The nothing-burger meme has recently gained popularity as we try to sort out fact from fiction in today’s complicated and dissonant world. Ideas that seem like a whole lot of nothing will often be dismissed as a “nothing-burger.”
Having just worked with a group of twenty-somethings who were penning a piece to share their experiences, I learned that far from a nothing-burger we have a definite “Twenty-Something Burger” as our young adults enter the workforce. Anxiety and self-doubt abound as they become self-sufficient. Understanding the layers of the twenty-something burger may help parents and mentors who seek stronger bonds.
The Buns of the Burger
The bottom is a bun of expectation and the top of the bun is fulfillment. Our twenty-somethings enter this decade believing what we fed them. Their trophy-filled, failure-free environment has led to big expectations that include:
—Purposeful work: They seek to improve the world, at least as much as their individual lot. In a survey I conducted, “mission” rated highest in what matters at work, scoring 8.8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Whether it is teaching in underserved communities, or advocating for social issues, there are many ways they seek to do good.
—Financial independence: Our twenty-somethings want to live on their own, pay back their loans, and still have change in their pockets. One contributor described volunteering to gain experience, while she lived with her aunt and nannied for dough. Free time was spent walking because walking is free. A devout astrologist, the Pisces in her searched for water fountains to make the walk more fun.
—Autonomy in the job: Unlike baby boomers who found it natural to abide by authority, this group often chafes at marching orders. They prefer context and understanding so that they can apply personal ingenuity to their job. Speaking as a baby boomer, this feels dismissive. Why doesn’t our experience count for more in their eyes? This is an important intergenerational conversation to have. A bridge needs building.
The ascent from expectation to fulfillment — where twenty-somethings are to where they want to be — is the “meat of the burger.”
The Meat of the Burger
The meat of the burger has three components:
—Feeling Healthy: Contributors to my book experienced significant anxiety and depression, as they were adrift with squashed dreams. Through therapy, meditation, yoga, nature hikes — you name it — many were able to muscle their way through. The titles of two pieces say it all: “A Clash of Perception and Reality,” and “Heal Thyself.” Without a healthy foundation, everything seems impossible.
—Managing Rejection: Rejection is particularly painful to a generation we shielded from failure. When an out-of-work journalist feels despair and resorts to becoming a Lyft driver, he has called an important audible. He writes, “I just wasn’t used to this kind of repeated rejection. Growing up, I might get rejected from a travel soccer team, but there was always another team to join.” Learning to accept rejection as part of the process and adapt is important.
—Experimentation and Discovery: This generation wears many hats to see what fits best. A camp director switches to politics, a barista by day becomes a writer at night. Allowing oneself the freedom to explore is critical. One contributor admits, “I keep saying yes because that’s when I learn that a path isn’t me.”
What Are We To Do?
After we exonerate ourselves from the question of “What did we do wrong?” we want to know what can we do to support our children. My dad would often tell me, “My money’s on you.” I didn’t think about it much then — at least consciously. Now though, I recognize the wisdom of his words as he expressed complete confidence in me.
My goal in this undertaking? To figure out how to add myself as a special sauce to this burger — be supportive in a way that helps and yet not shirk responsibility when I have something important to say. My playbook has become:
—Ask more questions, offer less advice: For example, “How will you know when …” or “Why doesn’t (fill in the obvious choice) make sense?”
—Recall and share my own missteps: Even though we are built differently, it turns out that anxiety and big expectations are timeless. Missteps shared yields empathy and maybe the start of that bridge.
In “Wizard of Oz,” as Dorothy prepares to click her heels and return home, Glinda tells her it was always in Dorothy’s power, but she had to find out for herself. That might be 21st-century parenting in a nutshell — mum while our kids figure it out. And, it is hoped, we get recognized as the Good Witch.