Monday, November 1, 2010

What is it about 20-somethings?

Before I left for France, an article in the New York Times, aptly-titled "What is it about 20-somethings?" caught my eye. The subtitle of the article is "why are so many people in their 20's taking so long to grow up?," which has spurred a rather long, and not yet finished, personal meditation on the shady region between post-adolescence and what's seen by scholars as a period of "emerging adulthood." I suppose this is an intriguing idea for me because on many levels it corresponds to one of the questions I'm attempting to answer for myself with this blog: "what now?"

"What now?" is a question more easily asked than answered, and one of the difficulties that this "what now?" presupposes, at least in the aforementioned article, for my generation is a college education. I will not deny that I'm privileged and (dare I say it) lucky enough to have such an education, especially as the cost of school continues to mount ever upward.

But what is it about 20-somethings? We run the gamut. I know people in the full range of the 20's who are married with children and are in school or have full time jobs; likewise, I know individuals in their late 20's who are single, floating across the globe, and "living the dream." But when do we stop "living the dream," as we tend to put it, and become full on "adults"? And what do we mean by "living the dream?"

One thing that is undoubtedly clear is that as a generation we have many more opportunities after schooling; and while this may be a blessing, I think of it as a mixed one, especially for the indecisive amongst us. It's fairly easy to wander from internship to Teach for America, to full time job, to school again if we want to remain uprooted. And perhaps a bit of uprooting is good--when we expose ourselves to experiences that make us stronger, develop our character, and generally appreciate the world in a more complex fashion, I think that allows for us to become adults who can tackle the burgeoning world. But at what point do we put roots down? A desire for a lack of grounding screams a fear of commitment in my eyes, though naturally, every person is different, and for some, being rooted means having no roots.

The fact that we no longer, as a generation, feel the pressure to abide by the cookie cutter of "college, job, marriage, and family," is also in many ways garnering a bad rap because it's been interpreted as narcissism and "childish." But may not our generation simply be backlash at the cookie cutter the generations before us may have fallen into?

It's easy to tell my generation that we are narcissistic for remaining "emerging adults," when we opt for low paying internships and jobs at home and abroad when not taking into account the state of the economy, or the fact that the market is more flooded than ever with able potential employees with college educations. It's easy to tell my generation that we're childish for being uncommitted to significant others and waiting to get married, if we get married at all, when our parents have helped to produce one of the highest divorce rates this country has ever seen. It's even easier to say that when we forget that we deprive a large section of our population the right to marry under the law.

It's admittedly, easy. I don't write this to complain; I write this to point out paradoxes and to stir the pot a bit. All too often, we "otherize" one another, and I think the NYT article did a fantastic job of "otherizing" my generation in an attempt to differentiate the 20-somethings of today with the 20-somethings of the past. But at the core, what about being a "20-something" has changed all that much? There's still the fear of the uncertain, the pressure to join the workforce, the desire to be loved and find someone to love, the unwritten-ness of life laid out before one's eyes. At the core, I don't think the essentials of being in one's 20's have changed.

I should perhaps add that I have my own personal theory about my twenties, one that is the product of my parent's advice, my personality, and my own ambitions. The only answer I have to the question "what now?" is that my "what now?" is most certainly not your "what now?" or my parent's "what now?"

"What now?" is the journey, not the destination, and the journey is everything.

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