All good things come to an end.
Looking back into the archives of human history, we see patterns and cycles that have similar fundamental dynamics playing out over and over.
Things might look bleak sometimes, but in reality, we’re lucky.
In the past, when things have reached this point, this point at which we’ve outgrown the systems and standards put forward by our parents, our grandparents, and our grandparents’ parents, there has been a destruction phase.
War, revolution, and bloodshed have been the hallmarks of the turning juncture in the cycles of life and its collective counterpart, civilization, sure as sunrise and sunset, life and death, winter into spring, so that new growth can happen.
We may be able to pivot out of what has historically ended in mass death and destruction. That alone is a testament to humanity’s evolutionary progress.
But make no mistake – there are challenging times ahead. We are heading back into the primordial soup, the one that always follows the crumbling of an empire. It’s the time in which, like our forerunners, we will have to find order in chaos. We will ban together to figure out what the next iteration of human destiny will look like, partly inspired by a better future, partly because our survival depends on it.
Perhaps the best starting point is laying down our anger. Not because it isn’t valid, but because it will only poison the work that has to be done.
As with whatever blueprint humanity draws up for this next chapter, the logic and thinking that went into the world we live in were based on what made the most sense at the end of the last cycle. A generation rebuilding after back-to-back world wars were understandably drawn to the warmth of the nuclear family, stability, and structure, like moths to a flame. And who could blame them?
Earth continued steady on its orbit, and humanity pressed on, not knowing that someday, what makes the most sense now will someday become a relic that our posterity will have to adapt to meet the needs of the world they’ll live in. The work of evolution is never done – adapt or die.
Life is about trial and error. Testing variables. It requires constant optimization.
If we look at it through this lens, we can celebrate the journey and honor the spirit, sacrifice, and devotion of those who came before us, who were on the same existential treadmill in different environmental conditions, trying to keep up with an ever-changing world as best they could.
This is natural. Expected, even.
Millennials and Generation Z arrived to a world in a decay state. The tricky thing about this part is that it a gradual process. It sneaks small but cumulative concessions that add drag over time. It can take a long time to realize that what had once worked marvelously is now the bottleneck of further progress.
We were told “go to college” by the people who loved us most, precisely because they loved us. It was indeed amazing advice for the generations that came before us, and they couldn’t know what they didn’t know.
Capitalism, which in its hey day, brought about the highest living standard the world had ever known, had done so by streamlining operations, cutting costs, and increasing output – more for everyone. Efficiency and scale marched right past their prime and began quietly eroding society while everyone was just satisfied enough to not do anything about it.
As we started our careers behind the start line, saddled with debt, we pursued the milestones of bygone times as the world around us changed.
We adapted. Millennials and Generation Z are profoundly empathetic, creative, and curious cohorts. They are the pioneers of the Digital New World, which will have no less profound of an impact on the New World Order as those that traversed the face of the Earth for the first time, with no concept of what lied beyond the horizon.
The aftershocks of these seminal events in human history are still in motion today, hundreds, sometimes thousands of years on. The Digital World, a third, highly connective world, is being discovered and integrated, the implications of which remain to be seen.
We will build upon the foundation they have laid out for us. We have the secret sauce to make the changes the world needs, changes that make sense for the foreseeable future. Someday, those changes will be the very vestiges future generations will need to rebuild as time marches on and the shadows of our ideals stretch longer and longer.
Take social media. What started as a fun way to connect and learn about your friends and peers has grown to sway presidential elections, inspire real social change – for better AND for worse. It felt pretty topical at first, didn’t it?
As the implications come into full view, it’s back to the drawing board. How we can preserve the good that comes from our experiments while containing and optimizing adverse reactions? Take comfort in knowing that will always be the case. It’s the very mechanism of human ingenuity. We always strive to do better. We make mistakes. We learn. Assess, adapt, repeat.
If you feel a little anxious or depressed – that’s normal. It is a reflection of the reliable uncertainty that has accompanied us on our journey since Lucy first stood up on her hind legs.
We’ve jumped through hoops, got the degrees, promotions, education, and experience we thought was going to buy us the American Dream. Congratulations. We’ve done ‘it.’ If it feels like smoke and mirrors, it’s because the reward functions of the feedback loop – the white picket fence, owning homes, starting families – are still just out of reach.
Perhaps that’s why we are the generation who feels like we haven’t grown up.
We have long believed that first comes love, then wedding bells, established addresses, and babies in the baby carriage. But the front door of that home was locked, so we postponed the rest thinking, we’ll figure it out. The years passed, we moved forward on paper only.
The goalposts of “adulthood” as we understood it moved further and further ahead.
As the prospect of starting families seemed ever distant, and the years went by, the rebound effects made us question our relationships with one another and explore our own identities with a fine-toothed comb. Couples who loved each other and the idea of kids put it off because they were never quite ready. The feminine divine tried to redefine their roles of providing humanity their “why,” while the masculine energy began to lose confidence in what they had brought to the table throughout most of human history – the “how.”
If all the ingredients are here, and yet, something is missing, perhaps the very nature of our relationships with one another need to be questioned and redefined, too.
These questions led to a Renaissance in human sexuality, a change in our relationship with animals, plants, and nature, and an open-mindedness to a remix in the meaning of happiness and success.
Being shut out of a viable economy conditioned us to living with each other, which made us tolerate each other, and indeed, love each other enough to make the most out of what we had. We co-miserated and laughed at our collective failure to launch while making memories that enriched us in ways that rivaled those that had been there during the ripening phase of the system that had denied us material wealth.
It is precisely that spirit of consciousness and collaboration, the shared lens of what constitutes value in society, that will enable us to fix and repair the system forged from the ashes by the survivors of catastrophic warfare to the best of their abilities.
COVID-19 uprooted our strongest connection to the anachronistic system of social security numbers, 401ks, and morning commutes. It accelerated our already white-hot desire to start rebuilding a society that make sense for us, evidenced by the Great Resignation wave that is in motion now and the rise of the alternative cryptocurrency economy.
And so we step forward, knowing that the world will continue to turn beneath our feet, that life is the sum of concurrent cycles, always in motion, that there is no ‘right’ answer, that the only thing constant is change.
But perhaps most importantly, that humanity’s success and progress has always been, and always will be, an iterative process.