The other day I was having coffee with a friend. When we looked at the menu, she looked for an oatmilk option. “You know, I’ve recently become vegan. A plant-based diet is so much better for the environment, and it is better for my health too.” “Good for you,” I thought, but made a point of ordering my cappuccino with normal milk. I am well aware that meat consumption is one of the biggest CO2-contributors. Hence, I have also decreased the amount of meat that I eat. But I do not really advertise it. Furthermore, becoming vegan is just not a thing for me. And it does not have to be.
What upsets me is not the fact that somebody decides on a plant-based diet – we all have different lifestyle choices and everyone has to be happy with what they choose for themselves. It is the fact that anything we do obviously has to be done in an extreme way. If we go for runs, we have to train for a marathon. If we enjoy baking, we have to turn it into a side-hustle and a big business eventually. We cannot travel for fun, because we have to tick off a certain number of countries on a bucket list. If we enjoy riding a bike, it has to be downhill mountain biking. If we want to be more environmentally conscious, we have to become vegan and never board a plane again. Can we only exist if we do things at an extreme extent?
At first, I was inclined to say that these extremes tend to be a Millennial thing. We are what I call the “sandwich generation”: between the Boomers and Gen X’s (influenced by the Yuppie movement of the eighties) and the Gen Z’s (those who pointed out our environmental crisis while at the same time dancing in TikTok videos). As an “Elder Millennial”, I went through university and my first career years with the goal we all had: become an all-accomplished and successful businessperson. Said person not only shines at their job, they are also active (hence fit) and pretty committed to everything else they decide to pick up – no matter if it is tennis or baking. Hence, I was not really surprised when I saw friends celebrating their Iron Man participation on Facebook or giving interviews about the number of skydives they do per year.
But then I looked closer: I see the same pattern with the Gen X’s and Boomers as well. Maybe the activities are different but the tendencies towards doing things to an extreme are exactly the same. The recently retired Boomers have to go on extensive bike tours to prove that they are as fit as they were in their thirties. The same holds true for the Gen Z’s. So why have we become that extreme? Have we unlearned how to truly enjoy things? Have we forgotten that we can also have an impact without changing our lives completely? Or have we always been like this?
I could blame it all on social media: They always ask for better and for more. But is it really BECAUSE of social media or are they just an outlet reflecting what is going on in the real world? I do not know. Probably it is a combination of these two things.
What I know for sure is that I am aiming for a middle ground. I love to go for a walk or a run just for the sake of being alone and enjoying some me-time. If I decide to travel, I do not go through a bucket list of countries, I want to be in the moment and get to know a new culture and experience new things. And I also do think by being mindful, I can contribute my share to solving our climate crisis: I can eat less meat but still enjoy a Schnitzel once in a while (I am Austrian after all.) Why is this also a solution? Because I think in the long-run it is more sustainable for me. You can only do something to an extreme extent for a short period of time. Then you become tired – physically and mentally. I know that I would probably become tired with a vegan diet, a bucket list of countries and training for marathons. Hence, I am doing things to an extent which allows me to do them consistently – and enjoy them – for a long period of time.
I hope you find a lifestyle which you truly enjoy and stand by. What do you think about doing things to an extreme?