A few months ago, I started to notice I had this strange feeling: like I was kind of stuck. After a few years of moving cities, getting and leaving jobs, and finishing degrees, I’ve now been in the same job and apartment for about two years. This is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since I finished my BA, really since I became an adult, and it feels weird. Having settled into something of a career, or at least an industry I enjoy working in, I began to think about where I wanted to go. But I was having a hard time making decisions that I’d been mulling over for a long time (literal years, in some cases): Should I go back to school? Should I start a blog? (And later, why don’t I ever update my blog?) Do I need more hobbies? Why don’t I write more? Where do I want to live? What do I really want to do?
And because my general plan for most crises is to read my way out of them, I went on a hunt for books about “quarter-life crises.” Yup, I’m one of those. I listened to Meg Jay’s TED Talk on why 30 is not the new 20, and then I read her book The Defining Decade. It terrified me because it’s about the things you should be doing in your twenties—that is, if you want to reach a set of prescribed goals by the time you’re in your thirties (career, marriage, house, children). Not all of my goals align with what Jay tells us are the markers of a settled adult life, but nevertheless, I wished I had read the book five or six years before, when I was just finishing undergrad and had most of my twenties left ahead of me.
And then I found a book called Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by the mother/daughter writing team of Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig. Marantz Henig is the author of a New York Times article called “What Is It About 20-Somethings?“, which was about why this (my) generation seems to be taking so long to grow up. Samantha Henig is her twentysomething daughter. Twentysomething is exploratory rather than prescriptive; they give some advice, but the focus of the book is on how and why things have changed for young adults from Marantz Henig’s youth to her daughter’s. The book is divided into sections (school, work, dating/sex/marriage, friendship, etc.), and one of the authors writes the bulk of each section, with the other contributing comments here and there. At the end of each section, they both make a decision about whether this is something unique to this particular generation (Generation Y or Millennials), or whether young adulthood has always been tough and things are really just the same as ever.
This is an interesting structure for a book like this, and I especially appreciated reading Samantha Henig’s thoughts on her mother’s depiction of our generation. Their overall conclusion is the realization that life is kind of a mess when you’re in your twenties, because you’re figuring things out, and that hasn’t changed much despite all of the things today’s twentysomethings are now struggling with (for example, high student loans, recession, competitive job market, the rise of online dating and casual sex). I don’t know whether I agree, but they made a good case.
But the thing is, this book did not make me feel better or give me any direction for my life. A pat conclusion (“Things are hard! It’ll be okay!”) is not particularly what I was looking for. I think I could have learned more about choices, mistakes, and regret from one Alice Munro story. On some level, it’s helpful to know that other people struggle with the same issues that I do, but I want to know what I can do about them. Are we just supposed to wait out an entire decade of our lives until things become more clear? When I hit 30, am I suddenly going to be full of clarity and self-acceptance? This is what my friends in their thirties keep crowing about, but I am suspicious.
I’m tired, too, of reading books that suggest you need to hit certain markers of adulthood to be considered an adult. People who never get married or have children or own a home aren’t some other, lesser category of adult. So in an age where people are less likely to get married, have children, and own homes, what are the new markers of adulthood? Do we still care? That would have been an interesting book.
So, it seems that reading did not solve this particular life crisis. It’s been a few months since I read this book, and I’m still dealing with the same questions. (Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, I’ve at least ruled out going back to school for a PhD!) A more helpful plan might be to try new things and figure out what really makes me the most excited and enthused about life. And, of course, read more Alice Munro.
On the other hand, Twentysomething and The Defining Decade made me realize that I should spend more time on skills I want to develop (writing) and less time worrying that I will never develop them. Which means this blog is back in action—and while my goal is still to read through my unread books, I’m going to be blogging about the other books I read, too. And I got rid of a bunch of the unread ones, so a list update will be forthcoming.
I am now taking recommendations for novels about people in their twenties who figured out their lives. Is that a thing?