Monday, August 23, 2010

What Is It About 20-Somethings?

A friend sent me this NYT article. Upon reading it, I felt equal parts comfort and despair. "Taking so long to grow up" is synonymous with "finding oneself" and "experiencing growing pains." I chalk this up to our educational foundations, which built on the 70's hippie-ideal of "you can be whatever you want to be!" This is as limiting as it is freeing. Well, ok then, so who is it I want to be?

But it's also not fair. I know some adults in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond who change careers, find confusion and unease with where they are, and who eschew traditionalism. Perhaps in their twenties it wasn't as commonly acceptable to "take so long to grow up," but where did early decision-making leave them if not, ultimately, just as confused as we are? Sure, they might have chosen the things that Henig deems "milestones" (the long-term commitments to love, career, and home) but I don't find that this in any way guarantees future happiness.

While it might be labelled a social phenomenon and one that certainly questions our ideas of adulthood and growing up, I don't think it's fair to claim that this means 20-somethings are "taking so long to grow up." With life expectancies longer, in a society of relative wealth and opportunity (take a look around- despite what the stock market claims, we still have a great deal of freedom that gets taken for granted) the focus on the individual has bred this mindset of "finding oneself" in order to become a productive member of society. But, to my knowledge, this is nothing new. It just means that we've recognized that in the course of "finding onself," perhaps it's not the best idea to get overly tied down to these "milestone" commitments. The jury is out on what the long-term implications will be, sure, but I'm not convinced that any of this is anything new. It's just more socially-recognized.

Interesting article, either way.

1 comment:

Doctor H said...

As a Gen X-er, they said the same thing about my generation. We suffered commitment-phobia. We took longer to get through school. We took longer to marry (some of us haven't and are in our 40's now.) It took some time to find what we wanted to do with our lives.

I prefer to examine the canonical narrative the is being pushed in this article. Just like when Gen-X came up, the powers that be have a dilemma. The problem is they can't figure out what your generation wants. If you don't follow the same pattern as previous generations they have a hell of a time marketing to you. It hurts the bottom line. And remember this narrative - stable lifetime job, married at 25, two kids, a dog, a house - is peculiar to only one generation, the Post WWII crew.

There's nothing new in this critique, except now you and your generation are in your 20's, not me and mine.