Failure, Feedback, and Finances: What every millennial should learn in life and therapy

Millennial! The mere word sends a shiver down the spine of every baby boomer who is endlessly raising one, and triggers an eye-roll from the people that are lumped into this generational category. 

This much-maligned group coming of age now was raised on a steady diet of praise and structured activities by so-called helicopter parents. The millennial reputation is one of coddled, thin-skinned, validation-addicted, narcissistic weaklings. It's no wonder that this generation, which was born starting in the early 1980s and through the mid-1990s, is depressed and highly anxious.

As a millennial therapist who has worked with a number of fellow millennials (and their boomer parents), I'm often struck by how inaccurate this millennial reputation is, and how many of their issues have been mirrored or created by the boomers complaining about them. Millennials have a host of awesome traits, including being much more globally-minded, passionate, and mission-driven than our forebears.

I've also got a front row seat to what's going wrong for those who are struggling in this group, including some of the family dynamics that can hold millennials back. This professional experience, combined with my own personal experience growing up, has taught me some good lessons about the psychological tools millennials (and everyone else, including boomers) need to become successful, self-supporting, mentally healthy adults.

If you're a millennial like me, and you're feeling depressed, anxious, or stuck, here are some things for you (and your parents, who probably-definitely sent you this post) to think about working on.

Get super comfortable with failure

A lifetime of hovering parents who have a hard time tolerating their kids' distress has made millennials really averse to failing at stuff and feeling bad about themselves. Our parents tend to swoop in and save us before we ever get close to falling on our faces, or bail us out when we do. 

The only way to grow past this is to fail, fail, fail - and get yourself back up after every failure.

You need to get used to failing so that it doesn't have the power to derail you from your goals. Fail often so you can learn that your accomplishments and your identity are not the same thing. Fail hard, and sit in your failure long enough to learn from it.

Despite what our parents may have taught us without even meaning to, feeling bad isn't always a bad thing - discomfort is the only reason anyone changes and grows. Get comfortable with your discomfort. If you have trouble sitting with negative feelings, practice by meditating, or exercise while you're feeling them.

After you fail, get up and keep going. Do the recovery part on your own, as much as possible. If you messed up, experience the full consequences of messing up. Think about why and how you failed, and what you need to do differently next time. Then do things differently.

After a while, there's not really a sting to failure. It's just an event, not who you are, not something that will make you question your entire identity and reason for being on this planet. You'll fail, dust yourself off, and say, "Okay, what's next?" 

Seek negative feedback early and often

Millennials have a reputation for not being able to tolerate negative feedback. Maybe it's all those participation trophies they handed out to us when we were little, or the grade inflation.

But successful people acknowledge the not-great parts of themselves so they can improve. And all of us need feedback from other people so we can become more aware of ourselves and change what's not working for us - it's one of the important parts of a therapy relationship, too.

We are always training people in how they should talk to us. If you've got a history of avoiding, crying, or blowing up at people who give you negative feedback, they will eventually stop giving it to you. Because you are making their life too difficult for it to be worthwhile to be real with you.

To have a shot at being a mentally healthy person, you need a balance of encouragement and unvarnished reality. So if people you love and respect tip-toe around your feelings, you've got to start asking them for their advice to help build your insight about yourself. 

It hurts to hear negative feedback, at first. But just like with failure, eventually negative feedback loses its sting. Ask people you trust to tell you what they really think, listen to it without freaking out, and reflect. 

Get your money right - and stop relying on family to meet your basic life needs

Millennials are very financially stressed. We are saddled with enormous student debt, there is no such thing as the job security that many of our parents and grandparents enjoyed, and we're largely financially illiterate

If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: You have to take control of your money if you want to feel better about your life. There's a strong correlation between mental health and financial health. You don't have to be rich or chase money, but you do need to work towards financial self-sufficiency as you enter adulthood. You don't have to have a job that's meaningful at this stage in your life. It's okay to have a job that just pays your bills for now; you will be in a better position to create meaningful work for yourself when you have things like emergency savings and a professional network.

I know that the high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, student debt crisis, and lack of good entry level jobs are big, systemic issues. I totally feel you. But I also know that even if you come from a family of millionaires or billionaires, relying on your family's money to meet your basic needs without putting in your own effort will get in the way of developing the following skills:

  1. Your capacity to make money, including dealing with all the normal horrible stuff that comes with working at a job
  2. Money management, including learning how to spend strategically rather than impulsively
  3. Developing a healthy relationship with money in which spending it doesn't become a stand-in for self-care
  4. Developing a healthy relationship with your parents in which you are not using their financial support as a way to punish them for past or present unmet emotional needs 

Financial self-sufficiency is also important because you cannot have power over your own life when someone else is paying for it.

Let me repeat that: You cannot not have power over your own life when someone else is paying for it. This dynamic leads to all sorts of resentment between millennials and their parents. Paying for your own life will save you a lot of headaches.

Remember that this phase is not forever

This phase of your life - the awkward, early-ish adulthood, don't-know-what-I'm-doing phase - isn't how the rest of your life will look (though there will definitely be many, many periods of uncertainty in your future). Lots of people in their 20s get really hung up on trying to make everything they're doing meaningful, but you'll do well to think about this time in your life as a very short period in which the actual day-to-day tasks you are engaging in at a job or your college major don't matter nearly as much as the skills you're developing.

So for now, all you have to do is get comfortable failing, develop a thick skin for criticism, and figure out your money, and you'll find meaning and purpose along the way. Focus on these three skills, and you will have the strength to deal with most anything that comes your way.

Sepideh Saremi, LCSW is a psychotherapist and the founder of Run Walk Talk, mindful running + talk therapy in Redondo Beach, CA, where she provides therapy for overachievers, including millennials and their parents. If you are a millennial or boomer parent seeking therapy, you can call Sepideh at 424-270-5427 or email her at