Why generation Z should give up striving to be their best selves | Zoe Williams

A couple of years ago, I went to a morning rave: exactly as it sounds, like a rave, in a classic rave venue – the Ministry of Sound in Elephant and Castle – except at 6am. There were a couple of hardy old campaigners but most of the crowd were probably not born in the club’s 1990s heyday or, if they were, they’d not have been rave-ready. There was a water station but most people were drinking green juice; there’s a limit to how much hydration you need, absent intoxication, when all you’re doing is dancing. You can never, conversely, have too much kale.

I’d been there before, many times, but this was the first time I’d really observed the place, having previously been – to drop a technical, 1990s term – mashed off my tits. The dancing was very determined, and efficient, like an exercise class. The people were very taut and well groomed, what we used to call hardbodies (we didn’t mean that as a compliment). There was a lot of face-glitter, which I always think is like an am-dram performance of fun, rather than actual fun. My core observation is this: dear generation Z – try not to self-maximise all the time.

Look, nobody wants to be ambassador for MDMA, or cheap session lager in plastic cups that splosh. So let’s park the specifics and keep this very general: it’s important to sometimes make the bad choices; to do things so regrettable that you’re still laughing in shame 30 years later. The reason it’s important is not some nebulous one about letting your hair down, it’s very specific; you can make every good choice, practice self-care and sleep hygiene, exercise, meditate, reflect, feel grateful, eat clean, and things are still going to go wrong. Relationships will still break down, careers will still fail to launch, you’ll still be inside your own head. If you’re constantly striving to be your best self, the obvious solution is just to try harder. You’ll end up like a New Labor government of your own mind and body, constantly setting targets, measuring things, going back to recalibrate the key performance indicator, wondering why, when all the boxes have been ticked, the outcome has not been achieved – then going back to add more boxes.

But a lot of the problems are external to you: your pay isn’t high enough because of your employer, not because your alignment is out of whack and it’s interfering with your hustle. Sure, hangovers give you anxiety, but so does rent. It’s reasonable to bring your serious minds to these serious times, but self-discipline is a lonely creed and solidarity is more fruitful.

I think a lot about the intense hedonism of the long 1990s, and whether there’s a connection between that and generation X’s failure to make a political impact; all the gains we managed to let slip through our fingers; the sheer thinness of talent in the Cameron/Clegg/Miliband age bracket. I guess you guys could plausibly argue that not being drunk all the time has already made you more politically effective, more challenging, more radical, more searching. Realistically, though, the social fabric has been under sustained attack by late capitalism for the whole of this century, and I’m not sure that gen X drinking less snakebite would have made much difference.

We’re going into a period of great material hardship, and nobody knows that better than gen Z: all the joy in life, all the beauty, is going to come from sex, fellowship, revolution and the life of the mind. You know where all those things start? They start in a pub.

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