I stumbled across a New York Times article that asks a bold (and to me, slightly offensive and ageist) question: What is it About 20-Somethings?
The article ponders why adults in our age group appear to be having trouble growing up, moving out, and getting on with our lives. The author goes through an exhaustive account of scientific and sociological studies, lamenting the end of an era when kids grew up, got a stable job, had babies and eventually retired on pensions supported by the next crop of kids. We’re now getting married later, moving around more, and making fewer long-term decisions.
A century ago, psychologists determined that “adolescence” is what makes 12 to 18 year olds act irresponsible and moody. Now those psychologists are supporting ageism by claiming that us 20-somethings are in a developmental stage called “emerging adulthood,” which apparently makes us flaky, self-centered and unreliable. The article does point out that while many in my group are unemployed and living back at home, some are stable workers with steady jobs and families. However, the author never addresses the root of this divergence, debating instead how society should protect the slackers of the group without angering or alienating the more “grown up” ones.
As a 25 year-old, I’d like to present my own theory on why there’s such a divergence among my age cohort. I strongly believe that we all have goals, hopes and dreams and that we’re working diligently to achieve them.
Put yourself – if you will – in the shoes of a 20-something living in the 2000-somethings: We’ve been told since birth that if we study hard and do well in college, our lives will be set. We’ll have it made and the world will be our oyster. Yet most of us emerged from our educational career in the midst of one of the worst recessions in history. Companies stopped hiring altogether. People ready to retire lost millions in the stock market, forcing them to stay at jobs that would’ve opened up for us newcomers. Those already out of the workforce came back, using their experience to snag the few openings around. Many recent grads who managed to get hired were the first to be laid off when cutbacks began.
We’re trying. We’re really trying. But many of us are faced with a quandary: move back home and build our career with internships and “resume boosting jobs” that pay practically nothing, or wait tables in order to make rent. Generally, those who move home have made a calculated decision, weighing the long-term benefits against the short-term downfalls. Those who don’t have any parental support seem to fail or achieve success, with little discernable rhyme or reason.
We get conflicting messages, being told on one hand to build up a savings and on the other to live well while we have the chance (before all the responsibilities kick in). Our parents tell us we’ll be rewarded by working diligently with one company long-term, whereas the modern-day mentality indicates that we’ll get ahead by switching jobs frequently to build on past experience. In the field, many of us are constantly reminded that we’re the office “junior.” Older coworkers try to stick us with secretarial duties, even if our job title is Account Manager, Executive or Project Leader. Age discrimination in the workplace eventually wears on a 20-something’s enthusiasm. Our age group brings a lot of knowledge to the table – about the latest technologies, newest research and emerging trends – but most people don’t take our opinion seriously. When we try to speak up, older coworkers often seem bored, annoyed or even antagonistic. But with a growing age range in the office, it’s no wonder that ageism is dominating the workforce. We are vying for our elders’ jobs.
Also at this time in our lives, most of us are dealing with situations beyond our career. Our parents are getting older and some need our care. We’re juggling jobs, family, dating lives, and further education. A college career isn’t enough anymore, and we’re all searching for something else to bring to the table. Something that’ll make us fit in, or stand out, or fulfill whatever need that elusive employer is looking for.
So if we seem flaky and unreliable, it’s because the clear path that all those older people laid out for us has failed. We don’t want welfare and we really don’t want to be stereotyped. Us 20-somethings have an incredible desire to make it on our own and we’re eager to do whatever it takes. We’re just not sure what that is anymore.