I turned 25 this year. My friends know that this landmark birthday caused no small amount of trepidation on my part. (Halfway to 50?! Come on!) While a full-blown quarter-life crisis never ensued, this evasion was less a product of a security in who I am at 25 and more because my friends were getting sick of my drama.
In truth, I didn’t feel I had much to show for this 25th birthday except a slight drop in my auto insurance. How many times have you heard people say that there isn’t much to look forward to by way of milestones past 21? The standard reply, of course, is that you can rent a car at 25. Outside of a few legal entitlements achieved in this time of life, there really aren’t too many expectations in place. We graduate from college and take our best stab at figuring out what we’re supposed to do next. It wasn’t until recently that I became aware of a term that has, for the last decade, been in use for this time of life: emerging adulthood. This term was coined by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett to describe an increasingly demarcated interval between the traditional stages of adolescence and adulthood. We’re 18 to 25 years old, participate more widely in post-secondary education, don’t mind cohabitation, and on average wait longer than previous generations to get married and have children. For the most part, he doesn’t see this in a negative light; it actually allows us the time to decide exactly what we want and when we want it before accepting the obligations and permanence of adulthood.
A cover article in Time magazine didn’t take such a positive spin on it. Lev Grossman interviewed multiple emerging adults, and I was most struck by the view of a 29-year-old woman (young adult? emerging adult?), who sees emerging adulthood as a sandbox, “a chance to build castles and knock them down, experiment with different careers, knowing that none of it really counts.”
And therein lies what I think is the chief cause of a characteristically aimless and uncommitted generation: that none of it really counts. It is interesting to me that this generation spends more years in post-secondary education than any preceding us, and yet our adolescence pushes “adulthood” (or the characteristics our culture assigns to adulthood) further into the future. And even as we study and experience more of life than our parents did in their twenties, I’ve sensed in myself and in my peers that our lives don’t hold as much meaning now as they will when we are legitimate (i.e. married, home-owning, bread-winning, successful) adults. I’ve occasionally sensed this in myself while also recognizing this as erroneous.
So, what then? I don’t have any answers…but I wonder if this flawed thinking of mine is a consequence of my own self-imposed expectations. I expected that things would have settled down by now, that life would be more scripted than it is. And I’m not sure when I created these expectations, or why I think they are desirable, when what I’m really called to be is faithful.