The Question Many Young Adults Hate Hearing

It’s graduation season, so I hear this question being posed more than any other time of year:

“So what are you doing now?

A little part of me deflates every time someone asks me this.

Nothing impressive, that’s what, I think to myself.

Not using my degree, that’s what.

Adulting poorly, that’s what.

Failing in almost every area of my life, that’s what.

Okay, some of those might be an exaggeration, but many of my friends echo these sentiments. Not the incredibly negative self-talk necessarily, but the aversion to the dreaded “What are you doing with your life?” question.

Because, let’s face it: even if we’re trying to practice contentment in all circumstances, even if we’re headed in the right direction…most of us aren’t where we think we should be.

Some of us aren’t even close.

I know that most of the time the people interrogating us about our lives have good intentions. They’re on our side and they’re just curious because they honestly don’t know what we’re up to.

A few of them don’t have good intentions, and it’s usually obvious from the get-go. They have a special way of making us feel extra insignificant by inflating their own accomplishments.

But they aren’t the only ones who can make us feel small. Sometimes even the people who are for us can reduce us just by asking what we’re doing with our lives.

Here’s why:

  1. It brings up the insecurities we’ve been trying to push down (justified or otherwise).
  2. It reminds us of how we’re falling short compared to others – others our age, others in our life stage, others in general. Especially when we see the person posing the question as someone who’s successful.
  3. It embarrasses us. Things haven’t gone as planned, and we’re more disappointed than anyone about it.
  4. We’re afraid people will think less of us.
  5. We’re afraid people will tell others about our sad realities, and then those people will think less of us, too. (P.S. Being asked “What are you doing with your life?” in front of a crowd is even worse than having to answer it one-on-one.)
  6. We have goals and dreams, but we don’t want to sound like we’re shooting for the moon if we mention them.
  7. Oh, and of course the question tempts us to lie. We realize many people exaggerate their level of success, but we want to be truthful…even though we know our answers aren’t very impressive.

Simply put? We feel ashamed, and we fear what others will think.

I believe this can be true for anyone (not just young adults), but I especially feel for new graduates. Whether that means high school or college, few grads immediately plunge right into successful careers, so they’re not always eager to talk about their less-than-impressive entry-level jobs (or fruitless job searching).

The Question Many Young Adults Hate Hearing | Millennials with Meaning

And then there are those of us who are relatively far removed from high school and college, but we still find ourselves in the slow lane and taking the back roads on the way to our intended destinations.

No matter what job title I’ve held, I’ve always felt like I’m not where I “should” be in life. I’ve always felt behind somehow.

I’ve never not felt that way.

Right now I’m a part-time nanny, more-than-part-time volunteer, and a semi-aspiring writer somewhere in the middle of the rest of it. But even during the years when I had a stable, full-time, benefits-eligible job, I still hated when people asked me what I was doing with my life. I still felt less-than.

I think I dislike the “What are you doing with your life?” question more the older I get, actually. Probably because I’m still living with my parents and helping to raise other people’s kids while others my age (and younger) have their own houses and children, along with enviable careers anyone would call successful.

My situation is generally frowned upon in society. I sometimes frown upon it, too. But I know it’s where I’m supposed to be right now, I know it’s what I’m supposed to do right now, and that’s what ultimately matters.

Each of us is responsible for doing what we’re called to in any season.

And the rest of us can help each other out by not piling on extra guilt about what we are and are not doing (including self-directed guilt!). I know my mom friends would agree, too, and say they’ve had enough of the “mom guilt.”

If you have young adults in your life (or, really, any people) and you want to be extra nice, skip the “So…what are you doing now?” question.

I don’t want to sound overly sensitive or imply that the rest of my generation is, either, but based on discussions I’ve had with others and in my own opinion, the question just does more harm than good. And I think if most people understood that, they wouldn’t ask it.

I’ve been asked the question by people my own age just as much as by people in other generations, and I’ve posed it to others plenty of times, too. But if I really consider it, I don’t think it’s the best question to ask. And that’s never clearer than when someone asks it of me! 😁

So, if you want to show some love to some young adults today…don’t ask them what they’re doing with their lives. 😊

Sincerely, a Young Adult (and a Words of Affirmation girl)

Tune in next week for a list of questions TO ASK instead!

The Question Many Young Adults Hate Hearing

What Promised Land Are You Already Living In?

The Question Many Young Adults Hate Hearing

Questions to Ask Instead of “What Are You Doing With Your Life?”

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There are 2 comments

  1. Curious reader

    I’m curious and looking forward to reading what your suggestions are. I have never liked emphasizing someone’s identity based on their vocational occupation.

    1. millennialswithmeaning

      I agree, I wish our society didn’t equate job titles with identity like it tends to do. I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I do have a few suggestions in tomorrow’s post! 😊 Thanks for commenting!

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