My generation has a problem, or so everyone seems to be saying.
Whether they’re commentators criticizing grown adults for playing Pokémon Go, or experts focusing on the fact that Millennials are less likely to marry, bloggers nicknaming us Special Protagonists, or columnists bemoaning the emotional fragility that requires a filter of political correctness and trigger warnings to discuss anything remotely controversial, you get a pretty grim picture of young people today from just about the whole world.
Which is a bummer, given that I’m a young person. Especially because, while I don’t agree with every article bemoaning our (multiple) flaws, I can kinda see their general point.
A recent hit by Twenty-One Pilots, “Stressed Out,” has been labeled an anthem from our generation. You can listen to the whole thing, but the general sense is in the chorus: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days, when our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out …Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face, saying, ‘Wake up, you need to make money.’”
So, catchy song, but I’ve got to admit, the whole idea of the good ol’ days being the era we spent drooling in our cribs sounds a little pathetic. In some ways I get the nostalgia for naptime and Lunchables, but with some stress comes great responsibility and at least a little power to, you know, drive yourself places, make choices about your future, think through ideas and beliefs, or, if none of those appeal to you, at least stop wearing diapers.
As with almost everything, though, it’s not quite that simple. I think there’s another side to the story, found in the breakout success of another song, “Lost Boy”—directly using the metaphor others toss around derisively in a simple, plaintive melody about running away to Neverland, chasing Captain Hook, and finding acceptance among other outcasts.
Critics have wondered how this song from an unknown artist cracked the Top 50, a simple piano ballad referencing not deep themes of love or heartbreak but just a desire to go to the second star to the left and straight on till morning and live a storybook life.
I’m not surprised. When you listen, you realize the song’s Neverland promises almost everything my generation is looking for: freedom, acceptance, purpose, adventure, no responsibilities or worries.
I can relate to this on some level. If it gives you an idea, I have actually worn a fancy dress to do my spring cleaning while blasting Disney music because, hey, Snow White looked like she was having fun, so why not try it? Part of that cleaning involved a brief experiment with strapping scrub brushes on my feet like ice skates, which was hilarious but not super effective.
All that to say…I am not a dour-faced commentator on how this generation needs to get serious about life, skipping all social activities in order to enter their annual goals into a spreadsheet, get a head start on their taxes, and alphabetize their spice rack. I’m not even saying that specific activities are clear indicators of immaturity (like playing video games or calling Mom multiple times a week). But the overall mindset does have me a little worried, mostly because I don’t like what I see when it rises up in my own life.
Let’s face it: I don’t love all the tasks of adulthood—paying bills, sticking with a budget, trying not to monopolize a conversation, handling conflict appropriately, admitting I’m wrong, cleaning toilets, exercising discipline, and remembering to get my car’s oil changed.
But I love being an adult because that is the stage where God has put me right now. I am determined to flourish here, boring tasks and all, rather than live in a mythical past. And I’m looking for others to join me.
To all the Lost Bros out there—the most impressive traits you can cultivate aren’t flashy or trending on Twitter: humility, responsibility, leadership, selflessness. Those are the qualities that will make you a good husband, father, church member, citizen—and the ladies in your life notice.
To all the Manic Pixie Dream Girl wannabes (no, not Tinkerbell exactly, it’s a phenomenon of free-spirited women who exist mostly to please others)—you will not feel satisfied with a life chasing the expectations of those around you. Soon enough, the sparkle will be gone and you’ll wonder why you’re so tired.
But there are even deeper reasons to reject the Neverland mindset, and the key is found in the story itself: in the end, Wendy goes home…and grows up. To me, at least, it’s not a tragic ending. Bittersweet, maybe, but isn’t life bittersweet?
We were made for goals and commitment and struggle, not participation trophies. The way we find purpose is not in going back to a time without responsibilities. That time was a stage of preparation to give us time to mature and become stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually so we could take up the responsibilities God would give us later.
For years, we were dependent on others and parents, teachers, caregivers encouraged, supported, and gave to us without getting much in return. Now we need to be the givers. We need to seek the good of others, make difficult choices, and live our mundane lives to the glory of God, or this generation really will be lost.
Growing up is not about “Wake up, you need to make money.” It’s Wendy Darling looking to the nursery and realizing she can’t stay there any longer—because in mothering the Lost Boys she realized she no longer needs to be mothered, because she doesn’t want to spend her whole life chasing shadows, because in the ticking of the crocodile’s clock, maybe she heard a reminder that her days here are numbered and she wants to use them well.
And I can’t help but think that she brought with her some of that playful imagination, exuberant storytelling, and sense of fun from the nursery to become a gracious, responsible, but still joy-filled adult. Or, at least, that’s what I want to do.
I am not a Lost Boy in Neverland. I am Wendy Darling, and I am ready to grow up.