The Millennial Search for Meaning

A recent article at Forbes about the lament of Millennials and their desire to find meaning in their work got me thinking. What makes these youngsters so special? We all want our work to be meaningful, don’t we? I mean who hits the marketplace thinking I can’t wait to do tedious, monotonous work, day after day, until I can retire? I spent some time considering this phenomenon and suddenly many pieces fell into place.

Everyone wants meaning in their lives. The very fortunate find a rewarding career that pays the bills and provides personal satisfaction, but most people rely on family, friends, and their faith for meaning. Compared to their parents, millennials are more likely to change jobs and move a greater distance from their hometown. This makes it difficult for them to maintain contact with family and build relationships with friends. In addition, survey after survey has shown that many millennials stop practicing their faith and designate their religion as “none”. So, without having the typical sources of meaning, it is clear why millennials so desperately yearn for meaning at work, the place where they spend the majority of their time.

What happens when millennials can’t find meaning in their work? This article relates how millennials are more likely to be stressed, depressed, and diagnosed with a mental illness than members of older generations. It suggests this is due to being brought up thinking they are important people who must always do well. When they don’t find immediate success and prosperity at their workplace it challenges the upbringing which led them to believe the sky was their limit. Then, being away from home and struggling to find purpose at work one could ask “What about dating?” Unfortunately, this is also the generation that is mired in a “hook-up” culture. Smartphone apps allow users to meet others for casual one-night stands. I know several poor souls whose flings turned into months of cohabitation only to end in a realization that the couple had nothing in common. So meaningful romantic relationships can be elusive for this crowd as well.

I certainly don’t think any baptized millennial Catholic who doesn’t attend Mass will read this blog and rush to the nearest church for Confession. My intention is for faith-filled parents, godparents, grandparents, siblings, and friends to realize the spiritual crisis we are all aware of is not disjoint from all of the other issues that young adults struggle with. We must build bridges of trust so our loved ones can know that Our Lord lived as one of us and understands our human life perfectly. How do we relay a message of mission and meaning without coming off as preachy or “churchy”?

The pain the millennial generation feels needs to be addressed on two fronts. First, we need to build a church where we put the communion back into community to help young adults see what Christian living should look like. The early church grew from village to village and nation to nation because others would say in reference to Christians, “See how they love one another”. We must show this love and demonstrate the power of community to those who don’t find meaning in theirs. Pope Francis, moved by the Holy Spirit, declared a year of Mercy, but when it was over said that “Compassion must live on.” The second thing is to save the next group of children from the same pain. The emptiness that millennials feel was created by the generation that preceded it. Parents who don’t aspire to build church but instead built large houses and demanding careers will show their children that community and faith are not sources of meaning. These children felt like they didn’t matter and want to make it right, but they don’t know how. It’s time to get back to work.

About Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews lives with his wife and two children in a Chicago suburb. He teaches high school math for a living and sixth grade religious education at his parish. He is also a lector, singer, and Knights of Columbus member. Mark's novel The Joy of the Lord is a historical fiction about the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. It is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.
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