Wednesday, August 18, 2010

20-Something or other

There is a really interesting article in the NY Times Magazine today about 20-somethings and the universal struggle to find your way towards adulthood in this weird space between college and Being A Grown Up.  It's nothing new; people have been talking about this for ages - I know it's a conversation I've had with my peers more than once over the last few years.  For me, turning 20 was shocking.  Even though I was still in college, I had this sudden sense of "Holy cow. I'm supposed to be growing up now."  It seemed like once I hit 20, I was supposed to Get Serious, and think about a Career Path.  And I had no idea what I was doing.

Growing up, my parents always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. They supported me, whether I was serving bagels or belting out showtunes, and were proud when I received my degree in Theater.  I was incredibly lucky.  My mom stressed that when she graduated from college, there were fewer options for women.  Now, she said, I could do anything.  Our generation is lucky; most of us are taught from a young age that we can do more, be more, expect more than our mothers and grandmothers could.   We are to follow our passions, but finding and pursuing them is another story.  

Being blessed with many interests and the opportunities to pursue them doesn't necessarily translate into finding Your One True Passion, and even when you figure out what "it" is, finding the time, energy and financial means to make it your life's work is tricky.  A 25-year old quoted in the article says that “there is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It’s almost as if having a range of limited options would be easier.”  It's like she read my mind.  

I have thought about this a lot in the last few years, particularly when I was unemployed.  The downside to having so much freedom and seemingly limitless opportunity was the pressure to eventually pick something.  Alas, how are we ever to settle down if we are encouraged to keep looking?  That's the trend these days (erm, among the privileged, middle-class, etc.), though, right?  Go to college, experiment, work lots of different jobs until you find something that fits.  Volunteer, take on hobbies and extra-curricular clubs until you feel something stirring inside you.  Turn that into a full time job.  Just like that.  

I suppose careers are like relationships in that regard. You try out a bunch of different jobs (or partners), learning little things about yourself along the way.  You tweak what you love and hate into what you can live with and what you can't live without.  You learn where you can compromise, and where you find fulfillment.  And hopefully, you end up with something that combines a couple of your interests with something you feel good about.

Anyway, this article didn't really tell me anything new, but it was interesting to read.  I don't know about you other 20-somethings out there, but I find it's nice to be reminded that I'm not alone on this journey of Emerging Adulthood.  We are all struggling and creating and building and growing and developing and learning and figuring it out as we go along.  And (shhh) I don't think this journey ever really ends. 


  1. Well shit. This struggle goes on forever?!


    Sometimes it would be easier to be 5 forever. :)

  2. I just read this article, too, and it definitely mirrors what I have been feeling for a while now. I keep asking myself "how was I supposed to know what I wanted to do for the REST of my life at 18 when I was supposed to 'pick a major'"!?!?!? I didn't know ANYTHING at that age...though, of course, I thought I knew it all! I feel like I am only now, at 30, beginning to discover what my true passions are and how to make those into an actual reality and profession.

  3. So true Kim! I have been feeling this a lot over the past few years, especially since I made the decision to go to Grad School! I keep feeling like I should be a grown-up already and just be on top of everything but, sadly, I'm not. Anyway, great post :)

  4. Thanks for all the comments, guys. And Dopey...yeah. When I started college I was Going To Be An Actor. On The Broadway Stage. One year of acting classes and I knew that was not for me. Who would ever let an 18 year old decide someone's fate? My advice to my little sisters was to study something fun, and take a lot of interesting classes in undergrad. Figure out what you want to pursue and specialize in it later - undergrad is for figuring out who you are and what you like, and for filling your head with all kinds of knowledge!

  5. Interesting.... I like your take on it! xoxo

  6. Kim, I adore you. Yes, yes, and again, YES! I've only just figured out what my mother has been telling me for years: Life is about The Journey. After all, what is the destination, really? And how boring would life be if we figured it all out at 18? Because then we'd have 70-some-odd years of same-old, same-old. Am I right or am I right? You're right. Right on.

  7. Right on, sistafriend.

    I can't believe I just said that, but it seemed right. On.