I had just returned from two epic months of traveling in Europe when I found myself at a house party. The topic of conversation was a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, What Is It About Twenty-Somethings? There were at least ten people at the gathering, and I was the only one who had not read it. I could have blamed it on the fact that I had been traveling, except that even my friend in Cambodia had read it “Are you kidding?” He said “Everyone and their mother has read that article!”
For me, its timing could not have been more impeccable, as it seemed relevant to my own liminal existence. I had quit my job as a teacher in the Bronx–a job with health benefits and at least two months paid vacation–too which many said, “Robin, are you crazy?” Many of my fellow teachers congratulated me. ”Get out while you can!” They said. Since then, I have found myself what-to-do-next land and there does seem to be many of us here, while the flow across the border to the Realm of Adulthood was at an all time low, and that is what the article addressed.
Psychologists traditionally define adulthood as the successful completion of five milestones: finishing school, moving out of your parents’ house, becoming financially independent, getting married and having kids. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had completed these milestones by the age of thirty. But something seems to be amiss! The article’s writer, Robin Marantz Henig, a freelance science journalist who frequently contributes to the New York Times, announced: “The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.” I knew I was guilty on some accounts–particularly regarding grueling teaching jobs and traveling..
In the article Henig finally addresses something that people of all ages–including those in their twenties–have been wondering about: “What is it about twenty somethings?” The main quandary being that we as a generation are collectively tardy in reaching adulthood—a delay that some psychologists feel can be accounted for by a new stage in development called “emerging adulthood” which Henig explains is a liminal state characterized by self-exploration, instability, feeling in transition and optimistic. Though not accepted by all psychologists as a stage of development on grounds that it is not universally experienced nor considered essential, supporters of the theory supplement their argument for the theory with both nature and nurture. The science behind it being the fact that one’s brain is not fully developed even at twenty-five–in fact, researchers have yet to discover at what age the brain stops growing. The social aspect of it being the fact that society is now at a point where it is acceptable to deviate from traditional norms. As a result, in 2000 the United States Census Bureau found that fewer than half of women in their thirties and one-third of the men in their thirties had completed all milestones.
After reading the article I was relieved that it wasn’t just me and a few other twenty-somethings I knew who were going through an existentialist crisis, yet I couldn’t help but feel a sense of betrayal that perhaps extended to my entire generation. The ten page article only had sprinkles of commentary from actual twenty-somthings, and this is what they had to say: ”It’s somewhat terrifying,” writes a 25-year-old Jennifer in the Twenty-Something Manifesto, an anthology published in Los Angeles. Adds a 24-year-old from Virginia: “There is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It’s almost as if having a range of limited options would be easier.” Aside from these few anxiety ridden morsels, we have no say in an article written entirely about us.
Marantz takes these few examples and describes them as “heartfelt” but that they are “the complaints of the privileged,” She quotes Julie, a 23-year-old New Yorker who she describes as being “coddled her whole life, treated to French horn lessons and summer camp, told she could do anything.” Young Jules laments that her privilege is a “double-edged sword . . . because on the one hand I am so blessed with my experiences and endless options, but on the other hand, I still feel like a child. I feel like my job isn’t real because I am not where my parents were at my age. Walking home, in the shoes my father bought me, I still feel I have yet to grow up.”
Wait, does this sound like my entire generation? Summer camp? French horn lessons? Endless options? Privilege is all relative, but the woeful Julie does not even represent a fraction of my friends and acquaintances. Other than the said shared existentialist crisis, many of us nothing in common with any of the people described in the article and felt that as a generation, are the subjects of much scrutiny, but we have not been fairly represented. ”Yeah, you guys got a bad rap,” one thirty-something confessed to me.
Henig did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of psychologists….over thirty. It seems like she did everything but talk to us twenty-somethings and ask us what it is about us. I am certainly not a psychologist, but I genuine, bonafide twenty-something, so I feel somewhat qualified to comment on twenty-somethings. So, I took it upon myself to do some questioning. The questions I asked were largely based on the five milestones, since, for better or worse, adulthood is based on the milestones. The responses I got came far and wide in terms of geography, demographics, life experience, opinions and reactions to the article. I did, however, notice a common theme as I listened to my generation speak to me.
We want to be well prepared adults, and we don’t think that checking off a list of milestones is a good way of going about that. We think adulthood goes beyond that–in fact we know it goes beyond that and we are trying to look over yonder. So please don’t worry about us. Everyone knows that the best wines are the ones you wait for, so our tardiness is a sign of good t hings to come.
ON FINISHING SCHOOL: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN ANYWAY?
This is the first milestone. In 2000, 84 percent of American adults age 25 and over had completed high school. Of those, 26 percent continued to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. That means that not even one fourth of people in their mid twenties had received a higher education. If finishing school were indeed a mandatory requirement for becoming an adult, either 84 percent of us have competed it, or less than one fouth has, depending on what one’s definition of “finishing school” is, as it could refer to high school, college, grad school, getting a doctorate or professional training. So in conclusion, there is actually nothing conclusive about this information if you want to determine how many of us are nearing adulthood.
Then again, how necessary is it for everyone to finish school, granted you are able to determine what it actually means to finish school? Ever since I finished undergrad in May of 2007, the new faddish words tumbling out of everyone’s mouth were “grad” and “school”. I still keep hearing those words. The usually make a cameo in conversations amongst the unemployed, “Yeah, maybe I’ll just go to grad school.” Or in conversations about how confusing life is. “I just don’t know what to do with my life,” one party says. “Have you thought about going for your masters?” I have a hunch that this is how many of my peers end up in grad school.
Twenty somethings who are “trying to figure things out” are definitely not ready to continue school and become more specialized as they don’t know what they want to be special in. “I don’t know…so many people don’t think of a B.A. in English as ‘finishing’ anymore. I hear ‘college is the new high school’ and ‘you pretty much have to have a master’s now,’ but I’m just not with it on that,” expressed Elizabeth Braud Huls, 25, of Overland Park, Kansas. Depending on what you study, grad school could potentially mean that you are going to be spending a lot of money and never getting it back. In an article titled Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go, Professor William Pennapacker of Hope College in Holland, Michigan explained “The reality is that less than half of all doctorate holders — after nearly a decade of preparation, on average — will ever find tenure-track positions.” But in the end higher education is a business, so of course universities still want you! In fact, they need you! Pennapacker wasted no time sugar coating his bad news pill. “It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource. For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river.”
The story obviously changes for those who go to grad school, med school or beyond to become something tangible, like a doctor or lawyers. A recent report, “The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings” divulges that over an adult’s working life, high school graduates can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million. Those with a bachelor’s degree will get nearly double that at $2.1 million and people with a master’s degree will earn $2.5 million.
I am living evidence, however, that receiving a masters degree can potentially mean next to nothing, as I accidentally got into grad school through a teaching fellowship. When I applied to the New York City Teaching Fellows the only things I was certain about was the fact that I had done volunteer teaching for nearly four years in college, and thought it was something I could do after college. After I applied and got accepted, I finally read my mail thoroughly I realized that I was going to be working full time and going to grad school to get a masters in teaching, which was for the most part paid for by the Department of Education. I couldn’t turn back. What else was I going to do with my bachelor’s degree in history? I needed to find work if I was to live in New York City and did not have time to develop a Plan B. I am proud of the work I did and proud for being able to get my masters, but my experience in the public school system has helped me make up my mind that I do not want to teach for the rest of my life. As a life experience, getting my masters in teaching was worthwhile, but as far as my aspirations to become a writer, I am not sure it is very meaningful.
There are in fact many successful people in the world to whom a piece of paper with their name and graduation date was not a necessary form of validation. The world as we know it has been heavily influenced by an inspiring roster of dropouts. Eight of the 43 presidents never went to college, including Abraham Lincoln. Other famous political figures who never went to college are Senator Robert Byrd, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, and current president of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Figures who have made great steps for science and mankind include astronaut John Glenn and inventor Thomas Edison. Amongst the really rich people who never went to college are John Jacob Astor, Bill Gates and William Randolph Hurst–the latter two having dropped out of Harvard (its seems that Harvard’s best are the ones who decide to leave). Talented artists seem to avoid school like the plague: Woody Allen, Paolo Coelho, Eminem, Annie Liebovitz, Richard Avedon, Lady Gaga. Leonado Di Caprio, who was home schooled and completed high school never went to college, explaining “Life is my college now.”
Indeed, there is an institution of world renown that has absolutely free tuition–not that you won’t be paying for your experiences. This institution is none other than the University of Life, in which you learn by doing and living. Traveling is just one example of how you can learn in the University of Life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” wrote Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad. Saint Augustine opined “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Sometimes learning through a book is the same as living vicariously, because the most important lessons in life–what it means to love, respect and care for the world and those around you and how to love, respect and care for the world and those around you–are ones that we have to learn by participating in life.
ON BECOMING FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT: DICK CHENEY IS FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT, BUT IS HE BETTER THAN A SCRUB?
Most myths and legends are wild interpretations of real occurences called natural phenomena and most rumors–if they happen to be slightly accurate–are hyperbolized facts. So the fact that Henig wrote an article about a generation that has allegedly been perching between adulthood and adolescence for too long can be interpreted as a manifestation of the existence of this problem. When statistics indicate that nearly forty percent of twenty-somethings have moved back home, we can presume that this is all the evidence anyone needs to point a finger at us and call us slackers.
But living a lazy post-graduate existence a la Benjamin Braddock in is really not something most of us aspire to and we find it hard to condone our friends who aren’t yet weened off parental support. “While there are many reasons people may find themselves without a job or moving back home…I think it is immature to spend a decade living off their aging and hard-working parents, or their friends, or the government because they just can’t decide on their ‘true calling’ in life,” wrote Catherine, a married 26 year old doctor who works eighty hours a week. While some are irritated, others are more concerned about the social repercussions of ‘emerging adulthood’. ”I just worry that it will exacerbate class and race divisions when rich white ‘emerging adults’ are permitted by circumstance to run around finding themselves while everyone else has to plow fields and such,” commented Alex Goldmark, a 30 year old radio producer and journalist in New York City.
But maybe these accusations about us as a generation being far more dependant on our parents than previous generations are all overly dramatized. ”I think that the emphasis the Times placed on 20-somethings relying on parental financial support is somewhat inaccurate.” Contests Liz, a 25 year old New Yorker who works paralegal and moved out on her own two years ago. “Yes, there are a lot of us who rely on our parents for support to try to ‘figure it all out’, but I do think there are also those of us who are supporting ourselves who are also taking their time to figure life out.”
Most of us are really proud to be financially independent, even if it means just making do. Elizabeth Braud Huls of Overland Park, Kansas, describes herself as “piss poor but financially independent.” Some of us have even managed to combine adventure with employment, these people still feel at a loss. Mike, 25 of Massachusetts, is currently living in Rome and teaching English. ”I feel more like I’m just getting by than getting ahead; I certainly haven’t been able to save much, especially while paying off student loans,” he laments.
Like many of us, Mike has yet to figure out what his true calling is. ”I thought I wanted to be a lot of things. I thought I wanted to be the captain of the Yankees. I thought I wanted to be a jazz musician. I thought I wanted to be a scholar of Italian studies. I thought I wanted to be an English teacher. I thought I wanted to be an economist. I thought I wanted to be a computer interface designer. Now I kind of think I might want to be a psychologist. If you can think of anything that combines some or all of those let me know!”
Others who attempted to shake off their childhood dreams always found them lurking around the corner, impossible to escape. Erin, 26, is living in Engelwood, Colorado with her husband. She is currently working towards her masters in child, family and school psychology. Her plan after graduating is to become a school psychologist. She recounted the many diversions she took from what she now considers her calling in life. “Well, I remember setting up a school in the basement of my house when I was little, where I would attempt to teach my siblings. I became very frustrated when they didn’t want to have school over the summer,” she recalls. “I went off to college and tried nursing, political science and journalism, but ended up where as a child I always thought I’d be.”
In the end a job is something that you should like doing, as you will be stuck doing it for the rest of your life. At the same time it is true that finding a job, even a job you don’t like, is not easy as it was even five years ago. As of July of this year, the unemployment rate for people between 18 and 29 was 11.8 percent, while the national average hovered just below 10 percent and 28.4 percent of us are underemployed. While there are certainly still jobs out there, people are trying not to get attached to a mediocre career for the sake of having a job. I mean, Dick Cheney was financially independent as the CEO of Halliburton, but I’m pretty sure that its better for you to aspire to do nothing with your life than to aspire to be the CEO of Halliburton.
In 2005, before the recession, and before he was elected president, Barack Obama was the graduation speaker at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He told the graduates ”Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” In the speech he mentioned that in his first days as a senator, a reporter asked him “Senator Obama, what’s your place in history?” Wow! In retrospect it was a million dollar question, but it could be the million dollar question for anyone. Obama urged the graduates to ask themselves the same thing. For many, the answer to this question will hinge on the careers we choose. For many, it will take time, experimentation and risk to find a career that reconciles our need to make a living with our goal of making a positive mark on the world. This doesn’t mean to say that we all need to win a Nobel prize, but it is better to be a classroom teacher that leaves a positive impact on thirty people than Dick Cheney who negatively affected millions. Billions? Okay, maybe the whole world.
MOVING OUT OF OUR PARENTS’ HOUSE: WORLD WONDERS WHY YOU WOULD DO THAT
Many psychologists agree that ‘emerging adulthood’ it is a purely North American phenomenon. Henig explained “It’s rare in the developing world . . .where people have to grow up fast, and it’s often skipped in the industrialized world by the people who marry early, by teenage mothers forced to grow up, by young men or women who go straight from high school to whatever job is available without a chance to dabble until they find the perfect fit. Indeed, the majority of humankind would seem to not go through it at all.” However, since ‘emerging adulthood’ seems to be defined by our delay in accomplishing a certain set of socially established milestones, it would seem that ‘emerging adulthood’ would have no other choice but to be an American phenomenon, as the milestones are based on American ideals.
James, a 27 year old New Yorker studying linguistics in Hawaii concurs that the “late 20th century fad of moving out of your parents’ home and living by yourself is an almost exclusively American ideal that I think has been really damaging by creating a projected image of independence.” He remark derives from his experience of teaching in Japan. There, he met many thirty-somethings that were still living with their families not just because it was socially accepted, but also expected that one would support their parents in their parents household. In fact, 56 percent of Japanese adults live with their parents.
This situation in Japan is not an isolated one. During my semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina I lived with an older woman whose thirty year old daughter with a successful career was still living with her and was not expected to move out until she got married. It is true that many people around the world are compelled to get a job and get married at a young age because of economic conditions but it is these same conditions keep people around the globe living with their families in their twenties and beyond in a mutually supportive situation.
Furthermore, people in their twenties with aspirations to go to grad school often get a job and live at home to save money for grad school knowing that their families can’t pay for them. For many, this a symbiotic relationship. Saiful is a 28 year old who came to Brooklyn from Bangladesh during his teens. He explains that he is working on his masters “in slow motion” while working full time. After living on his own for three years after undergrad he moved back with his family. ”It’s difficult to explain to ‘westerners’ why I am still living with parents when I have a job…I support my family financially as much as I can, but its mutual. They support me many other ways. Did I mention, home cooked food?”
ON MARRIAGE: IT IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DIVORCE
I recently turned twenty-six. If it weren’t for facebook, I would have remained ignorant of the fact that many of my peers from my high school in the Midwest are now married. But things are a little different here in New York City. The metropolis that was hardest hit by the swine flu remains immune to marriage. Here, we seem to hold singledom sacred. To illustrate, one 26 year old female revealed to me: “I’m contemplating three different men at the moment…and not one of them is serious.” But we New Yorkers are not the only ones bearing the flag. Census findings show that as of 2009 in San Francisco 82% of adults between 25 and 34 had never been married. Atlanta, New York and Minneapolis were all among the top 20 U.S. cities where only 15 percent of adults between 25 and 34 were married.
When I visited Europe the situation was the same. In response to my question about marriage, Pavol, 28 of Slovakia, decided to quote Oscar Wilde: “Marriage is the leading cause of divorce.” Is this why we aren’t getting married? After all, in the United States fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, so it seems that most of us who are still unmarried in our mid-twenties are simply trying to avoid future heartbreak. Statistics indicate that those who marry later are less likely to divorce. Men who marry between the ages of 20 and 24 have a 38.8% chance of getting divorced later, while 36.6% of women who get married between 20 and 24 will get divorced. Marriage after thirty appears to be more successful: 8.5% of women who get married between 30 and 34 get divorced and 11.6% of men in the same age bracket get divorced. So, it seems that as with all things good in life, like wine and cheese (again), the longer you wait for marriage, the better it will be.
The Census Bureau recently released data indicating that for the first time the proportion of people between the ages of 25 and 34 who have never been married exceeded those who were married in 2009—46.3 percent versus 44.9 percent. However, those who are thinking that delayed adulthood by failure of completing milestones will also have to accept the fact that delayed wedlock is not just a phenomenon of the United States, where for every thousand people, 6.8 are married. In the European Union, the rate is 5–the lowest being in Slovenia, where 3 in every 1,000 people were married.
While the marriage rate will probably suffer as a result of legislation–gay and lesbian couples cannot get married–the pace at which we get married will most likely not pick up. People do not seem frantic about getting hitched and take a zen-like approach. If it happens it happens. “I’d like to marry but I won’t marry someone just to follow a trajectory or deadline,” responded Alex of NY. Furthermore, that we have been outpaced in the marriage race, does not mean that our reverence towards love–and all that is encompassed by that one omnipotent emotion–is lagging.
We just feel that it is only fair that we love ourselves before we expect anyone else to love us. “I would like to be more self aware before I get into another relationship,” explained Christine a 22 year old acting student in San Luis Obisbo, California. The ability to love one’s self necessitates one knowing one’s self. Which is why we are taking time to ‘figure things out’. In fact, being self aware is probably one of the first things one has to do before achieving any of the milestones, yet it is absent from the list. Shouldn’t one possess the maturity and wisdom of an adult before they even consider getting married? Perhaps instead of being considered a milestone in achieving adulthood, marriage should be a privilege once you are already mature enough to be considered an adult.
ON CHILDREN: LET’S NOT HAVE TOO MANY
In the 1800s, their were seven children in the typical American family. In our parents’ generation, the average amount of children per family was 3.8. In 1909 there were 30 births per every 1,000 people. Last year, there were 13.5 births per every 1,000 people. Historically families might have wanted to go forth and multiply, keeping Manifest Destiny in mind as they spawned multitudes of little Americans to conquer an entire continent. The lower birth rate owes itself to two things. It could not have been possible without advances and availability of contraceptive methods. Furthermore, in this society, having children is now a choice and not an obligation. There are many reasons why Phoebe, a 25 year old research coordinator in Atlanta, does not want to have kids. One of them? “It is the worst thing a couple could do to the Earth. Too many people on it already,” she explains. It might be difficult to hear, but is she wrong?
There are now 6,697,254,040.53 people on Earth, and it has taken less than 160 years to create 5,697,254,040.53 of them. It was not until 1850 that the world population of humans reached one billion. Since then, the Earth hasn’t gotten any bigger, but over six times more people are on it. The World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report claims that humans consume 20 percent more natural resources than the earth can produce. Wow. It is startling that people are anxious that we’re not having babies soon enough when in fact it they should be more worried if we start spawning at the same marathon pace that previous generations did. We are doing the world a favor by procrastinating procreation, but we are certainly not receiving any thanks.
While it is true that North America and Europe are only sparsely populated compared to Asia, it is also true that our relatively small populations are causing the most environmental damage. The population of the United States represents only 4.52 percent of the world’s population, yet contributes 19.91 percent of greenhouse gasses.
Not that all of us will refrain from having kids. According to the responses I got, most are going to wait until their mid-thirties. “Ideally I want twins at age 35 so I only have to be pregnant once,” explained Liz of NY. Others see adoption as equally plausible. Explained Raad, a 27 year old New Yorker, “If I don’t personally have my own I will adopt. No need to spread my seeds unless this option does not exist. Some of us are just weirded out by the idea of having children. “My own kids sounds like an insane concept,” confessed Saiful. Indeed it is crazy to want to create new life when you haven’t figured your own out yet, especially in this day and age when the reality of the world’s situation will necessitate that you not only take care of your offspring, but take care that you raise your offspring in a sustainable fashion. After all, it would be counter intuitive to bring new life to a world that we are simultaneously destroying.
HOW TO BE AN ADULT
When Henig wrote “Kids don’t shuffle along in unison on the road to maturity. They slouch toward adulthood at an uneven, highly individual pace,” She got everything right but the slouching part. No one I heard back from is bumming around their parents’ pool post-college a la Benjamin Braddock. But what is it that we are even supposed to be slouching toward anyway? Depending on who you are talking to, these milestones used to define adulthood are either too easy, too hard or not applicable. ”I hated the article,” said Megan Schroeder, a 25 year old law school graduate from Olathe, Kansas. “I think a lot of twenty somethings did. It’s offensive that I need kids or a man to be an adult. I think it is more adult of me to have looked at all the possibilities and make the best decision.” Still more felt that the milestones were an overly simplistic indicator of adulthood.
“They need to rethink their definition of adult,” Contends James of New York. ”Their criteria is not hard. A six-year old can have a stable job and support a family,” he says, obviously referring to the time before child labor laws “It’s quite easy to be independent starting from age eighteen; the day of your 18th birthday you can head over to the local welfare center and sign right up. Or better yet, you can shack up with some rich guy or girl and be in a ‘committed’ long term relationship and kill two birds with one stone. An ‘adult’ can only really be defined by spiritual growth.” Is this what separates people like Dick Cheney from adults that we look up to and admire?
The milestones have stubbornly withstood the test of time, but how? Society has changed, so shouldn’t its views on adulthood change as well? Since attaining wisdom is not part of the milestones perhaps that is why there are so many people are able to pose as adults while they wreck havoc to the world. It is the work of adults that has led us into war, effectively lobotomized our school system, allowed for the rape and pillage of our environment. When it is our turn to bear the torch, what will we be left with other than a deficit of over 13 trillion dollars? Definitely not any polar bears. Yet, after all the carnage, still no one, not a single psychologist has considered to add or alter the milestones?
As we witness ourselves on the verge of self-inflicted disaster created by those who came before us, it is also those who came before us who granted us the privileged position of the critical spectator. We would not be up here if it weren’t for a Declaration of Independence, Emancipation Proclamation, Seneca Falls Convention, the Pill, Brown Vs. The Board of Education, the Civil Rights Movement, and on and on. These steps, carved by the strength of our forebears, have allowed us to reach this lofty vantage point. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
I decided I could learn a thing or two about adulthood by reaching out to the adults around me. My Uncle Jim wrote that adulthood comes with the “Realization and acceptance that (1) you are responsible for your actions, (2) you will die someday, and (3) there are other people in the world.” John, an educator and curriculum developer in New York City, opines that adulthood will manifest itself through your ability to react to life. “They say the highest form of intelligence is adaptability. I like that. When you no longer freak out about change- planned or otherwise- and are able to adapt, you are an adult.” Mathematician Japheth explains: “I would say that adulthood is the gaining of focus, individuality and perspective in life.” Each of their definitions can serve as an addend that once summed, creates a being similar to the adults that I always look up to.
And since there were also adults I look up to, I decided to ask them for advice on how to be and adult. John recounted his experience of growing up late in life: “I was Peter Pan until I was over 40. I was an actor, then a songwriter with a recording studio. Those aren’t jobs, they’re lifestyles. I honestly didn’t age between 18 and 42. Then I lost my studio and songwriting partner as the digital age hit. All of a sudden I was working at Tower Records for minimum wage. That’s when I grew up. I took Thoreau’s advice to heart. He said, ‘Why spend the best years of your life working so that you can enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it?’ I’ve had my halcyon days. Now I love to work.” It is besides the point when exactly is the most valuable part of one’s life is, though it is true that each chapter of our existence is valuable, but for different reasons. Which leads to the question, what are our twenties valuable for?
“Have fun, try new things, but make sure you establish your independence. Spend your 20s learning that you get to make your own decisions and that you are responsible for the consequences,” advised my Uncle Jim. “Keep on wondering! Always learn. Challenge yourself to develop skills that can’t be measured by standardized exams. Do what you enjoy doing and become an expert in that in the company of other enthusiastic and supportive friends,” said Japheth the mathematician. Jeff, an electrical engineer said, “Don’t be afraid to jump, but be calculating and take the jump when the opportunity arises.”
So in short, enjoy yourself while you’re young, explore, take risks and accept the consequences. This is basically what we are doing already. I wonder what advice these adults would be giving if they thought adulthood was a linear and hurried completion of five milestones: choose a good college–or better yet don’t go to one because it will only extend the time it will take you to complete the other milestones! Keeping your interests and self-respect on the back burner, get any kind of employment as soon as possible and kiss enough ass so you can keep it. Forget about your dream house or apartment. Remember this is not about you, this is about becoming an adult as quickly as possible! Lower your expectations about who want to be with for the rest of your life. Don’t waste time looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, simply settling on someone is okay! Finally, stop buying those condoms and taking birth control and partake in sexual intercourse as frequently and as soon as possible.
No, I don’t think I heard any of this growing up. Apparently completing milestones–and treating Adulthood as if it were a game of Candyland–is not actually socially ingrained in most of us. Since the milestones are irrelevant, at least in defining adulthood, the concept of ‘emerging adulthood’ holds no water. It is like a boat designed to sail, but alas there is no ocean. In which case the question What is it about Twenty-Somethings is rather superfluous, which isn’t to say no one is allowed to ask. But while you dwell on it, we’ll be busy growing up.
I have many people to thank for their contribution to this hefty article…those who informed me of the fluffiness of my writing, those who told me to redirect my anger a bit, those who sent me quotes from the president as well as links to graduation speeches, those who sent me links to articles, and finally to those who responded to the questionnaire. Some of you I haven’t spoken to in a long time, and I was so thrilled to hear back from you! Thank you so much to everyone.
I would like to repeat that I am open to suggestions, also if I quoted you and you would like to remain anonymous, let me know.