Yesterday I received the same message via email, text, tweet and wall post no fewer than a dozen times:
"I'm sure you've already seen this, but ..."
The "this" was Robin Marantz Henig's hefty New York Times article about the state of today's 20-somethings
-- an extensive assessment of the way my generation is choosing to spend our transition into adulthood, what our choices mean, and whether they're good or bad.
The barrage of messages came to me because I write a blog called 20-Nothings
, started at age 24 after the hundredth time I heard the term "quarter-life crisis."
It also came because today -- at 27 -- I'm literally packing up my childhood bedroom where I returned in May after five years in Manhattan in prep for a cross-country pursuit of my passions.
According to the article, mine is the path of today's 20-something: a meandering line directed by soul-searching -- as opposed to 401(k) saving -- and a fierce belief that 35 is the new 25.
"Seen it?" became my copy-paste response, "I am
For those who haven't read the article (though I recommend you do), the central question is this: Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? (Click here to read Lemondrop's summary
New York Times, I have your answer.
It's a question based on the very-well-documented sociological differences between my peers and all those who came before us. Unlike our parents who hit the job-marriage-kids goals at a traditional pace, "[Today] the 20s are a black box -- and there is a lot of churning going on in there," reports the Times.
That churning equals "identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between," the opposite of what was/is traditional adulthood (choosing a path, settling down, and creating a stable life for you-plus-family).
As a person who took from graduation to her five-year college reunion to even choose a path, I can attest to the churning. I have churned, damn near professionally.
I have also talked to dozens and dozens of 20-somethings over my years writing the blog about what it feels like inside that "black box." While it is a stretch to say the experience is universal (some people do not have the means to not know what they're doing at 25, but that's a whole other article), many of us do feel less focused and less certain. We are more driven by our personal interests than family-oriented ones.
And our goal is to get to the right place, not to get there at the "right time." It's not that we don't know what it means to be an adult and how we're supposed to do it -- it's that we do
We are painfully aware that decisions in our 20s lay the foundation for all of adult life. We know exactly how old our parents were when they had us, and exactly what they sacrificed as a result. We know that time is precious, age isn't really just a number, and having kids changes everything.
So, we can absolutely see the forest through the trees. We just figure it's best to deliberately navigate through those trees so we arrive at the forest in one (better) piece. And -- this may just be the crux of it -- we don't see why we should rush. We were raised not to.
Case in point: When I said to my parents, "I'd like to move home to save money to pursue my creative passions in Los Angeles," they said, "Good for you." (To be clear about my personal sitch: they did not also say, "And here's $10K to get you there!") Every single person I've told since then has reacted with some version of "Now's the time" or "I wish I'd done that when I was your age."
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I think there is a difference between wandering and floundering, between taking a longer time to grow up and choosing to stay a "child." The former was me living in a closet-size Manhattan apartment, working at a job I was sure wasn't quite right, and eating Ramen noodles 'till I figured out what was. I took the traditional steps toward traditional adult life (financial independence, career stability), I just took (am still taking) them slower and more deliberately. And I made that path -- figuring out what was best for me both life- and career-wise -- my primary task.
The latter would have been me living in my parents' basement crying to "My So-called Life" on Hulu and meeting the "What are you doing with your life?" question with a "Get off my back!" That's stalling. I was, I don't know, crawling?
But does that make me less mature and less adult? Or does it make me more?
Where I get confused around this plight-of-the-20-something issue is when it's suggested by the generations above us that our crawling or churning is immature or foolish, that one day -- sometime after we cross over the 3-0 threshold, apparently -- we're all going to wake up and realize we should have buckled down, gotten married and quit the charade because the
real joy/purpose in life is to "be an adult." That slow and steady actually loses the race.
So, my question as I literally spend my grown-up savings account to pursue my childhood dream is, What is so much better about becoming an adult faster?
What am I gaining by taking my time versus what I'm losing by just getting to it already? With every year I wait to be ready to get married, am I letting all the people there are to marry pass me by? Will I be a better, more mature mother at 35 or would I have been just as adept and instinctual at 25? If I live at home with my parents for one more year while I save up to be a full-time writer, will that leave an eternal mark of lame on my life résumé? Does being an adult mean having the maturity to know you're not ready for adult things, or having the maturity to dive in and just figure it out? Won't I be a better, happier, healthier adult if I take my time getting there?
If someone could please write the article that answers those questions, we'll kindly decide at what speed we'd like to "grow up."
But for better or worse, we were raised to ask all those questions. And in the absence of answers, we've grown comfortable and confident handling them ourselves.
So, as one 20-nothing who has embodied the "It's about the journey" approach, I'd like to say that I am grown up. I am an adult. I just don't look or act or live quite like the generations prior, and frankly I find that thrilling.
Jessie Rosen is a frequent Lemondrop contributor and financial genius / television superstar. She writes the blog 20-Nothings, an account of getting by from 2-0 to 3-0 with minimal wind resistance.