The common archetypical “millennial” is a highly fragile and emotional character, someone who can break quite easily. There are many factors that created the fragile psyche attributed to most millennials. But regardless of who is to blame, this phenomena is one that needs immediate attention.
It’s very possible–and, arguably, necessary–for millennials to buck this trend and become “anti-fragile,” robust members of society. To do this, however, we have to understand how millennials got into this situation, and why they remain there. It’s only then that millennials can take the steps they need to take to change and develop the trait of antifragility.
How Did We Get Here?
Fear of failure and lack of peer support are dominating issues facing many millennials. The fear itself can be a crippling factor, and this has to do with a culture that told us failure is bad. We were never taught that failure is a place of learning or reflection. We were told to do better, and avoid failure in the future. But as we soon discover, reality is starkly different.
The Greek poet Hesiod wrote of a chthonic creature named the Hydra. This creature was a multi-headed snake near the lake of Lerna. It’s explained that the Hydra became stronger the more it was attacked. For every head it lost in battle, it would grow more. To kill the Hydra, Hercules comforted it and put it in a place of peace.
The idea of antifragility captured in this story is that Hydra becomes most vulnerable when it is most comfortable. The same is true in life, regardless of your religion. Often, those who are given immense challenges become the strongest of all. It’s the comfortable, coddled, and bubble-wrapped among us who lose in the end.
Strength Through Vulnerability
Millennials may appear vulnerable, but they often wear masks and cover their troubles for fear of social retribution. Social media only exacerbates these issues in our culture. If you observe all the problems affecting millennials today, many come down to people putting on strong facades. People seek to fulfill what they think they want, as opposed to pursuing the transcendent plan for their life.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, Lewis examines how vulnerability is actually a cornerstone of love. The same is true of failure: failure can be the greatest milestone for success if it is capitalized on. If failure is a fear, it will never become a place of learning. To become antifragile is to boast in weakness. We must understand that, just as the Hydra became stronger the more it was attacked, we too must embrace confrontation and risk failure.
Steps Toward Antifragility
So how does one become more antifragile? Here are some steps I follow for myself. They may not all work for you, but they’re stepping-stones in the right direction.
One of the first steps is the most on point: rather than avoid failure, start taking steps to embrace it as a learning experience. Take calculated risks where they are appropriate. Start valuing actual achievements, however small, and not the kinds of empty praise you might have grown up receiving. (Here’s looking at you, participation trophies. Time to go into the burn pile.)
Another step is to discipline yourself. Jordan Peterson has famously told his audience members to clean their rooms to help change their lives. Indeed, taking active control over how you live and behave will help you build personal strength. Consider waking up at the same time every day (like 5:00 AM, in my case), or taking cold showers once a day.
Lastly, expose yourself to wisdom and challenge how you think. Study classic literature. Read and reflect on religious texts–even if you’re not religious (the book of Proverbs is a great starting point). Challenging yourself with philosophy, ethics, and other knowledge will help change the framework in which you see and deal with the world.
Ultimately, bucking the millennial stereotype is no easy task, but it’s one that we should all pursue. Trying at all is itself another step toward antifragility: there is no easy solution, and being patient with your own failures and mistakes is a challenge in itself. The real world is filled with obstacles, failures, and heartbreak. How we deal with the world’s challenges separates those who can overcome from those who become another statistic.