Some thirty-five years ago, things were different. The Beatles dominated the airwaves, people gathered around their newfangled television sets to watch Laugh-In, Nixon was president, Vietnam was getting worse, and hippie culture was about to be put down at Altamont.
At the time, my parents were right about the age I am now. My father was out of law school and pursuing a career as a state politician, and my mother had just given birth to her first son. Life was grand, and theirs was well underway.
Here in 2004, the times, they have a-changed. Comic book characters rule the box-office, rap owns the radio, and people are huddling around the boob tube to peep on other, more desperate people getting their faces/homes/careers/gardens/cars/relationships renovated. Bush is president, Iraq and Afghanistan keep rolling along, and hip-hop culture is proliferating.
I am twenty-seven, have been professionally floundering for quite some time, and feel closer to being a child than having one. I used to think the term "generation gap" referred to my parents' taste in Ann-Margaret and Frankie Valli. I'm starting to realize that the phrase refers to a lot more than having a different set of pop culture references like the ones I mentioned above.
So let's brush those aside and focus on the shifting of expectations and the shriveling of the traditional age and maturity guideposts.
The old blueprint has been shredded. No longer is success measured by the white picket fence and three kids. No longer is adulthood signified by the right to vote. No longer are a person's mid-twenties the finish line of irresponsibility and indecision and professional and personal flexibility. It's a whole new ballgame nowadays, and we aren't playing by our parents' rules.
Hell, the beautiful, occasionally disorienting thing about it is that there aren't any rules at all. Not anymore.
By the 60s my parents were already in their twenties. In their world that meant they were no longer kids. They missed out on the hippie revolution and they were through messing around. It was time to grow up and get serious, so they did. People their age were getting married, buying houses, having their own kids, and they were no exception.
Today, most of us in our early to mid twenties are on a vastly different wavelength. I've never been a serious kinda guy and just because I hit the quarter-century mark, or earned a degree, or have a bunch of illegitimate children, doesn't mean I'm about to start. I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with my life, and that's okay. Not everyone does, and rather than be stigmatized for such uncertainty, we look upon it as opportunity. No doors have been opened, maybe, but neither have they been shut. We've got room to move.
Of course, there are people my age who have already found their way, and that's fantastic. They've already gotten married, they've got the house and are starting on the kids, and more power to them. There's nothing wrong with that, just as there's nothing wrong with not having settled down yet either.
The shame is gone. The shame of being single past your twenties, the shame of not having found your career by your thirties; none of it matters anymore. Flexibility is the new convention. Mutability is a virtue, and the lack of a rulebook is one of the most rewarding features of our generation. It's up to us. No longer do we follow the lead of one intrepid soul; we are all revolutionaries, fighting our own wars, breaking our own ground.
We've all grown up with the realization that no one has the answers, so we've stopped asking the usual questions. And we like it that way.
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE
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5.17.04 @ 12:34a
One thing to remember though, the metropolitan cities you and I live in are much different than the rest of the country.
Nationally, the average age a man gets married is still only 27 - up from 23 in 1960. That's not a huge shift.
5.17.04 @ 7:33a
Mike, I think that one of the problems with our society is that now many twentysomethings don't make up their mind anymore about their lives and go home to live with mommy and daddy.
Take a look at people who seem to have these career issues. I'll bet you most (if not all) of them are not lower class people - people without means HAVE to work and get a career. They don't quite have the option to "find their way".
I agree about the marriage and kids thing though. No rush to do either is definitely OK now.
5.17.04 @ 9:09a
David, I don't think it's necessarily a "problem" across the boards. Yeah, maybe younger people should start taking more responsibility for themselves at an earlier date, and certainly there are aspects of our society that encourage and serve to promote a lack of maturity among younger people, but this article is about a newfound, unstigmatized flexibility, not a lack of drive.
5.17.04 @ 10:41a
David, having been one of those 20-somethings that moved back home for a while, and having friends who've also done the same thing, I can attest it's not always a matter of not having a sense of responsibility or of lacking career direction. Sometimes it's non-career issues, or the lack of career opportunities in certain geographic region that result in flying back to the nest. Sometimes health issues within the family necessitate such a move--or, as in my case, interrupt the job hunt once the prodigal returns.
Yeah, some people just don't make the effort to do their part and would rather mooch off mom and pop than take care of themselves. However, I can assure you that most of us don't or didn't enjoy the experience. Besides the demoralization aspect of having to move back home, there's also the fact that theparental units tend to feel that having you back under their roof entitles them to poke into all aspects of your life--financial, personal, and professional. Add in being in a field that is foreign to their experience and it can be nightmarish at times.
5.17.04 @ 10:45a
I was going to say the same thing. Moving back in with your parents is not a sign of progress. It's not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but it's not something most people desire. And I don't think that the "moving back in with your parents" option is what most people think of when I mention the flexibility and lack of standards facing today's 20-somethings.
5.17.04 @ 11:32a
Matt has a very good point. Having just moved back to Raleigh after being in LA, the standards are definitely very different. In LA, the social life of someone my age loosely reflected college only instead of dragging your slightly hungover, predominantly single self to class ever morning, you're going to the office.
I'm loving the change of being back in Raleigh, especially career-wise and life being a bit less crazy. However, I'm quickly running out of friends who aren't engaged or married and I'm the only one I know looking for rental amongst a bunch of twenty-something homeowners.
It can be disheartening-- I'm not interested in being married right now at all. It's just a little weird when you find yourself amongst some of your best friends who are all in a completely different phase than you are for the first time in your lives.
5.17.04 @ 11:57a
Mike/Lisa, I wasn't trying to be degrading with my comments or imply that there aren't many valid reasons to move home etc., but I think Mike said it perfectly: "there are aspects of our society that encourage and serve to promote a lack of maturity among younger people"
5.17.04 @ 11:58a
People living home until 30 is an issue both in the U.S. and in Austrialia.
It just means that we can freely mock about 30% of others under 30. It isn't about "finding your way", its just about doing something. Maybe that's a lot to ask...
5.17.04 @ 12:07p
This isn't about people living at home, and if you read between the lines, you'll see that this column is not an indictment of laziness in my generation but a celebration of the expansiveness of opportunity. It's not about what's NOT being done with that freedom, it's about the existence of the freedom. I was trying to be positive for once!
5.17.04 @ 12:14p
Hey, I'm not f*cking with you. I'm serious -- I have a career; it doesn't mean I've "made it." I play in 2 to 3 bands at a time trying to find a way out of the regular life. I record bands at night trying to get a different career / source of income started. If I don't do all these things, I'll always be stuck where I am.
Opportunity can be overwhelming, to be sure. But I think too many just curl up at the prospects. Or find one thing that works, and just stick with it complacently. Even if you're confused, you've just gotta jump in and get your feet wet. The game isn't going to get any clearer on the sideline. The only way things happen is with action.
5.17.04 @ 12:20p
I wasn't referring solely to your post, just to the direction that the posts are heading in.
It's not about "making it", it's about the changes in culture that allow more of us to decide for ourselves when we've "made it", how, or whether we want to "make it" at all, and the pace at which we "make it".
The flexibility to decide those things for ourselves, without being judged or stigmatized by others because we haven't done certain "normal" things by arbitrary dates or on an arbitrary timeline, is a good thing, regardless of whether we use that freedom well or not at all.
5.17.04 @ 12:24p
That's fine, but just be realistic. If you're living at home with your parents at 30 with no j-o-b, you will be stigmatized (and I don't mean just you in particular). There's no social revolution to change that.
5.17.04 @ 12:31p
Point taken. Some things are less relative than others.
5.17.04 @ 4:06p
You guys are talking about living at home in your 30s, but I am seeing a lot of people my age (40) returning home not only because of divorce or job loss, but because our parents need someone to take care of them, help them out financially and physically. Not everyone can afford to or is willing to dump their parents in a nursing home. I was raised in a clannish atmosphere of keeping the family together at all costs.
Now on topic, this is a wonderful time as far as it goes for being able to find your direction or explore all your possibilities. Part of the openness to exploration is the fact that many 40 to 50 somethings were downsized and forced to refocus their lives in a different or new direction.
5.17.04 @ 9:51p
You may be stigmatized for moving back, but that doesn't mean there is shame in it. If it's the end result of a lack of focus, discipline, and reliability, then that's one thing. But if it adds flexibility as a means to a better end, then it is just another sacrifice. You have to bite the bullet at some point or another. Opportunity does abound, and one can explore it throughout life. However, to be realistic, life has an ever narrowing bandwidth of potentiial experience, and each day spent doing one thing is another lost to something else.
As for the article, it is a good one Mike. I think the world today is more complicated, and I don't know how anyone figures it out by 21 and the goes on that path with 100% certainty, and without faking it somewhat.
5.18.04 @ 12:42p
How about this? From a story on Boston.com today:
"The markers of adulthood for past generations just don't apply anymore, Gordon says, since it's unlikely that a 21-year-old will be starting a family, buying a house and become established in a career path right out of the gate.
"You can't see this age as black or white. They are not kids and, in some ways, they're not adults; 30 is the new 20," she says."
5.18.04 @ 1:22p
I don't know how anyone figures it out by 21 and the goes on that path with 100% certainty, and without faking it somewhat.
I think some people know and some people don't. By the time I was 12 I knew I was going to be a writer. And when I turned 20 I knew I wanted to be in advertising.
I never went through the "What am I going to do with my life?" phase. Since college I've never held any serious job other than copywriter and only once, when I was 25, did I even momentarily consider a career change. (That thought literally lasted one interview's worth.) And honestly, there's not really anything else I can picture myself doing.
Obviously, not everyone's like that. In fact most people aren't. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And it doesn't mean people are faking it.
5.18.04 @ 2:22p
What I've wanted to do has been relatively the same for most my life. Now I'm beginning to pinpoit what industry I want to do that for. Career has always been the easy part for me. It's other aspects of "growing up" that I've been less sure of...
5.18.04 @ 4:22p
That's because as you get older is less about "growing up" than it is about getting older.
5.18.04 @ 5:30p
I was in med school at 21, and the only way to do that is to know WAY ahead of time what you want to do.
Did I ever have doubts about medicine? Sure, but I never could think of anything else I wanted to do more, besides earn my PGA tour card.
5.18.04 @ 7:28p
Matt/Dave: No, it doesn't mean everybody fakes it. I was saying that I didn't know how people did that. I know that they do, like you guys, and I admire you all, but I couldn't and didn't do it.
I wanted to write, actually to be a music critic, but I bailed on Journalism school to go play the drums, went back for a Writing degree, scrounged, quit drumming, got a teaching cert, quit that after 2 years of subbing, and became a geek. It all worked out, but I lacked something you didn't. Maybe it was maturity, maybe it was discipline, maybe just gumption to conceive something and work out a feasible plan. Maybe you knew yourselves better. It's certainly not luck, but I can't quite grasp what it is. In any case, I didn't want to tick off you well-adjusted types! ;-)
5.18.04 @ 7:38p
There's a million things out there to do. Some people just stumble into what they love earlier than others.
I bet most chefs learned to love food early on - because they were (obviously) exposed to food early in their lives. Same thing with writing, for me.
Now if your love is Flash coding, well, you clearly didn't develop that love when you were 6.
5.18.04 @ 10:13p
Part of the problem with careers such as "writer" is that unless you wanted to be a journalist, thereare less venues available to you. I've wanted to be a novelist and playwright since I was in second grade. I've always enjoyed fiction that takes me away from the evil reality of life, so journalism was way out for me.
Thus you take jobs that aren't in your field, or your interest in an effort to survive until you "get discovered" or sell a novel or at least get a following. In that sense writing is like garage bands. Until you hit it big, or have a big score, you're just a waiter waiting for your star to shine.
5.18.04 @ 10:56p
"Writer" is a lot different than "Novelist." There are writer jobs all over the place. Almost every medium-to-large company has in-house writers. There are proposal and grant writers. There are journalists, true, but also things like online movie critic. I don't consider the people at Television Without Pity journalists, but they write. Speech writers, technical writers - there are millions of writing jobs.
Saying the only writing jobs are novelists, or screenwriters is like saying the only way you can act is in a big budget motion picture.
5.18.04 @ 11:27p
See? That's what I mean, I didn't know any of that back then.
Man, I'd like to write speeches, the things I'd get Bush to say, just to annoy you guys even more.
5.18.04 @ 11:31p
The President of the last ad agency I worked at was a speech writer for Nixon, and lifelong, very close friends with Dick Cheney.
He already annoys me enough. No need for you to jump into the fray, Dan.
5.18.04 @ 11:37p
He's my hero! Why didn't you learn more from him?
5.19.04 @ 9:29a
As Matt says, there are millions of writing jobs. Of course, things like "online movie critic" don't pay jack, and I doubt the TWOP recappers make their livings that way. But proposal writing, grant writing, technical writing, the people who put together company and trade newsletters -- these are all great jobs for writers, if not incredibly lucrative. I've been living off this proposal gig for almost 6 years.
And remember, there are a lot of novelists who still aren't successful, not enough to live off it. So then even when you make it, you haven't made it.
5.19.04 @ 2:47p
Yet again, this column isn't about a professional calling. It's about the lack of having heard that calling being more acceptable today than it was back in 50s and 60s. Like the boston.com article I quoted above, adulthood is no longer as well defined as it was, or was pretended to be. It's much more intangible and fluid now.
5.19.04 @ 2:52p
I agree. And?
5.19.04 @ 3:03p
Thank you. Carry on.
5.19.04 @ 4:35p
But doesn't the lack of finding a career or a calling go hand in hand with the lack of adulthood, as it is thought of by many?
I mean, if a job makes you a responsible adult then no one who is a supported by a husband or wife is considered an adult.
5.19.04 @ 4:56p
Yes, it does go hand in hand, but I was mainly talking about the positive aspect of that flexibility, and not really about the search for a career.