22-year-old Taylor Cotter recently published a piece in The Huffington Post entitled “The Struggle of Not Struggling.” Her attempts to come to terms with her postgraduate success while bemoaning the fact that she will never get to experience the impoverished lifestyle of her friends and the characters on the HBO show Girls, has already drawn considerable ire—and understandably so. I first discovered her piece when I read Gawker’s brutal critique, and I understand why readers would be tempted to call her entitled. Objectively, Cotter has nothing to complain about; being able to afford a car and begin saving for retirement immediately after graduating college in a “Great Recession” is a luxury few members of our generation can hope to attain.
However, if we spend a moment thinking about something other than financial earnings, Cotter’s “Struggle” raises an interesting question about our development as individuals. She writes about her series of internships and the resumé padding that eventually led to her current success, and in doing so, describes the path to success that many of us have grown up believing is the “correct” path.
While financially it may be the correct path, the same immediate payoff that “proves” that Cotter took the right path ensures that she will never have the opportunity to deviate from it. She’ll always be secure financially, but she’ll never get to see what sort of person she would be if she spent a year doing something other than maintaining her trajectory to success. Realistically, I can imagine that any of her peers would trade places with her; it’s not like our generation isn’t trying to get employed. Her talk of self-discovery isn’t just naiveté though; it’s an acknowledgment that she would have learned something valuable about herself if the plan she had always lived by had fallen through.
Furthermore, there’s more to this self-discovery than an idealized desire to, as Gawker put it, “be ‘that insouciant unemployed 22-year-old who is stealing beer from [a] bodega." Our generation has been called “The Trophy Generation” because, as the conventional wisdom goes, we were rewarded for nothing more than just showing up. I have no doubt that Taylor has worked incredibly hard to achieve her current success; she hasn’t been rewarded “just for showing up.” However, she also hasn’t had to experience failure. While her peers have been forced to learn how to cope when the going gets tough, by struggling to find jobs and learn the resiliency that comes with that struggle, Taylor has missed out on that valuable lesson.
Maybe she’s afraid that, someday, things won’t go as smoothly as they’re going right now. Her peers who are broke and unemployed, hopefully, have parents whose extra bedroom they can move back into while they learn how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. If the other shoe drops for Taylor, she might not have that support system in place; she might have a husband and kids she needs to provide for, aging parents she needs to take care of, or medical expenses that she can’t handle. The stakes will never be lower than they are right now, and she might end up wishing she’d learned how to fail.