On the finale episode of Millennial season #1, host Megan Tan makes a few big announcements, including a new job and a new approach in the upcoming season of her show. Instead of chronicling the details of her own life, she plans to point her microphone outward: to highlight the stories of her millennial listeners. I loved this idea – diverse perspectives! – and have been eagerly anticipating the second season. (In the interest of full full disclosure, I’ll mention here that Megan and I are friends – or, I like to think so! At the very least, we are email pen-pals and one-time brunch buddies.)
For anyone who reads my newsletter, you may know that I’ve recently traded my 9-5 desk job in Maine for a position teaching abroad in Northern Thailand. I was working for a super cool international education organization in a city that I loved, but I decided that I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. I decided that I wanted to be the person living the international adventures, rather than just writing about them from the comfort of my cubicle. So, in November, I made a move to Thailand. I still listen to a lot of podcasts, but instead of listening from my desk in Portland, I’m usually listening from my classroom in Phetchabun.
When the season premiere of Millennial season #2 appeared on my PocketCasts feed this week, I was surprised and excited and immediately started listening. The topic: packing up your life to move abroad. Hey, I can relate to this!, I thought. She begins by recounting the stories of friends who have moved abroad to teach English, to sail around the world, to learn Spanish in South America. These things sound great!, I think to myself. In this episode, Megan walks us through her own travel journey: disappointed by not receiving the NPR Kroc Fellowship, she goes on a trip to Mexico with her boyfriend to help him with a documentary project.
My own decision to move to Thailand was met with many negative reactions. “What are you running away from? Why do you hate America so much?”, said my mom. “How will this fit into your career plan?”, asked my dad. But I knew I wasn’t running away from anything; if anything, I was running towards the life I wanted. I felt confident that my decision would fit into the greater story of my life – would perhaps shape it in ways that I couldn’t yet imagine. Friends and mentors affirmed my decision, and told me about their own adventures, and how they had come to define their own life stories.
This is why, despite my love of Millennial, I’m disappointed by this line of reasoning at the end of the episode, when Megan is musing about the decisions of her far-away friends:
“Why put it off? What are you afraid of? When my friends are standing in front of a volcano, or on top of a mountain in a faraway country – are their smiles forced?… Are they on this trip because they’ve just been rejected from a job or a fellowship? Are they climbing this mountain because they don’t want to grow up?”
The conclusion of this episode is far away from where I thought we’d end up. The takeaway message seems to be this: those who are following a less conventional path must be running away from something, and those who are climbing mountains in foreign countries are probably only doing so because they didn’t end up on the life path that they actually wanted. “Stop romanticizing and tell us the truth,” Megan says, “and the truth isn’t pretty.”
Of course, I recognize that this isn’t a totally inaccurate line of reasoning. We all put our best selves forward on social media, and that creates its own problems. And maybe I’m taking this too personally – because, as it happens, I did climb a mountain in a foreign country last weekend. But I didn’t do it in an effort to get away from my ‘real life’; I did it because Thailand is my real life right now. And like everyone else, my life has it’s highs and lows – but I’m pretty happy with where I am.
This episode focuses on the singular experience of two people (Megan and her friend Kinley), from their perspective. My perspective is different. Yours might be different, too. But maybe that’s the point of this season: to explore the unique experiences of a generation, and not to make comparisons – but just to tell stories as they are. I’ll be listening.
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