Ed Sheeran, Millennials, and a Broken System

By: Ailin Elyasi  |  February 15, 2018

\Nothing sums up my generation more than an album so relatable that girls hum it throughout the dorms and play it on repeat during long car rides. It is no coincidence that after a good date my friend whistles “Perfect,” or that she sings the lyrics of “Castle on a Hill” when feeling homesick. While Ed Sheeran may be called a musician, a businessman, or a crooner, the sheer number of people who connect to his words also makes him a genius. While the song “What Do I know?” might be overlooked on his album “Divide,” its lyrics are extremely relatable and describe the reality of the overwhelming confusion plaguing the millennial generation.

Striving to attain that overly-structured life, millennials took endless AP classes in high school, followed by soccer, mock trial, peer tutoring, and newspaper involvement. College follows the same tune except with lyrics such as “future,” “money,” “career,” and “scores” woven into the melody. All the while, we see people ten years out of college unsatisfied with the choices they made back in university. Those choices scare me, since they sound too similar to my own.

To what end? All the hard work results in replica jobs that the generation before this one filled, and eventually retired from, after exhausting and unfulfilling careers. We all know the depressed dentist, who was once his mother’s favorite bragging point but can now barely get out of bed. Or take the financially fulfilled lawyer, who has waved goodbye to any form of social life in order to advance her career.

Why is it that every other ad I see is about “quitting your job”? Why are we working so hard for something that ultimately makes so many people unhappy and so inclined to quit? I believe that my generation is too accomplishment-focused, ready to get that advanced degree for the sake of that advanced degree. Ed Sheeran sums this up best in “What Do I Know?” when he sings

“but Lord knows,
Everybody’s talking ’bout exponential growth
And the stock market crashing and their portfolios”

As in, there is a hyper focus on future–on progress. While Ed Sheeran is living his dream as a “boy with a one man show, no university, no degree,” us suckers sit in class and hope that the system will provide us with the future we desire. Perhaps the equation all of us are trying to solve is the wrong one; even when we get the right answer, are accepted into our dream school or attain our dream job, something still seems off-balance.

Maybe we are expecting a flawed system to give us a flawless life. It keeps me up at night to know that I can work so hard and do everything so right, yet still end up wrong. And maybe Mr. No University, No Degree got it right when he sang it’s “Just love, and understanding positivity.”