By Doni Joszef
They call us “millennials.”
We were born sometime between 1980 and 2000.
We seem to be having trouble adapting to the adjustments of adulthood.
We seem to be having trouble getting employed and staying employed.
We seem to be having trouble getting married and staying married.
We seem to be having trouble getting motivated and staying motivated.
In other words, we seem to be having trouble with life.
• • •
While our parents (the “baby boomers”) bemoan our instabilities and bewail our insecurities, they tend to overlook their own influences in the making of this mess. Their experiment was designed with only the best intentions, but seems to have paved a path to the place where good intentions often lead. The unintended result has been a generation of maladjusted, overindulged, underinspired young adults who feel deflated, defeated, and unequipped to face the facts of real life. Marriage, employment, and parenthood are taxing tasks. We want their fruits without laboring to facilitate their fruition, and so we find ourselves dissatisfied, disenchanted, and disappointed.
But I think the psychological dynamics that underlie our generational dysfunction run deeper than this. Allow me to invoke an interesting Talmudic teaching to illustrate what I believe to be the core of our collective complex.
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3a) depicts an odd transaction between G‑d and “the nations” that will transpire at the “end of days” (time & date TBA).
To make a long story short, the nations will request an opportunity to try some mitzvos on for size before the curtains of history close and their fate is forever sealed. G‑d, we are told, will graciously offer them a last-minute chance to test-drive what He calls a “mitzvah kallah” (a simple mitzvah), the mitzvah of sukkah.
They’ll gather under the shade of this homey hut until a scorching sun comes out to ruin the fun and festivities, culminating in an surge of restlessness and resentment. They’ll leave the sukkah, furiously kicking it as they make their exit.
Now, let us zoom in on one peculiar detail of this episode.
They kick the sukkah out of frustration.
But was it not the sukkah that provided them with some semblance of shade (albeit not central air conditioning) amidst the uncomfortable and unbearable heat?! Why would they resent the sukkah—and kick it—if the sukkah served to satisfy their own needs?
The answer, I believe, is that humans naturally resist being told what to do.
Even if it’s “for our own good,” the very fact that we are being instructed, guided, and directed rubs us the wrong way. Maturity entails a submission to the discomforts and frustrations of direction from those with more experience and foresight than ourselves. It means trusting the guidance of older and wiser mentors. It means knowing that we don’t know everything, even if we think we do.
The nations resent and kick the sukkah not because it lacks central air, but because it represents instruction, direction, and submission to authority. The moment they feel some tinge of discomfort, their immaturity and impatience break through the barriers of their behavior and they kick their only source of shade simply because it was their only source of accountability and responsibility.
I believe we millennials suffer from a similar case of immaturity.
We have big dreams and grand plans, but we lack the willingness to toil for them, to start at the bottom and work our way up. We want to be CEOs and partners before we earn the credibility to claim such positions. The moment we’re faced with criticism, direction, and instruction, we kick the figurative walls down and storm out in a fury.
We don’t want to grow up, we’re millennial kids.
We came of age in an age of entitlement.
And now we’re paying the price. v
Based on a talk by the author at the OU Center in Jerusalem on Sukkos.
Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice with adolescents and young adults in Lawrence. He blogs at DeficitOfAttention.com and is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.