Is Our Generation Paralysed By Choice?

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I’ve had this post rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks now. It’s a question that I’ve been thinking about every time I’ve sat and chatted with friends recently, and something that has been playing on my mind when I’ve been faced with important decisions this year.

You can barely move for think pieces and op-eds about millennial these days, and everyone has a theory about why our generation are bucking the trends that our parents and grandparents adhered to. And the thought that keeps coming back to me time and time again is this – is our generation paralysed by choice?

As my Mum likes to remind me whenever she’s complaining about her lack of grandchildren, by the time she was my age she had already given birth to me and was pregnant with my sister. At the age of 21 my Mum joined the company where she would spend the next 30 years growing her career. That same year she got engaged to my Dad, married him 12 months later, and by the time she was 23, they had already bought their first house together.

My Mum’s situation wasn’t particularly unique – in fact, when I look at my aunties and uncles or family friends who are a similar age, they all followed a pretty similar path in their twenties. They were part of a generation who progressed through life’s milestones at the same rate, give or take a year here or there.

But when I look at my own generation, we couldn’t be more different. I look around at my friends and peers and we’re all building lives on our own unique paths. Some are travelling the world, some are settling down. Some are experts in their careers and some are quitting their jobs in their 30s and starting completely from scratch. Some are starting to think about children while others are about to uproot and try something totally different.

We’re the first generation who grew up with the world wide web, and that has created so many new opportunities that just weren’t there when our parents were our age. From e-commerce to digital marketing to online content creation, new careers are popping up left right and centre. Our increasingly connected technology makes it easier to do those jobs from any far flung corners of the world, and we can keep in touch with our friend and family while we do it. There’s hardly anything that we can’t find the answer to on Google these days, and as a result, there has been a whole new boom of self-taught business owners creating careers on their own terms.

It’s seriously exciting. We’ve never had so many options available to us, both from a career and lifestyle perspective, and women in particular have benefitted. We’re no longer automatically excpected to spend our twenties at home rearing kids, and female breadwinners killing it in their careers are no longer a minority. But sometimes, I wonder if having so much choice actually just prevents us from getting started on the stuff that deep down we know we really want.

It can feel overwhelming to choose one option and stick to it thesedays when there is so much choice available, and often, that means that we just make no decision at all. I’m guilty of it myself – more than once I’ve passed on an opportunity for fear that something better will come along. Sometimes that has been the right decision, but sometimes, standing still rather than taking action has done me no good at all.

And I suppose that’s what I want to remember. Just because we have more choice these days doesn’t mean that there’s one perfect option for each of us, and believing that there is can hold us back. Sometimes it’s better to just make a decision and give it your absolute best shot. Because, surely, doing something is always better than doing nothing?

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  • This is interesting because in many ways I think millennials have much LESS choice than their parents and there’s a disconnect and parents don’t always understand that.

    There are a lot fewer options for people to “climb the career ladder” these days as people older than them are staying longer and longer in roles and there’s also less chance of receiving an increased wage and bonus. (As we also live in a time where we are the first generation to earn less than their parents). So why not keep flip flopping on your career if you’ve nothing to gain by staying in the same job or path?

    I know a lot of people that honestly would have loved to start a family at the same age as their parents had done but they are still racked with student loans (which their parents didn’t have), or can’t find affordable housing.

    But there are different types of jobs and way more options to fill our leisure hours, but, in general, I think it’s a lack of opportunity that has led some millenials to jump around so much.

    • So many valid and interesting points Amanda (as always!) – I agree that financial situations are so different for our generation, and while that has posed some positives (more physical freedom, different routes and ways to earn money), ultimately it has made a lot of the options that were available to our parents less viable. I actually quite like that we have the freedom to jump around a little more, but I get that this is often out of necessity rather than choice, which kinda defeats the object x

  • Holy heck I totally agree with this. I’ve just finished my degree and have no idea what I’m doing with my life, but most of the older adults I have talked to were just starting to settle down into the lives and routines they would be living for 50 more years. I’m so not ready for that yet and I love the fact that our generation have more opportunities and face so much more freedom, it’s so refreshing!

    • We are lucky to have lots of choice thesedays, so I’m glad you’re choosing the path that is right for you! X

  • Anna Sutton

    Analysis paralysis is problematic but also a fantastic opportunity to try lots of things – I’m JUST generation X so missed out on some of the more creative roles that are now available in my early career when life is more flexible. I think that if you can decide the way you want to live your life and be clear on what is important to you, you can then make job choices that help you achieve that lifestyle. My career path has been far from conventional and now it fits around having children, but the most important thing is that at each stage I picked the role I found stimulating that would add to my overall skillset and meant I’d be working with people I found inspiring and likable (most important rule of all for me). I also avoided long commutes, a) because I like sleep and b) because i felt life is too important to spend hours on a bus or in a car. I always had the philosophy that if I didn’t like it then at least I tried and there’s always another opportunity around the corner.

    When and if you choose to have children is a very personal decision and one that should be made in the context of your own life, not by comparing to anyone else. Xxx

    • I totally agree Anna – you have to try some stuff before you know what you like anyway! x

  • Emma-Louise Trotter

    Couldn’t agree more with his Sophie, so so true! I find myself having to remind myself that my path is my path and it doesn’t need to look like someone else to be right!

    • So true – I think we’ve all got a bit of an expectation hangover from previous generations, but we should be embracing that we have the freedom to forge our own paths. Easier said than done sometimes though! x

  • Jess Athorn

    I agree that doing something is better than doing nothing but i think the amount of choice we have is a wonderful thing and the problem lies in those who take it for granted rather than appreciating the opportunities they have and taking full advantage of them. This was a really thought-provoking post!

    Jess |

    • I agree – I think you can always see the opportunity or the challenge, and that choosing to focus on the opportunity is half the battle sometimes! x

  • Really interesting read! And I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. My husband and I talk about it regularly. I would say we’ve got way more choice than our parents, but actually there is less opportunity. I would have loved to have bought a house at at 20 or so, but I was no where near the amount I needed for a deposit then. But for our parents, if you got a job straight from school, it was an achievable target. And a lot of industries have become so competitive but we’re been brought up to believe that we can do anything, because of all the new choices that we have in our daily lives, you can become whoever you want to become. I’m not saying this is a bad mantra, but I’m not sure how realistic it is. Like you say, we’re the first generation to grow up with the internet. And so it seems like there is so much choice and so many different things we can experience. Everyone puts this curated version of their lives on there and it definitely affects peoples behaviours and how they make their own choices.
    Really fab post!
    Vicky x

    • This is a much better articulated version of what I was trying to say in my comment.

      • Ah thank you! I think it’s only because Dave and I have discussed this so much recently. We’ve gone round and round on the topic so many times!

    • So many great points – I also think it’s hard to generalise as there are so many other factors that play a part too, such as location, industry, family expectations, etc. I think the most important thing is to learn to focus on what we are doing, rather than always worrying about what we’re not, if that makes sense? x

  • Very good read, though you veered into a different chat than I was expecting, but loved the piece all the same!
    It’s great, but I totally get confused by the fact it has to be all our choice, and basically that can be anything we want now??!!

    • Oooooooh, what did you think I was going to write?! x

  • This is such an interesting topic of conversation and one I think it’s really important to have! I think it’s great we live in a world where anything seems accessible, want to be a doctor – sure? Want to stay home and make money from there – great! But sometimes I think we had a lack of guidance when we were young as to figuring out what it is we want from life, for me personally I felt like I was told ‘you can do what you like, good luck’, rather than being helped to figure out what makes me tick. I’m not saying choice is a bad thing, but perhaps in a world with so much choice we need to figure out how to support each other to make those choices!
    Also I’m in the same position with my mum right now, at my age she’d had me and was pregnant with my sister, she had her own business and a house with a mortgage with my dad – and I’m only 23! I think she’s still horrified that kids aren’t on my mind at all right now haha! xx

    • I agree so much – I had very little guidance at school and even university, and have had to figure out a lot on my own. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it sure would have saved a bit of time! x

  • In short, yes! Great post xxxx

  • I always try to remember that doing something is more important than trying to choose the right thing and ultimately not doing anything at all! x

  • I think the trick lies in focussing on what we do have rather than what we don’t – you’re right in that none of us have it all, and doing something is always better than doing nothing xx