Fighting Stagnancy and Ambivalence: The Struggles of a Modern Twenty-Something

Fighting Stagnancy and Ambivalence.

Throughout the past several years, people have endlessly discussed the peculiarities of the current generation’s 20-somethings.

With the New York Times publication of What Is It About 20-Somethings in 2010, Robin Marantz Henig boosted this conversation to the public level.

Though Henig, no doubt, did not intend to have this affect, since the publication individuals have criticized Gen Yers for being immobile and complacent.

As a 20-something myself, I have not failed to recognize the constant debate over Generation Y’s purported stunted growth and stagnancy.

But, maybe as a perfect example of what it is everyone has said, I’m not really arguing with the projections made about our “laziness” and “ambivalence”, more just exploring them.

20-Somethings Me

We’ve been called many things: the Boomerang Kids, the Peter Pan Generation, and Generation Me. We’re a generation of young adults graduating from college and moving back in with our parents, kids dressing like corporate big shots and acting like college intellectuals, youngsters obsessed (supposedly) only with ourselves.

But why are all of these projections being directed only towards the Gen Yers? Is it really a generational issue that is causing vast unemployment, a need for familial support out of school, the desire to marry at an older age? Maybe it is.

All of these things staying single longer, remaining underemployed longer, lingering at home longer have been labeled as stagnancy and chalked up to a complacency and ambivalence towards success and action.

So, let’s look at this stagnancy. Why are we comfortable with immobility in so many areas of our lives?

 Reinvented Definition of Adulthood

This is something that is discussed in Henig’s New York Times article. While at one time adulthood was defined by traditional rites of passage: completing school, leaving home, financial independence, getting married, and reproducing.

Today, these traditional milestones no longer indefinitely mark adulthood for an individual. We are doing things out of order staying in school longer, taking longer to find our careers, never marrying.

Things have changed. Adulthood is no longer defined by life events, but rather by personal abilities. And, these abilities and attributes have no boundaries within age.

Some 20-somethings have settled down with a spouse and children, while others are still living at home and attending secondary schooling.

These maturity milestones are changing for many reasons. Premarital sex is more generally accepted, so people are marrying later, jobs are scarce and money is tough, employers are requiring more education for entry-level positions.

It’s not a generational thing, it’s a social thing. So, is the conclusion that adulthood magically means production? Does the stagnancy that 20-somethings today exhibit stem solely from their youth? That seems unlikely, but it is certainly a factor.

 Different Economic Climate

No jobs means no movement. The current generation of 20-somethings in the U.S. are entering a job market that is the worst it has been since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

With very few positions even available, higher than usual educational requirements for lower paying jobs, and tons of individuals seeking work, 20-somethings are faced with a difficult task.

Landing that dream salary right out of college is no longer as simple as getting the degree and honing your talents. Today you have to hone your talents better than hundreds of other applicants.

Now there is a big gap between the uber successful 20-somethings raking in millions from the dot-com bubble and the other 99% (an estimate and probably under-exaggeration) of 20-somethings waiting for a real job.

We’re stagnant because the economy is stagnant. We are still in school because we can’t get a “real” job without it. We live at home because we can’t afford to live on our own on a student or part-time paycheck.

Okay, it’s possible that this is all a little dramatic and slightly exaggerated. However, the fact remains, the economic conditions our 20-somethings are thrust into are not the most inviting, nor are they the easiest to be successful in.

 Skewed Educational Priorities

This point can be a little trickier to explain. It seems there has been a shift in the relationship between education and employment in today’s society. While many universities are still focusing on the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, employers in industries that actually pay something want employees with tangible skills.

So, while analytical thinking and critical reasoning are excellent attributes for an academic, they are somewhat less noteworthy in the boom employment industries.

Despite the lengthy education we receive, we are never really taught how to plan projects, create goals, and monitor them or at least, not in any translatable way.

Yes, our classes provide detailed syllabi that implement these types of things, but we are never really taught how to get things done without that infrastructure inherently in place.

Not to mix up generations, but, in many ways, we are lost outside of the constructs of school. As Henig puts it, 20-somethings have “a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game.”

We are taught in school to think about things, internalize things, everything can be solved intellectually. So, we are seemingly stagnant because we have things taking place in our head our actions are mental and intellectual, and not physical or outwardly productive.

 So, what now?

In true form, I have made no grand conclusions about the issue of stagnancy and the new generation of “movers and shakers”. I have come up with no real solution for our stagnancy or our ambivalence.

But, after illuminating some of reasons why we are perceived as lazy and complacent, I hope only to further evaluate these assumptions as a generation and society.



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