Recently the New York Times Magazine ran a feature story on Millennials and the growing concept in academic circles of an extended "emerging adulthood"--one that lasts throughout one's 20s and even into one's 30's.
If you've been paying attention to the media for the last five years, you can probably guess a good bit of the introductory discussion: the larger number of college students moving home post-college, and stats on millennials delaying life "markers" from marriage, and child rearing to committing to one career. That being said, the article is certainly worth your attention, particularly as it shares thought-provoking ideas on how we could better help emerging professionals as a society as well as research on brain development--including justification for the classic school marm-ism “use it or lose it.” (According to the research, "the brains we have are shaped largely in response to the demands made of them.")
I've never quite felt at home with the labels placed on me by social researchers and demographers. Technically, I'm a member of Generation X. The general attitude my peers and I purportedly share is "whatever." I am told that I my peers and I work to fund our lifestyles; that we often share the collective attitude of “I worked hard until lunch. Can I go home now?” I remember reading all of the articles about Gen X, shortly after I graduated college -- in a recession. My friends and I searched want ads in the paper. We made cold calls and conducted informational interviews. We applied for jobs with paper resumes. We landed work.
My co-workers and I watched caricatures of ourselves on Saturday Night Live, "I am just so angry. I don't know why, but I am--like--so angry." We mocked them while we ate lunch; we went back to work. Our organization was in the midst of a major re-engineering project to recoup $1 million dollars a year in lost revenue. When it was over, a few of our boomer colleagues--several of whom routinely left earlier than we did at night--were let go. My friends and I acquired new roles and responsibilities, we received performance based bonuses and profit sharing. I cried when I submitted my resignation to go to graduate school; I hate to leave.
In graduate school at the University of Virginia, I studied the college student. (My Master's degree program included coursework in Human Development, Higher Education administration, and Career Development.) I worked directly with students for nine years before venturing into business on my own. Through my work, I've worked with Gen Xers, Millennials, and Boomers. I like them all. It's useful for me to understand the major events that they've faced during pivotal times in their lives--economic recessions, public health epidemics (HIV) or innovations (birth control), global events (the Vietnam War, 9/11). Events shape us but I don't think they ever define us.
As I read Robin Marantz Henig’s discussion of 20-somethings, I was struck by the sense that the new life stage she was ascribing to this generation could actually be something that adults of all ages experience today: feeling unstable, struggling with ferocious competition for jobs, wondering if our relationships and finances can go the distance. I consider it progress that every young person doesn’t feel the need to complete school, leave home, marry and have a child by a certain deadline. There is no “one size fits all” adulthood. Let’s not forget it was the boomers who created the 50 percent divorce rate, who initiated the corporate-casual workplace, who made 60 the new 40. Today’s 20-somethings just want what we all want: the opportunity to live life on our own terms and in our own time frames.
Hear, hear. (And in a nod to my own generation and the late Gary Coleman, I hear an echo: What you talkin' about, Willis?)