Friday, January 11, 2013

The Perils of this Twentysomething Life

Over-educated, underemployed, isolated by our own internet-dependent generation, and staring down a real world fraught with more instability than ever, it's no easy task to be a twentysomething-year-old these days.

We were reared in sheltered suburban  homes where we were encouraged that we could be 'whatever we wanted' when we grew up, only to find our first dreams dashed along the way. We grew up spoiled by the prosperous nineties never knowing what a recession was, yet we emerged from college to face exactly that. We were educated in elementary schools that hammered home the notion that each one of us was a special flower, only to find an adult world where flowers went to die. We participated in sports leagues and after school activities that handed us a trophy just for signing up, only to realize that the corporate world doesn't give out participation points. We over-payed for a college education in which we were educated as much in barroom etiquette and keg-tapping as any job skills or real-world strategies, left to find ourselves ill-equipped and ill-prepared for post-grad realities upon the tragedy of graduation day.

And we inherited a world in which oftentimes the candlelight of hope seems to grow dimmer by the day. We inherited the internet age, in which we have no trouble conversing with strangers on message boards yet we don't even offer one another a smile on the subway. We inherited the era of social media, in which we exercise our 'special flower' muscles in the mistaken notion that the outside world cares about the minute details of our everyday lives. We inherited an environmental crisis and a lifetime of governmental debt, feeling passionate about changing the world but distraught with the realization that even a presidential campaign founded on the concept of "Change" won't change much. We inherited a mental health crisis, in which no one blinks twice anymore at the newest school shooting on the news. We inherited an America where traditional family values struggle to survive, and we face the depressing reality that even love might not save us - as just as many marriages fail as succeed these days.

Worse yet, we don't even have a landmark event to define our generation's turbulent plight. It's not that the troubles of young adulthood are unique to my generation. The opening page of Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises contains the inscription, "you are all a lost generation"; the novel was a response to the cavernous void his young generation was left in after a world war devastated not only countries but the human spirit.  Perhaps even more extreme, the baby-boomer generation largely dropped out entirely during the revolutionary sixties that would be defined by society-changing events such as Vietnam, Woodstock and the 1969 Democratic National Convention. My generation of young people suffers from the same afflictions those previous generations did, but without any real triggering event to explain any of it. Even our voids are void of meaning.

We Generation Y'ers are facing unprecedented instability in our mid twenties. With the average age of marriage ever-increasing - and Ted Mosby as our heroic example of that phenomenon - we are left in limbo for an increasing period of time; more and more of us are exploring the adult world as lonesome travelers or serial daters through our twenties whereas our parents already had kids and houses by this time in their own lives. And with the recession hitting our generation the hardest, many of us are working at jobs we're vastly overqualified for or worse, the increasingly common and equally frustrating unpaid internship.The insufficiency of the job market, coupled with our student loans, create a world of financial instability as well. And alas, College friends you swore you'd never lose touch with get lost along the way. Instability abound, it can be a tough time indeed.

The grand irony of it all is that we will one day look back and miss these very days. Until then, I'm learning its best to soak it all up. Cling to your friends. Take steps to better yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Spend money on things that make you happy. Travel when you can. Take a backroad instead of the main highway. Learn from your past but live in the present. Start being the person you want to be in the future.

We just might emerge on the other side better off than when we started.

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