responding/understanding

Diary
Sunday 23 August 2010 (Written around 1:30 AM Monday)
Basement, Mom and Dad’s Home, Winnetka, IL, USA

Last night went out with a couple of friends to the Waterhouse, which went alright. Crashed a work/friends dual birthday party, where one cute girl in a nice dress (I was surprised how many girls there were wearing nice dresses)

“What do you do?”johnny_automatic_can_until_you_can_t

I hesitated then said something to the effect of “Nothing”.

Got back to my one buddy’s place and we watched Superbad, which I’d never seen before, but heard lots and lots of wonderful things about, most of which I found out to be true. As my friend said, it does a wonderful job of showing how our generation was weird in high school. Speaking of our generation, the New York Times Magazine had something on it today, too …

but, before we get to that here’s today’s lesson plan and the context for why it matters.

Back to the artile, you can read it here. I am pasting my response I just wrote below. Lemme know what you think.

Since I Wasn’t Interviewed,
My Response to the “20-somethings” NYT Magazine Article

I am the poster child for emerging adulthood.

I spent my first post college/”adult” year living at home making reports for a financial firm and covering sports events. The next two were spent teaching and writing about my experiences in Asia. Now in year 4 I am jobless and uncertain back at Mom and Pop’s. One of the many comforts of this arrangement is delivery of the Sunday Times. The cover of the latest Magazine asked “What is it about 20-Somethings?” Robin Marantz Henig spent around ten pages answering.

Henig characterizes Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s, purportedly the leading academic on the subject, emerging adulthood psychological profile as “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls ‘a sense of possibilities.’” (Henig 2010, p. 30) Additionally there is “the age 30 deadline.” (Ibid)

Given my poster child status, I felt it appropriate to give a short, gut check response to the piece, before I go to bed and get perspective.

The first emotion I had while reading this article was a sense of glee. Here were these academics discussing my current ambiguous life as something important and possibly even a new stage of psychological development. All the guilt that is on the edge of my decision making about putting off responsibility in the sense of a career, partner, children, home and whatnot and being selfish living off my parent’s dime was OK according to none other than the New York Times.

It helped that Henig did an excellent job exploring both sides of the issue asking “is it just another term for self-indulgence?” (p. 31) and how “It can be hard sometimes to out to what extent a child doesn’t quite want to grow up and to what extent a parent doesn’t quite want to let go.” (p. 36) She earned my trust with those and other devil’s-advocate-ing the idea.

Mom was still up as I was working through the article, and interestingly enough my goals (which I keep in a long word file and try to review weekly, though this time I was 5 days late) so I got to talking. I excitedly told her about the article and shared a few quotes, including

“This [emerging adulthood] is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationshps are embarked upon with an abandon that probably will not happen again. Does that mean it’s a good thing to let our 20 somethings meander – or even to encourage them to meander – before they settle down? That’s the question that plagues so many of their parents.” (page 49)

and,

“But the expectation that young men and women won’t quite be able to make ends meet on their own, and that parents should be the ones to help bridge the gap, places a terrile burden on parents who might be worrying about their own job security, trying to care for their aging paretns or grieving as their retirement plans become more and more of a pipe dream.” (page 27)

After hearing the second quote she reminded me of how I have criticized her generation in the past because in the future my generation will be paying all of their social security, with that in mind, perhaps we are then entitled to an emergent adulthood?

This was meant to be a light hearted response, but fatigue is sapping my wit. So, yes, the article had a sense of enabling, like a friend telling an addicted, but questioning cigarette smoker “It’s alright, at least you’re not doing heroin.” I do sincerely feel a little guilty about living off my folks and only having 1 of the 5 milestones of what “Sociologists traditionally define [as] ‘the transition to adulthood’ … completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.” (p. 30) There is a certain amount of bullshit in what I am doing right now, AND this would not be as easy (or even possible) if not for the wealthy nature of my folks (see p. 46 for more on this).

At the same time, I chose this unclear path instead of others, because I believed (and still do) it will be better for me and my family in the short and long term. I have learned and done millions of new things the past few years and I’m only halfway through emergent adulthood. And, now that I am back home, especially among other peers who are skipping emergent adulthood and doing the doctor/lawyer/banker career right away, I am comfortable, and excited about where I am. This also includes the living at home aspect and the opportunities it gives me right now to organize my time, energy and network and figure out the best direction/location to take it … or I could also just go get f*$%#d up with my friends every night. In any event, I really liked this quote from Jennifer Lynn Tanner of Rutgers

“You get on a pathway, and pathways have momentum … In emerging adulthood, if you spend this time exploring and you get yourself on a pathway that really fits you, then there’s going to be this snowball effect of finding the right fit, the right partner, the right job, the right place to live. The less you have at first, the less you’re going to get this positive effect compounded over time. You’re not going to have the same acceleration.”

Finally, one question I do have whose answer also would of improved the article is what were the writer’s children’s experiences with emergent adulthood like? Judging by her website, they all seem to be pretty independent and doing very well for themselves, one the Associate Editor for Newsweek.com, the other a staff writer for factcheck.org and a son-in-law with long hair getting a PhD.

Additionally, one of the true struggles for people outside emergent adulthood seems to be a vision of where this wandering will lead, and within that, poor communication and/or displays of achievement by the 20-somethings as they go through. That is to say, if this period really is important, perhaps those of us going through it need to do a better job explaining why to our Fam’s and the world.

These two blog posts of mine also relate to this topic: vingt cinq and defined direction.

References

Henig, R. M. (2010, August 22). The post-adolescent, pre-adult, not-quite-decided life stage. The New York Times Magazine, 28-37, 46-47, 49.

Henig, R. M. Robin marantz heing: Journalist, author, science writer. Retrieved from http://www.robinhenig.com/

Image: “can until you can’t” by johnny_automatic, public domain.

Update: Over dinner my Mom reminded me I forgot to mention above how part of the motivation for the Magazine cover article was likely a clever ploy to get more 20-something readers. Also, Pop mentioned how David Brooks wrote a similar column a few years back. It’s odd Henig never mentioned that column. 24 Aug 2010 03:13 AM USA CT

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