THE BLOG
02/23/2012 07:24 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

What Is It About 20-somethings? I Don't Know, But Please Stop Asking Me

"What is it about the Twentysomethings?" -- New York Times Magazine

"I think a lot of twentysomethings are out there looking for the dream job when really, they need to buckle down and just take a job, get some work, and get started."
-- Lise Andreana, author of No More Mac 'n Cheese!: The Real-World Guide to Managing Your Money for 20-Somethings

"A consensus has emerged that, psychologically, they're a generation of basket cases: profoundly narcissistic...." Judith Warner, "The Why Worry Generation." The New York Times, May 28, 2010.

"They were raised to believe they could do anything, and now they're demanding more from work than previous generations ever did. Will they change the world or have to lower their sights?"-- The Washingtonian.

"But seriously, what is it about the twenty-somethings?" The New York Times


"Uh-oh is right. Man it's expensive to live and drive in CA. Are you keeping track of the money you owe dad and me? because I'm not."
-- Mom's email reply to me this morning after I informed her that I charged $350 on her credit card for a parking ticket.

I think I speak for all of the 78.3845% of my generation, who are living at home or relying on our parents for some financial support, when I say, would you rather we owe money or kidneys to strangers? Because we could do that, too.

While I still rely on my parents and other benefactors for life's essentials, and as long as I hold fast to pipe dreams instead of seeking out a straight and narrow career path, some might say I'm still a child. And this isn't just a personal problem, it's a condition that plagues an entire generation, according to some experts.

These experts classify this prolonged dependence as a time of "emerging adulthood;" twenty-somethings are just middle-schoolers whose growth spurt is taking longer than anticipated, they say. They blame this emotional retardation on parents whose over-encouragement and coddling of their young kids made them entitled idealists, and left them unprepared for the harsh realities of the world. As such, these young men and women are stuck, refusing to go it alone, and hesitant to adapt to the horrible and ordinary things about adult life.

In a lot of ways, these experts have wonderfully encapsulated who I am. My cozy childhood did make me a bit of a milquetoast. When I was a kid in the backseat of my Dad's Camry station wagon staring out at the sky and discovering new stars, the world was full of such untold promise. Even the school board told me I was "Gifted and Talented," thereby poisoning me for life with the understanding that I was somehow more special, and destined for greater things than less promising students like Rodney Spangler.

It's no secret that graduating from college and entering the world in earnest has been the ultimate shock to my system. It's like I suddenly find myself in the plot of Taken, except instead of being kidnapped by European thugs and sold into prostitution, my parents are slowly cutting me off, and expecting me to be less emotionally dependent on them. And I'm really not ready to be thrown out into the cold like that.

I was unprepared for the world to treat me like an anonymous and average person, just on the prowl for dental insurance like everyone else. I wasn't quite ready for all the disappointments that came with discovering that the world is full of careless drivers, orthodontists, Social Liberals Who Are Fiscal Conservatives, and other baffling individuals.

I see the dreams of my youth clash with the realities of my burgeoning adulthood. It makes me anxious. I never used to fidget, and now I find myself constantly bouncing my legs like a sad sufferer of restless leg syndrome. I had a dream that I'd ease comfortably into an adulthood that was fun and peppered with Dim Sum Sundays, but the reality is I don't even eat pork.
This stage of life is about marrying your expectations with harsh reality, or coming to terms with the fact that, as my Mom says, "Not everyone will love you."

These expert's theories about my generation can't be entirely wrong, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here typing away on macbook about why the world hasn't bowed to my grand expectations. I seem to fit the stereotypical mold for the young graduate, who takes too much time to ponder and dream, instead of acting practically.

Even if these commentators are right, the point of all this hypothesizing on millennial malaise seems to add up to this: For those of us pursuing impossible goals, chasing windmills and Loch Ness monsters, are we just putting off the inevitable? Should I just suck it up and go to engineering school, try to make up for the science and math deficit in the United States? Will we fall behind China if our young people fall victim to dreaming in lieu of practicality?

Possibly, yes. It's quite likely that our hesitance means we won't succeed in the world economy, or that our political inaction will mean we give over the country to lunatics. But to be honest, I really don't need these publications making me feel so bad about myself and my peers. I have enough old text messages from exboyfriends that do just that.

While pushing their own agenda, these pop-psychologists seem to have forgotten just how enjoyable it is to ponder. And that someone invented vanilla lattes so that I could sit in coffee shops for hours just thinking about my young life, getting lost in my own potential, without every having to do anything. They also discount just how popular it is to appear to be lost, or at least wear thick glasses. Of late, even Hollywood has been glamorizing the dependent lifestyle, in movies like the forthcoming Jeff Who Lives At Home, or Young Adult, or The Killing Fields.

As I recall history, every older generation has thought the younger generation silly or frivolous. I don't have evidential proof of this, but every time I watch Fiddler on the Roof, I'm reminded that the clash of generations is a universal and timeless theme!

I want to tell these likely well-meaning social anthropologists that eventually we'll come out of this stupor and become just as resigned as they are. But until then, just give us a moment to think, and to hope.

As much time as I spend thinking about what it is I'm searching for, hankering for, and dreaming of, I know that it's a luxury to do so. And I know that it's because of the sacrifices of older generations who worked difficult jobs and did things like sell their own blood to make it through medical school, that I have the time and space to try to do something I find truly wonderful. Plus I have at least one friend doing the Peace Corps and/or Teach for America, so at least they're contributing to the world in their soul-searching.

And maybe we're accomplishing more than it looks like, even when we're standing still. It took Thomas Edison how many days of moping around and writing indulgent poems before he invented the motion picture? Or the Red Sox how many tries before winning a world series? How many lazy attempts to fly to the moon before finally (maybe) landing? Not all who wonder and wander are lost, it seems.

Perhaps we're actually getting somewhere in our apparent malaise. Maybe, like the albatross, we're flying while we sleep.

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