
Just a few weeks before my tenure at this company ended I ran into this same character at the annual Christmas party.
“Next year, I am going to pass you on the sales charts, so get ready for that.” I said with all the confidence I could muster.
“Pfft. Neverrr… gonna happen!” He replied with a predictably smug tone and demeanor.
Sadly, in my heart I knew he was right.
Ready, Aim, Refire
“Like wind on the plains, sand through the glass. Waves rolling in with the tide. Dreams die hard and we watch them erode but we cannot be denied.” …The Fire Inside.
Looking back, I was not necessarily wrong to react the way I did. However, my perspective was clearly skewed inward toward myself and lacking in wisdom. I wanted to “wow” people but I didn’t know how. Like almost everyone I have ever known, I was a walking contradiction, a paradox.
As I look back 5 years later, things make much more sense. I may have tried to project strength, but it didn’t really exist. I would pump myself up with motivational reading and audio material, but on the inside I was wounded. At the time, the soil of my potential growth was contaminated.
In those recruiting days, I would hardly sleep on Sunday nights (or any night for that matter). It was a viscous cycle. An obsession. My mind was consumed with only one thing: Succeeding in the job to prove a point to Travis and all of the other people in that office who doubted me. I also wanted to prove those who expressed confidence in me right.
Behaving with a chip on my shoulder in this way was self-defeating. I didn’t realize it at the time but it also rendered me unable to put my best-self forward with the people who mattered the most in my life.
“Burnin’ you up. Burnin’ you up. The fire inside.”
It turns out that holding a burning motivation just for the sake of being motivated has its costs. I found out that being motivated to “prove the haters wrong” was the opposite of a wise and fulfilling existence.
It would be the last time I would approach a job this way. This level of obsessiveness, intensity, the feelings of anxiety, and the fear of failure were all unnecessary. My next job was another sales job and things went quite differently. I performed much better and enjoyed a fun and interesting work environment.
Through this experience, I gained all the confidence that I found so elusive in the recruiting job. My arrested development was cured. I came of age.
It was “A Nu Start.”
What changed? What is the lesson?
Well, my mindset changed. Like a law of nature, it is clear that there is nowhere to grow when your mind is stuck in a self-centered, constantly stressed out state, even if the source of your stress is justified or understandable.
I learned to relax, to not take things so seriously, and to have fun. It turned out that the insurmountable challenge that was my recruiting experience made the new sales job quite easy. I learned that you get to choose how you approach and respond to situations and I learned how. My natural personality that I had neurotically kept hidden in my obsessive yearning for respect was given permission to shine toward others.
Success wasn’t all about me and my abilities after all. It was just – life.
The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You
“Dude there’s more to life than, just you.” – A wise man
“Hahaha…😂 (sigh)” – A selfish reflector
In some cases, self-respect means standing up against others who oppress, belittle, or threaten you. However, when you consider the counter-reaction that this can provoke, hardening toward others or behaving as if you have a chip on your shoulder is rarely a useful solution. More often than not, behaving or thinking this way is futile.
For as long ago as I can remember, as a child, my mother had a catch phrase that she was fond of using. And it is possibly my favorite catch phrase ever. I cannot wait to use it on my kids.
“Rye, The world doesn’t revolve around you.” She would constantly remind me.
This phrase was funny to me, largely because, who would ever think such a thing! Yet, ironically, I found out that even as adults, we all do. Often.
Now I have come to love this phrase not because of its humor or wit, but rather, because of its healing power. When the focus moves off of the self and gets directed outward, that is usually when the healing starts.
The Other Lesson
Many people are hurting, and this is often because they are victims of mistreatment. It may be similar to or greater in severity than what I experienced as a recruiter. For someone who is still forming their identity as an adult, life is especially challenging. This may explain why people in their 30s still refer to basic life activities as “adulting.”
Coming of age is hard and learning about yourself through a brutally unfiltered and honest lens is even harder. It may be the hardest and most elusive accomplishment for any individual out there.
Few get to this point but the truth remains. The world does not revolve around you. The secret to happiness is no secret. Happiness comes from others.
What drives you? What have you learned from similar life experiences?
The Not so Hidden Treasure – Loved Ones
If you are alone, struggling, or selfishly reflecting with a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude, let right now be the time to change the focus toward appreciation of others. Let them know how much you appreciate them. Do it often and in sincere ways.
The habit of this behavior has curative powers. It can heal you.
When I have been unhappy or irritable, I have noticed that shifting the focus off of my own feelings or problems in this way usually offers an immediate morale boost. I have found this to be a common emotional cycle for me.
As people, in order to be happy, we need each other.
How about you?
No matter what we do in our personal lives, careers, and everything in between, we must remember that serving others is ultimately how we serve ourselves.
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4 thoughts on “A Millennial’s Quest to ‘Come of Age’”
It takes a strong and secure person to put down in writing what you just have. It will certainly help many people who are fighting the battle that you once did. I commend you for coming out the other side of this coming of age battle as well adjusted and willing to show your peers.. There sure is life after this “this coming of age.”