Being a grown-up is hard and confusing.
I’ve heard that cliche about the secret of adulthood is that there is no secret – that one day, you reach a certain age and realises everyone’s been floundering with no ideas this whole time. That there is no handbook and there’s never been any rules. The thing is, I don’t believe it.
I don’t believe that nobody’s ever known how to be an adult because my generation is always being told that we’re doing it wrong. If you don’t know what being an adult means, how do you know if I’m doing it right or not, Dad?*
It’s not news that our generation (i.e. people born 1984-1999) is doing things differently. And, yes, some of that’s due to changed priorities (gee, you don’t know why most people aren’t married by the time they’re 30, Grandpa?* Maybe it’s because we’re concentrating on our careers or travelling, or maybe it’s because the generation that married their high school sweethearts wrote sitcoms about hating their spouses). But sometimes, it’s simply because the outline that was available to most of our parents just isn’t available to a lot of us. Trust me, I’m not choosing to be unable to buy a house.
The thing is, while previous generations may have been floundering some to a lot, they at least had a few guidelines. The way I see it, adulthood is basically the technical challenge on Great British Bake Off. A couple of
series generations ago, you were given a complicated recipe with loads of pieces missing and you had to fill out the gaps. Now, you leave school and all you get is a piece of paper that says, “make 12 lemon meringue pies.”
The rules have generally been simple – maybe not to follow, but to understand. You leave school or university, get a job, progress till you can support a family, take a wife*, have kids, keep progressing until you retire and then die. The incredible speed of technological advances and late-stage capitalism have changed all that. Now, we marry later (if at all), breed when we’re much older (if at all) and can expect to have 15-20 jobs in our working lives.¹ Most of us have no property, no real pension plan and seemingly little hope of getting either by the time we retire. WHAT THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO DO WHEN WE’RE OLD? I don’t know, and it keeps me awake at night.
There is so much talk about millenials, how millenials are different from Gen X, millenials vs. baby boomers (the worst of the ‘vs.’ films), whether millenials are entitled or whether we’re utterly fucked and, mostly, whose fault it is. I care maybe 20% how we got here – it’s good to know how the past works, and to understand the factors leading up to this point. But I’m much more concerned with what on earth I’m supposed to be doing now. Because for whatever reasons, it’s clear the old recipe book for adulthood isn’t working for us. I’m going to try and build a new one, however partial. Send help?
*My father has never said this to me. Sorry for throwing you under the bus, Dad.
*OK, neither of my grandfathers have ever asked me when I’m getting married, except to perfectly reasonably enquire about my upcoming wedding date. Sorry, Dad².
*I forgot to mention the implicit first rule of “be a straight white man.”
¹Future Workplace survey, Multiple Generations @ Work, via Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/#6dbea04b5508