The lie we were told: a letter to my generation

Millennials, we were all lied to. From the time we first set foot on the preschool campus to the moment we were handed that college or high school diploma. We were lied to. No matter who you are, if you grew up in the US over the last two decades you were told this lie and despite how innocent it may have seemed to its progenitors, it has recently come to a head in a frustrating, pointless and even violent way.

Somewhere long about the early 80s a decision was made in America. I don’t know where it came from, I’ve tried to find out, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. This decision would make us the guinea pigs of a soon to be horribly failed experiment in human behavior. Weather the decision was conscience or just an unhappy fluke, we all felt the effects of it our whole childhood. And the results of the experiment have recently come to light as we, the Mellinial generation, generation Y, the screenagers, the mosaic generation- as we have entered ‘adulthood.’

I don’t know whether those who first told this lie actually believed it or if they just thought it would be fun to see what happens to a generation when they are all told something that isn’t true. I don’t think it was malicious; I think those that lied to us thought they were helping. I think they thought that this lie would somehow drive us to do great things. As I said it was in one way the largest psychological study of our time and it’s outcome is now obvious.

What is this lie? You may still believe it to be true. You may think I’m exaggerating it’s effects, but regardless of what you feel about this phrase, you’ll recognize it. You will recognize it from teachers and coaches. You’ve heard it on TV and in film. You read it in comics, magazines and books. Some of us were even taught it by our parents.

The lie is this: You can do anything if you want it enough. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. If you can dream it, you can do it. Astronaut? NFL player? President? All possible so long as you want it enough. You may still think this is true, but any Mellinial who wants to behave like an adult has to realize that this is a lie. I’m 5′ 7″ and no matter how much I want it, I’d never be able to beat Lebron at a one-on-one game of basketball. While I truly believe that positive thinking can take you very far, (studies show optimists live longer, healthier lives) there are some things that are simply out of reach.

Like the rest of you, I don’t like limits, I don’t like rules. I don’t like things to be hard and fast. I want to cling to the romantic notion that the unattainable can be attained, that I am capable of anything I want to do, so long as I really want to do it. But here is the truth they didn’t tell us: You can do almost anything, but only if you’re willing to work hard your whole life and make sacrifices in order to achieve it. It is amazing what you can accomplish by imagining something and then pouring every ounce of strength you have into the realization of it. You can do what many thought was impossible, but you have to do more than write a thesis and receive a degree (or two) to see it happen. You have to work for it. Wanting it, dreaming it, believing in it is simply not enough. You can reach for the stars all you want they’re not coming any closer you must go to them.

It takes time, which is perhaps the hardest part. Anyone can work hard for a day, but to do it for years or even decades in order to see a dream realized takes patience and strength of character. Don’t get discouraged. I often hear from my peers that they thought they’d be in a different place than they are now, they thought they’d have  a better job, or a better paycheck. Craig Groeschel addressed this at catalyst this year.

“This generation overestimates what God what’s to do with you in the short run and underestimates what God want’s to do with you in the long run.”

You will have a hard time accepting this if you are a true member of the Mellinial Generation, because the one thing we excel at is overconfidence. You may know that according to an international survey, despite scoring very low in math and science, our generation scored highest in confidence. For the past two decades we have believed that we were the best, that we are smarter, funnier, and more creative than any generation before- because the lie lead us to believe those things. The lie made us think we were special. The lie made us arrogant. In reality we are not any better than our parents- we’re just different. We have different strengths and we have different weaknesses. That may be news to you as well, but we do have weaknesses.

But, thats not what they told us. I warn you that if you continue to live like this is true that you will see the fulfillment of Malcolm Muggeridge’s prophecy written about the same time we were all being born.

Thus did western man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania; himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down.

And having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer, until at last, having educated himself into imbecility and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and became extinct.

Or will our mantra be that of George Bernard Shaw’s great quote:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

So Millennials, what will future generations say of us? What will our children tell their grandchildren- will they say we sat around in public places shouting our anger at the world for it not bending to our will? Will they say we expected the government to spoon feed us? Will they say all of our talk of social justice was nothing but show? Will they call us lazy? Entitled? Or will they say we beat a bad economy with ingenuity and an entrepreneurial spirit? That we worked hard so that they could live in a better world- That we never blamed anyone for the hardships we faced- That we were selfless?

We are writing history and we can choose now to be a generation that couldn’t face the truth or we can be the generation that showed a maturity beyond its years. And when that history is written, what will it say? It could say that we didn’t rise to the occasion, that we lacked innovation, that we chose to play the victim when things got hard, that we left this world in even worse a state than we found it, that we were selfish, that our generation spent more time playing video games or rehearsing with our band than we did actually trying to better this world, that our knowledge of popular culture dwarfed our knowledge of anything useful, that we sat writing blogs complaining about each other, that we were a total waste of space and that the only way in which we were an example for our children was that we showed them exactly how not to live.

We could be that generation or we could be a generation that used our creativity in a way that created jobs for future generations, the generation that ended extreme global poverty, the generation that saw the end of slavery and human trafficking worldwide, the generation that stopped the AIDS crisis in Africa, the generation that spent more time fixing the problems of the world than complaining about them, the generation that fed the hungry and healed the sick, the generation that watched the divorce rate dwindle into nothingness, the generation who used their creativity to house the homeless and give hope to those who have none, the generation that solved the debt crisis and the energy crisis, the generation that saw the whole world get clean water, the generation who did more for the next generation than they did for their own, the generation who left this world a much better place than the way they found it. Because if we want to be that generation, it doesn’t happen on accident. The only way this happens is by sacrifice.

Does all this sound impossible? We’re the generation who doesn’t believe in the impossible, remember? See, there is one condition under which this ideal is, in fact true.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Phil 4:13 (KJV 2k)

Through Christ. not through wanting – not even through hard work can all things be achieved, but through Christ. Our confidence doesn’t come from our knowledge or our own strength. It comes from God:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14

So mellinials, we need a generation that stops believing the impossible is possible, what we need is a generation who will do the impossible because Christ is their strength. Will you be that generation?

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Posted on November 25, 2011 in Everything Else, Random Thoughts

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About the Author

William H. Adams does creative work for a church. He enjoys sandwiches, jet skis, legos, ultimate frisbee, and living life to the fullest. Will is most passionate about using creative media to tell the story of what God is doing in the lives of those who love Christ. He believes the purpose of his life to glorify God and encourage others.

Responses (2)

  1. […] I mentioned in my last blog post, being a member of the Millennial Generation means that I was given a lot of ‘Be the best you you […]

  2. […] “You can do anything” – I have railed against this saying in previous posts because I believe that it results in an entitled attitude. I don’t care what your parents, […]

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