Last week, a colleague of mine (Hi, Ali!) shared this article from the New York Times about 20-somethings. I’ll tell you now, it’s a lengthy read. And the back end is really researchy and science-heavy. But it’s a good one, so if you have an hour to spare, give it a gander.
The article talks a lot about milestones and how today’s 20-somethings are less concerned about hitting the milestones the generations before us did, the “transition to adulthood.” Those milestones include completing school, leaving home, becoming financially indpendent, marrying and having a child. It goes on to give some interesting statistics – that in 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. But in 2000, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.
Which, I must say, makes me feel way more secure in my ass-backwards way of approaching life in my 20’s when I compare myself to the expectations that I was surrounded by as a youngster. I grew up in Kansas, where the path was as such: go to college, meet a man, maybe graduate, get married and start having babies. I am not kidding when I say that I am all but one of my HS girlfriends that isn’t married and/or working on their second child. And you know what, that’s totally okay.
Jeffery Jensen Arnett, a psych professor at Clark University calls the phase that I’m in “emerging adulthood.” He’s done a ton of research on this and it turns out that this whole feeling-like-a-grownup-but-not-really thing is not abnormal. He describes this phase of life as coming to realize a “sense of possibilities” and when I read that, I had one of those super-awesome lightbulb moments.
A sense of possibilities. YES! It’s like the grown-up version of the mentality we had when we were kids when our parents told us we could be whatever we wanted to be. Of course, I’m a bit more realistic about it now, realizing that if I decided “oh I really do want to be a doctor” that I wouldn’t be getting started until I was in my late 30’s (not to mention in more debt than I can possibly imagine) – but I am fully aware that I’m 25 – and the rest of my life is not decided.
The article poses an interesting question, is it better for young people to experiment in their 20’s before making choices they’ll have to live with for more than half a century? Or would young people be better off just getting started on something so they aren’t a step behind the early bloomers?
I think that is something we’re all struggling with. I know a lot of our community has landed some wicked awesome first jobs (because we’re all amazing, duh) but is there something to be said for experimenting while we can? I know people will argue that hopping around and taking time off and exploring totally different opportunities makes your resume look like swiss cheese and nobody will take you seriously if you try to come back from that. If life expectancy is extending into the 90’s – is it realistic to think that what we’re doing now is what we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives?
Is it idiotic for me to want to do digital PR, then be a skydiving instructor, then see where life takes me? Is it ridiculous for someone to want to open up their own yoga studio, or restaurant, or start a new company on their own, and then, if it doesn’t work out, come back to a corporate job? What about our colleagues that aren’t looking for new jobs, but opportunities arise, and they realize they’d be stupid not to explore it? A good chunk of our generation is full of star-performers, people companies want to have on board, people who have opportunities coming at them left and right. At what point in time do you shake off the safety net that is your current situation and dive head first into something new? At what point in time do we stop doubting ourselves (even though we have no reason to do so, obviously) and start making a path towards what we think we ultimately want, no matter how crazy it sounds?
At what point in time do we get over the hump that is the “sense of possibilities” and start feeling like grown-ups? More importantly, why would you want to?