A couple days ago, I came across Primer, an online magazine declaring itself “A guy’s post-college guide to growing up.” At first glance, it appears to share a lot of similarities with another publication I reviewed, The Art of Manliness, and while I’d like (and intend) to do a full-on compare/contrast piece, I’ve still got some research to do. As of yet, though, the primary distinction between Primer and Art of Manliness is that the former appears to be a lot more validating of the millennial generation, who are more commonly accused of laziness, selfishness, and naivety.
I guess that’s why I was caught off guard by an article titled “Wasting Your 20′s With a Purpose: How to Use Extended Adolescence to Your Advantage“. The article’s author, Dominic Preston, argues that the decade (give or take a couple years) gap between college graduation and full-on adulthood is not, as many complain, really such a bad thing. At least, it doesn’t have to be.
Preston points out that although the reason for putting off settling down and having a family has a lot more to do with the skyrocketing cost of living and lack of tenable, gainful careers than with any stubborn attachment to childhood, there is nevertheless potential for the 20s to be “wasted.” Citing a TED Talk lecture by psychologist Meg Jay, Preston argues that the majority of major life decisions are made in your 20s (regardless of the economic climate). With that in mind, Preston argues, experimentation is vital to making the twenty-something doldrums count for something. Trying out different careers and different living situations will allow you to make the smartest decision when the time actually comes.
And I guess I’m not entirely sure what I think about that.
Bitter cynic that I am, my gut reaction is try to poke holes in, well, anything. Preston is himself from England, and while I know the economic crisis hasn’t spared Britain, I personally can’t help but wonder how feasible Preston believes it is to get another job, let alone experiment with four or five just for the sake of finding what fits you best. Same goes for constantly moving around- when you’re on a budget, exactly how much variety can you really expect to find between roach-hole 1 and roach-hole 2?
But again, that’s just my gut reaction. Like I said- I can be kinda jaded.
On the other hand, the principle actually sounds pretty decent. Maybe jumping between jobs and apartments isn’t exactly feasible, but the concept of making your 20s about something other than surviving till the economy turns around/apocalypse happens isn’t something anyone can argue with.
So what are we supposed to do?
Preston kinda knocks traveling as the answer, stating that the “exploration” he’s talking about isn’t “…that bullshitty ‘take a year out and backpack around Asia’” stuff. And while I’d agree that you don’t “find” yourself by limping along some dusty trail in India anymore than by limping along some dusty trail in Indiana…
…I think that there’s gotta be something said for rugged adventure building character.
Again, I’m not saying that you’ll become a more full person for having sipped jasmine tea on an island in the South Pacific (it won’t) but taking advantage of your youth while you still have it and at least give you something to talk about. And while running with the bulls might not make you a better person, it’s not like it’s gonna hurt, right?
Education, I’d imagine, might be another option- though no, I’m not talking about graduate school. I know just thinking about your undergraduate student loans is enough to move even the strongest man to tears.
I’m talking about “education” in the way that I did in my post telling you to attend lousy colleges. Self-education. Finding a subject or an issue that you’re interested in and using the (free) resources available to you to become an expert in that area. Use the free time you have to develop yourself as much as you can, I guess is one option for your time, though seeing as how that opportunity doesn’t exactly disappear once you hit your 30s (depending on what it is), it’s probably not something you need to worry that much about in the here and now.
Charity work springs to mind as another option.
You’re young, you can survive off of a diet of ramen noodles, canned soup, and cigarette butts- you can take the punishment, I guess is what I’m getting at here. Volunteer/non-profit work is thankless, unstable, ugly work (and don’t I know it), but the simple fact of the matter is that it’s still about as noble a cause as you can sign up for without going to Spain to fight the Fascists. It is great resume material on top of that, and if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, you should emerge pretty dang bulletproof.
The military would be another interesting subject for discussion, with some reports of recruiters actually turning applicants away due to an overabundance of youth coming forward to enlist. Even just as a concept, it’d be worth exploring (especially as the military offers a bit of everything I’ve mentioned above), though I’m certainly not close enough to the subject to be able to speculate that much.
So I’m going to be turning the conversation over to you, the readers. What do you believe should be the best course of action for the turbulent 20s? Is this just a temporary trend? Should we even bother asking this question, or is this a social development that’s here to stay? Should we be traveling? Moving from situation to situation? Trying to pull together a career?
What do you think?