In his CairoScene debut, Ahmed El-Ashram strips down the challenges facing Egyptian millennials, from economic hardships to marital problems, to their root causes: unmet expectations and status symbols.
Egyptian adults drifting closer to or through their fourth decade of life are currently facing a highly disorienting life transition. Naturally, reaching our thirties is a time when professional pressures mount, social expectations change, and pipe dreams face harsh realities. All the while, the novelty of life experiences begins to wear off. Adulthood becomes an inescapable condition that we somehow have to measure up to.
As a coping strategy, we often fixate on a pacifying mental projection to help us keep our inner balance as we shed our younger, more familiar self in favour of newer roles as responsible partners, attentive parents, and experienced professionals. The mechanism is rather universal and ensures we don’t abandon our roles by giving a higher premium to future life events when we finally bask in the sun of our hard-won accomplishments and share the happiness we most earnestly worked for with family, friends, and loved ones.
But for generation X and millennials, born to middle-class Egyptians, who are currently either bordering or are a few years into their thirties, this mental projection has become increasingly more fleeting. The economy is in the doldrums and the cost of living is making astounding leaps, constraining the budgets of even well to do Egyptians. Prospects of upward social mobility have diminished, if not reversed.
Meanwhile, political life has stagnated and the inspirational demands of a youth-orchestrated uprising have been drowned out by threats to national security and the power of the status-quo. Intense ideological battles for the soul of the nation continue to tear through its social fabric, while a growing class of Egyptians have become increasingly disenchanted with mainstream media and traditional religious institutions. A generation that, for the most part, enjoyed a more liberal education, rich exposure to global culture, and the fruits of rapid technological advancement, is facing fearful odds of a significantly less satisfying adult life than that if their parents.
The coming of age to fully functional adults has been unfortunately bogged down by intensely destabilising forces and dashed expectations. The adverse effects of the resulting frustration and disappointment can be profound. Perceptions of low living standards are strongly correlated with lower productivity, chronic dissatisfaction, and emotional instability. This dampens entrepreneurship, innovation and on-the-job performance, and therefore hampering a much-needed economic recovery. Substance abuse continues to be on the rise and divorce rates among young couples is astoundingly high, mainly due to naive expectations of marital life. Meanwhile, demand for services like yoga, meditation, and alternative healing has skyrocketed. There is an epic need for inner healing among swathes of the population who are supposed to take up the baton for the coming decades.
Understanding the root cause of the confusion and the disorientation is fundamental to such healing. Much of it has to do with how we internalise our external environment and compare it to our mental map. Resolving the unnecessary pain and suffering from unmet expectations starts with releasing fixations on status symbols like how much we earn; how people perceive us; or which cars we drive. Realising that we are exactly where we are in life is our first step toward redemption from the tormenting pain of dissatisfaction.
So, what does it take to improve our quality of life in the face of seemingly tougher conditions? Investing in ourselves is key. This means cultivating greater self-awareness, allowing enough time for introspection, and pursuing our true passions in life. We are our happiest when we are on the path to fulfilling our life purpose.
Why in your thirties? Because that’s the time when we are mature enough to recognise that inner calling; we are finally biologically and emotionally ready to begin our pilgrimage toward our authentic selves. The journey starts with mastering the art of letting go and surrendering control; releasing ourselves from judgement, fear, and obsessing over specific outcomes, and learning to trust guidance from our intuition.
For some, this could involve radical changes in career or personal relationships without the comfort of prior knowledge of the results. Yet, it is the practice of living unscripted lives, of trusting that delays and hurdles are necessary and appropriate, that is precisely the cure to the disgruntlement young Egyptians today. In releasing our former life plans and attachments, we are in fact propelled forward to our destination. The moment we cease to struggle against surrendering is the moment we break through to true inner peace. So, take a leap of faith today! Gear your life toward a purpose higher than yourself and your material needs. Allow the infinite love and compassion of the universe to guide you through a fabulous journey that is unconstrained by external circumstances. Wield the power of belief to your advantage for the beliefs you choose can be the ticket to an extraordinary life or a lacklustre ride through a mundane existence.