The second most widely read article in today’s New York Times is called What Is It About 20-Somethings?. This is a psychological study of an emerging stage of post-adolescent, pre-adult life where aimless young people are striving toward personal goals, yet putting off the accepted adult responsibilities that was expected of previous generations. The article is based mostly from studies conducted by Jeff Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, who names this new phenomenon “emerging adulthood.” After reading through the ten pages of the article, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with parts of it that seemed to sum up a feeling I’ve had for two years that I couldn’t seem to put into words, but also disagreeing intensely with other parts that disgusted me entirely.
I think we’re seeing a trend in college graduates to pursue something other than the accepted norm: getting married, settling into a house, getting a long-term job, and having kids. The possibilities of travel, experimentation with different careers, enrollment in programs like the Peace Corps and Teach For America, or simply going to grad school for lack of anything else (sound familiar?), all seem more appealing than beginning what many people view as a “dead-end.” It’s true, while getting married and finding a permanent job may provide security and fulfillment, they prevent many of the other possibilities that an untethered life provides. More and more twenty-somethings want to pursue their dreams: traveling the world, touring in a rock band, building homes in New Orleans, or teaching kids in South Korea. While I know a handful of people that are married at my age (24) and are planning to settle down, the majority of my acquaintances scoff at the idea of adulthood, even the brightest and most intelligent.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels a pull in two directions: on one hand, I grew up thinking that after college, I’d get a successful career and be well-off financially because I excelled in school. On the other hand, the stimulation of exotic places, creative people, and the excitement of the unexpected triumphed over this well-worn expectation, and I followed that path instead. Is this an abandonment of values in exchange for self-indulgence, or a flowering of experiences to help cement life goals?
Arnett asks the same questions, and relates our generation to the 1960’s generation, as well as our parents’ generation. However, there’s something about today’s information-rich society that motivates us, whereas the counterculture of the 60’s seemed to cast off all responsibility in an effort to break away from societal norms. I think most people my age are heavily involved in passionate goals, and are working hard to achieve them. Many of my friends are working for their masters or doctorate, mostly in big cities away from home. Others have relocated in teaching programs to places like Singapore, Tokyo, Alaska, China, and South America. Many, like myself, are in limbo between college and the next step, trying different activities and careers to see which is the correct path. The uncertainty of endless possibility is both exciting and frustrating. With limitless options, how can one be sure they’ve made the right one?
So here we are, Generation “I.” We’re the ones that put ourselves first. We blindly and passionately follow our emotions and goals, perhaps too idealistically. We see careers mostly as “dead-ends,” and unless there is a way to integrate our passion into our career, it isn’t worth investing time into. We don’t believe in marriage, but will have meaningful relationships with a few different people, because everyone we date will feel the same way about their life own goals. A house with a yard and 2.5 children is ancient history.
Despite Arnett’s support for the generation “in limbo,” it’s difficult not think we’re doing something wrong. Society depends on contribution, and with so many people involved in their own egotism, how can we survive?