“Generation Y (born 1981-1999 and approximately 80 million in North America) celebrate diversity; they are optimistic, inventive and individualistic; they rewrite the rules; they enjoy a pleasurable lifestyle; they don’t see the relevance of most institutions; they are masters of technology and social media; were nurtured by their parents; see friends as family; like a collaborative supportive work environment and interactive work relationships; have high demands and expectations; want to work for companies that are socially responsible and they want a balanced life.” (Psychology Today)
Otherwise known as: “Boomerang Generation or Peter Pan Generation, because of the members’ perceived penchant for delaying some rites of passage into adulthood.”
Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of being a 20s-something in this generation. I’m not sure when it started, but I do know that the NY Times “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” article spurred it on even more.
This paragraph from the article sums up my life right now:
…young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.
Untethered to romantic partner and permanent home? Check. Traveling? Check. Competing ferociously for Teach for America? Check. Forestalling the beginning of adult life? I suppose all signs point to yes.
When I sat down with a TFA representative a few years ago, I remember him telling me that two years wasn’t that long of a commitment at all. When he said that I practically had a panic attack. “Two….YEARS!?!” I thought as I tried to remain calm. At this point I had been stuck in a long-term relationship with school – I loved school, but like any unhealthy relationship, it was suffocating me and I needed out. I couldn’t wrap my mind around jumping into another long-term relationship – it was finally time to conquer the world!
I guess this is pretty naive of me, but I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t want to settle down, didn’t want a 9-to-5 job, was afraid of commitment, wanted my job to accommodate my family and personal life (instead of the other way around), desired to get married later in my 20s, wanted to spend my time in meaningful and useful ways (no matter where I am) and yadda yadda yadda. Little did I know that it’s not just me – it’s an ENTIRE GENERATION. My generation.
This fascinates me. I can’t stop wondering how did this happen? Are we really “forestalling the beginning of adult life”? What does adult life even mean? And also, are Gen Y’s ideals more of a good or bad thing?
A few weeks ago I went to a European-esque cafe with two of my girlfriends from high school, and we discussed this issue as we sipped tea around a quaint table. It felt very adult-like to me.
We talked about the effect the economy has on our generation, and how we seem to be shifting the American Dream. We agreed that our generation has seen our parent’s mortgages, failed marriages and melancholy careers – and we are resistant to the same fate. But does that mean we are still trying to fly like Peter Pan?
According to the NY times article, “sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.”
Interesting. Besides my 28-year-old sister, I can’t really think of anyone in his or her 20s who has completed these five steps (what up Gen-Y!)
Most of my friends have gotten married, left home and are currently working (though I don’t think many of them are planning to have these exact same jobs for more than a few years – thus succumbing to the stereotype of our generation.)
With the exception of those close friends, most of the other people I know are like me: single and searching for our dream job. We move away, we come back home. We work at coffee shops, at fitness gyms, at restaurants. We fall in love and we break up. We go back to school. We travel Western Europe. We are mostly financially independent, but our parents still help us out from time to time. We’re excited for what the future holds, yet also crippled by the idea.
“It’s somewhat terrifying,” writes a 25-year-old named Jennifer, “to think about all the things I’m supposed to be doing in order to ‘get somewhere’ successful: ‘Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financially responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.’ When is there time to just be and enjoy?” Adds a 24-year-old from Virginia: “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.”
Oh Jennifer (and 24-year-old Virginian), I feel you. Sometimes the possibilities are exhilarating (why not be a nanny in Paris?), other times they are frustrating and uncertain (will this decision ruin the rest of my life???) Right now I’m to the point where I’m so tired of new possibilities – I crave stability. I want to know where my life is going and I want to get on that path. I’m ready for another long-term relationship (ya hear that, TFA? I’m ready for you now!)
But two years isn’t really long-term.
As with almost anything, there’s a lot of criticism about my generation. We’re lazy, coddled, entitled, unrealistic, narcissistic, noncommittal, needy…
one reader left a comment that left me thoroughly amused:
Oh please, someone says this about every generational group each decade. My generation was the one full of barefoot hitchhiking hippies listening to loud music, tuning in and dropping out, eschewing materialism and giving each other the ‘peace’ sign.
Now look at us! Driving Cadillac SUVs, gloating over the stainless steel, double burner propane barbeque grill with its own kitchen sink for the patio and trying to figure out how to run our air conditioners on solar power! We’ve become the Pleasant Valley Sunday scene!
There’s a list of nearly 800 comments that I highly suggest reading through if you ever have the time – there are many thought-provoking perspectives to gain.
So yeah. This idea of Generation Y has been on my mind for a while. And sometimes I worry that I’m living out the negative aspects of it. I look back the the last few years of my life, and I totally fit the stereotype of my generation. Is that wrong? Am I narcissistic and noncommittal? Is pursuing my dream of Teach for America prolonging a Peter Pan fantasy?
A recent Christianity Today article covers the topic of my generation/our society and our lack of commitment:
…beyond the ramifications for society as a whole, beyond even the obvious necessity of Christian commitment, when we refuse to commit, we miss out on one of the great joys of life. When we obsess over ourselves, we lose the meaning of life, which is to know and serve God and love and serve our neighbors.
So I get all frazzled and wonder if I’m missing out on the greatest joys in life because I’m not exactly committed to anyone or anything right now – and am I “obsessing” over my future/myself? But then, when I look back on nearly everything I’ve done post-college, and hopefully in everything I’m pursuing, I believe I am seeking first the kingdom of God. I am asking, listening and following. And if that so happens to fit the description of my generation, then I’m fine with that. And if it looks like anything else, I need to be fine with that too.
Whoever is reading this, I’m curious to hear your thoughts about this whole generation thing – the pros and cons and causes and effects and anything in between. Please leave comments and let me know where you stand – I’m always up for new perspectives and ideas. I’m particularly interested in Christian viewpoints in terms of my generation – because we aren’t supposed to look like the rest of the world/America. So what does it mean if we do fall into the stereotype of being noncommittal, adventure-seeking, Peter Pan wannabes along with the rest Generation Y? Anyone? Bueler?