Thursday, August 19, 2010

Emerging Adulthood?

I happened across a link to this New York Times article, What Is It About 20-Somethings that really resonated with me, and it is so fitting with the theme of this blog that I had to discuss it here.

Twenty-somethings aren't growing up as fast as they used to.  When once 25-year-olds were done with school, with persistent jobs and homes, on the way to financial stability, married and with kids on the way, young adults today are frequently still switching jobs and residences, perhaps about to go back to school, or even moving back in with mom & dad.  Psychologists and sociologists are fighting to introduce a new life stage to accommodate this failure-to-launch period: emerging adulthood.

Similar to a century ago, economic and social changes caused the development of the "adolescent" age group, which at that point needed to be rallied into mainstream acceptance.  This meant a lot of changes to education and health care as well as legal restrictions around their needs and decision-making abilities that were unique to their stage in development.  We take it for granted now, but it really needed help to become established, and the same could be true for us.

Honestly, as I read this article, I am constantly nodding my head emphatically in agreement.  I see myself reflected in the psychological profile -- hey, I'm feeling in-between, that poetic "sense of possibilities", caught up in identity exploration -- as I feel overwhelming anxiety about not being so sure about the path I've chosen for myself, though feeling a strong desire to settle down, jealous of peers who know exactly what they want, what they're doing, and even are already more than halfway there.  I haven't lived in one place more than 1 year since moving away from my parents at age 17.  In college, I kept each of my jobs for two years and worked at my first Big Girl job for just less than one year.  I've just started another job in a different city than before (where I went to college, partially trying earnestly to hold onto those golden years when everything was fun, even if financially struggling and academically challenging, and the future seemed so bright and exciting) and already I have daily (Monday through Friday, anyway) panic attacks that this isn't what I want to do, this isn't where I saw myself when I was in college, and hey this isn't the city I probably want to settle down in.

Without the "emerging adult" label in mainstream production yet, there's unease with this seeming inability to grow up, and anxiety over the fact that the 20th century generations seemed to have no problem whatsoever.

Sure, I also have to force myself to step back and realize I am not the textbook case of this social epidemic.  I did not move home, I did get a job right out of college, I am starting to build up some solid savings (though that month of unpaid vacation really ate into it because I kept spending like I was when I had hefty paychecks e-deposited twice each month), I have a retirement account (though largely attributed to my accountant dad's forthrightness), I don't have any crippling debt (while I didn't sign my financial future away for loans to pay for school that other people use to buy houses, I do owe my dad his retirement money, and have already started to pay it back; before you say, "Psht, that's not real debt," I ask you if you'd really do that to your parents if they supported you far more than anyone else did, really sincerely care about your happiness, have to pay for ridiculous healthcare costs leading up to and following your mother's heart+lung transplant, and are still supporting your 30-something ["failed adulthood?"] brother who has no job, a useless degree, a recovering alcohol addiction, and some way to pay for life?), I grocery shop and cook real meals for myself and my live-in boyfriend...  But I know I won't be living in this apartment in 6 months, I know I won't be at this job for more than one year (or I will probably shoot myself out of boredom, else shoot my boyfriend for having his dream job and in many ways my dream job), and I feel so...lost.

I feel like I got off track.  Didn't life seem like this big, bright, conquerable thing when we were in college?  Like a giant juicy peach just waiting for you to take a selfish, greedy bite?  And now?  Like I studied the wrong thing, and graduated at the wrong time, and took the wrong job, and wow I shouldn't have adopted cats because you really should have your own house with a yard for that kind of thing. 

This scholarly support for the "it's just a stage and it's not just you" theory is incredibly relieving.  At the same time though, the counter-argument is that accommodating this prolonged maturation is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as well as "just another term for self-indulgence".  If that doesn't make you feel guilty, don't worry -- I'll feel guilty enough for the both of us.

It's especially difficult hearing stories of my parents and grandparents, who grew up so quickly in comparison.  While I insisted on paying my own bills in college, my parents bought my groceries, gas, insurance, rent, and anything school-related.  In contrast, I have so many times heard the story of my mom working three jobs in college just to make ends meet with no time to study for finals and barely enough money to eat.  My parents' early years as a married couple were in near poverty -- a can of beans for dinner and cinder block furniture, fitting everything they owned in a car without enough money for more gas.  My grandmother hitchhiked home through rural Illinois, diploma in hand, from her college graduation, while I sipped champagne and ate souffle in downtown LA with my parents toasting my achievements. 

At 22-going-on-23, aren't you a "woman" and no longer a "girl"?

I feel like I should be all grown up by now.  My parents just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary (married at 21, my parents were the definition of average in 1970 according to this article) and were already in their 2nd house by the time I was born.  Yet being stable enough or able to afford a house exists in such an impossible future in my mind.

Yet how many people in college or just out of it insist on "some day" and "when I have lots of money" and that seemingly attainable future that is exactly what they want?  I say it, everyone I know says it, and 96% of those surveyed are "very sure that someday [they] will get to where [they] want to be in life."

Combine "more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background" with "dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game" and it's no wonder our generation is overcome with depression -- the "I have issues I need to resolve and I will mull over this until I figure out what the hell I'm going to do to fix it" natural selection kind of depression.

And they said adolescence would be the hardest time when you're in it.  Now I'm in the new-age adolescence.  You know, the one where mistakes really do have consequences in the Big Bad World.

They really need to hurry up and write a bunch of psychology books on the subject so I can know what to expect and how to get myself through it.  Like now.  I guess until then, one day at a time?

realize you're still becoming one.

1 comment: