What Is It About 20-Somethings?

Robin Marantz Henig wrote a piece back in August in the New York Times Magazine (link at the bottom) opening with the question:

What is it about 20-somethings?

Henig’s article ponders whether or not a new developmental stage has been created called emerging adulthood – not quite adults, no longer adolescents. “emerging adulthood: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.””

The article goes back and forth debating on the pros and cons of this emerging adulthood period. (I’ll spare you from having to read the 10 page article, thank me later). I want to talk about this “sense of possibilities” mentioned in the article and why 20-somethings today have more power and more potential than ever before. There is a reason why there has never before been so many young CEO’s or young millionaires (or young billionaires in Zuckerberg’s case.) (http://smallbusiness.aol.com/2010/05/27/meet-the-new-young-millionaires/)

Technology is reason numero uno. Access to any information is at the touch of our fingertips. Access to any country has never been easier with daily international flights to any of the six major continents (sorry Antarctica). We can instantly increase our exposure to any culture we so desire by “logging on.” Globalization, the internet and technology more broadly has given us tremendous power but it has also spoiled us to demand instant gratification in all walks of life.

At the same time many of us are third or fourth generation immigrants. In other words, for most of us it was our great-grandparents who emigrated to the United States. They were the “immigrants” whose purpose was to work their tail off in horrible conditions so that their children (our grand-parents) could afford to attend school and hopefully learn their way to a better life. They were the ones who took care of their basic needs and those of their children.

Our grand-parents were the ones who had to deal with the issue of assimilating into American society while also trying to keep their parent’s cultural traditions and identity. They probably finished high school but most of them did not attend college. They lived a good, honest life and had the goal of providing a chance for their children (our parents’ generation) to attend college. They did not need to worry about their basic needs but did still need to work hard to live a good life.

Our parents were afforded a plethora of opportunities that our great-grandparents could only have dreamed of. Their grandparents slaved away at a factory so that our parents did not need to worry about their next meal while their parents worked hard to ensure they could go to college to have a better quality of life than themselves.

There was no “psychedelic 20’s” but the 60’s was a cracking decade due to the fact that our parents lived a “student life” – free of care and responsibility. They went to Woodstock and drank non-alcoholic beverages and smoked only legal substances. Could the three-day love-fest that is Woodstock have ever existed in our grand-parent’s generation? &@%# No.

Most of our parents have college degrees. Some of them may have even higher degrees although generally speaking most of them do not. However, combine economic growth, rising salaries, and increasing opportunities, and you have a baby boomer generation whose quality of life rose by a very high amount.

Next is our generation. Generation X or Y or Z emerging adulthood, blah blah blah. Us 20-somethings. Us immature adults, or mature adolescents, whatever you want to call us, the misfits.

From the article:
“The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as 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.”

We are impatient, unsatisfied, demanding, and feel entitled. At the same time we are looking for some overarching goal/purpose in life that is more hidden in our life than in generations past. To repeat, our great-grandparents busted their butt to cover our heads, our grand-parents worked to fill our brains, and our parents worked hard to satisfy our hearts. With all these conditions met, what is the purpose of life for our generation?

Before I tell you what it is… screw it, I’ll just tell you what it is.

*Helping others reach the same predicament we find ourselves in.*

We (20-somethings) have a tremendous sense of social responsibility. It is encrypted in our DNA, programed into our sense of self-worth, hidden deep within our souls…you get the point. More 20-somethings than ever now are donating their time to volunteering. According to volunteeringinamerica.gov, 2009 had the most Young Adult (16-24) volunteer since 2005. In fact, the Young Adult category shows a clearly positive slope for volunteering while Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) shows a clear decline and older adults (65+) shows a nearly horizontal line over the same time period.

We do not live the immigrant life. We are well beyond that stage. I have wasted your time writing the above to spur you to act on these inner feelings, this inherent will to help others. There is plenty of needs to be filled and not enough of us fulfilling them. Hopefully that will change as us 20 somethings act more and more.


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