The Challenge of Being a Highly Sensitive Millennial…

Aug 14, 2017 | Blog

I hear all sorts of complaints about millennials. We’re lazy. Entitled. Too busy on our iPhones to bother conversing with real people. Too narcissistic to love.

I have a rebuttal for some of these accusations. 

First…if you think we’re lazy, your slice of reality must be small. Statistically, at least, we are a generation of workaholics.

Are we entitled? Maybe. Some of us must be. It’s a tough one to prove on the macro level, though. Most of the millennials in my circle don’t have full-time jobs. They can’t find them. So they work two to three part time positions. Or they have one full-time job that doesn’t offer health insurance, so they work a few side hustles for a bit more security. At the end of all that work…yeah. They probably do feel entitled to …something. They feel entitled to be able to afford  housing. They feel entitled to some measure of security.

Are we too busy on our iPhones? Yes. This one I’ll give you. In fact, according to some, they engage more with their smartphones than they do with humans. But why wouldn’t we? If we want information about something, we can just google it. If we need to find a restaurant, we can yelp it. Technology is one space where our efforts produce results. Fast. In nearly every other aspect of our lives, we have to work pretty damn hard and be comfortable seeing…not much of a result. In this one place, we can see results from our efforts with the click of a button That kind of gratification is addicting. We’ve got the research to prove it.

And how about narcissistic? Apparently the answer to this one is “yes.” At least if you’re measuring it by psychological measures in the DSM.  After years of being told that we are “special,” and giving us trophies for work we may or may not have earned the right to brag about…some of it stuck. We got to adulthood feeling like it might be true. Maybe we are super special. Then we faced reality and discovered…nope. We’re not. We are just as flesh-and-bone-average as other homosapiens. How did we respond? We started creating fictional version of ourselves. If we can’t be awesome, we can at least post awesome status updates on facebook. But you’ll be gratified to know it’s not making us happy. If anything, we’re more stressed and anxious than any other generation…at least relative to those we are in a position to compare millennials to. Why? Because we are constantly seeing people post awesome experiences on their facebook updates and thinking “gee…she seems to have the good life. What am I doing wrong?”

If happiness = reality – expectations…is it really any wonder we aren’t happy? No way could reality ever measure up to these wild expectations.

And as for love? We are sucking at it. Whether we are lousy at it because we are narcissistic or because we are too busy getting addicted to technology…or maybe because we are too busy clocking in for that second occupation…the fact of the matter is, we aren’t doing a particularly good job in this area. This is especially true with romantic love. For example, We have less sex than other generations (I guess spending hours at the office and then hours more worrying about whether that money will be enough to cover rent and health insurance isn’t conducive to a hot night in the bedroom. Many of us don’t even have nights to get hot about. We are too busy working nights.)

So you are welcome to complain about us…but if I were you, I would just pity us.

We are living in a time that requires us to be extraordinarily adaptable. What you see is a world of startups that have treadmill desks and unlimited PTO (I know…it’s a thing). But what you might not see is the degree to which we are expendable. Just as an example, I went from making a full-time salary at a startup to being asked to do the same work for 10% of the pay (due to a lack of money from investors and a slower return than expected). Fortunately, I work two other jobs. What money I made at that startup, I knew was higher risk. So I put 6 months of savings away and continued making a living with the jobs I had. I’m one of the lucky ones.

And as for time off? We might have unlimited PTO, but the expectation is that we won’t ever use it. I can’t remember the last time I took a vacation. I don’t think I ever have taken one. In the last five years, I think I may have taken a total of one week of work off (one or two to move, one or two for sick days, and one or two for recreational use).

So we have adapted. We say yes to per diem work for three different companies. Of course we do. We kinda have to. Because if we ever want to be able to cut out a life with today’s cost of living, we need at least two full-time incomes just to be able to get a shot at it. We have traded in work-life balance for work-life integration. We find ways to build flexibility into our work schedules because we need that flexibility. At least I do. It’s hard to balance three jobs without a little bend from the organizations for which I work.

As a result, we have exciting work lives that take us up and down and over and out. We are never bored.

But it all comes at a cost…

What is the cost? Intimacy. We almost can’t get too close to other people in our lives. We don’t have the time.

When relationship begin to falter, we do one of three things.

  1. We leave. Why not work on the relationship? Why not try a little harder? Because we are exhausted. At best, we can take care of ourselves enough to feel good enough to get to work. Plus…have you seen online dating apps? When things get hard, it’s difficult not to look to the zillions of online dating profiles and imagine a “better fish” or a more fitting “match” isn’t out there…which brings me to
  2. We simply come to understand that we can’t get all our needs met by one person alone and we open up the floor for more partners. We build rules around polyamory. Green is the new black, and polyamory is the new committed.
  3. We retreat from the notion of developing close relationships altogether in favor of trying to meet our own needs. We retreat inward into self-development. After all, the only person who actually needs to live in my own skin is me. I better take care of me.

Either way, as it stands, we simply don’t have much room left for the people we claim to love.  

Whether we ultimately decide to part ways with our current partner for a new one, create more flexibility in the ones we have, or give up on the idea of partnership altogether…the bottom line is that we are finding it increasingly difficult to build long-lasting relationships. They are too icky. Too hard. They require the kind of patience we simply have not had the need or opportunity to cultivate.

We know how to work. We know how to take care of ourselves. We know how to communicate those needs to others. We just don’t know how to meet the needs of others.

None of that would be a problem…except that no one seems to be especially happy about where we have landed. What I keep hearing is….”I feel alone.”

All of this is hard on all of us. But I think it may be especially hard on those who identify as being highly sensitive. 

I can’t speak for every person who identifies as being a highly sensitive person. I can only really speak for myself. But I am deeply lonely. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I have friends that I love like family. I have family I laugh with as friends….

About once every other week.

Maybe that’s just the nature of adulting. Maybe that’s what being an adult requires and we millennials are simply too entitled to see that life necessitates sacrifice.

But that doesn’t make the pain of it less real. At least…it doesn’t make it less real for me. 

Highly sensitive millennials are, therefore, in a particularly tough spot. On one hand, we are fortunate. There are more tools available to us to engage in work that has meaning for us. We can market through social media. We can reach anyone in the country. In fact, we can connect with people from all over the world. This puts us in a uniquely beneficial position. We can find ways to work that don’t exhaust us and work in ways that make us feel we have purpose.

Unfortunately, we also have much higher needs in the realm of friendship and romantic relationships. We have a natural tendency to want to go deeper. When things start going wrong in our relationships, we are more likely to be preoccupied by them. We may not need as much social engagement, as a rule…but when we do engage with people, we need a greater degree of connection. We crave it. At least I do.

So here we are…

We have the technology and capacity to work in more flexible styles of work (Yay!)

But we also have to be more flexible and adaptable to change (hmmm)

We can connect with people from all over the world (Yay!)

But that connection will often be limited due the restraints of time and distance (hmmm)

We can have unlimited PTO (Yeah baby!)

But we should understand that we are expected not to use it (Oh…)

We can work any time we want to and from any PLACE (That’s what I’m talkin about!)

But that also means we often have to work at all hours, and in places we might otherwise like to unplug (Hmmm).

Highly sensitive people don’t tend to like too much stimulation, as a rule. And they crave intimacy in a way others might not need in the same way. In this way, highly sensitive millennials have some serious challenges to contend with.

Are you a highly sensitive millennial? How do you contend with these challenges? What strategies have you implemented to keep you connected with your community without feeling overwhelmed by too much business and stimulation?