I’ve been thinking about being a twenty-something a lot lately. Not that I ever really stopped. I’m 23 and I have 20-something friends, as is to be expected. I worry a lot about what the media and our parents and society in general think we should be. But what are we?
When I was a freshman in college, a wise professor defined the word “liminal” in a welcome speech he gave to new freshmen. Microsoft Word’s spell check doesn’t even know that word, but it means in between stages—in that case, our liminal phase was that we were between high school students and comfortable college kids. We used “liminal” as a joke around campus—the sidewalk between our dorms and the cafeteria was a liminal space between sleep and breakfast—but it’s such a resonant word to me now. Like a lot of people in their early 20s, I feel liminal, in between being a college student and an adult.
Ever since my early years in college, young twenty-somethings were told that we weren’t going to get jobs. If you thought you could get a great job after graduating from an undergraduate program, you were definitely in the minority. We were told that the jobs we wanted probably weren’t even going to exist when we finished college and if they did, they would still be occupied by the baby boomers who would never retire.
Contrast that with what our parents told us, the first “I am the best generation,” our entire lives. We were on the best soccer teams or choirs or studying in the best schools, regardless of if we sorely lost our tournaments or school rankings told us differently. Even if we got mediocre grades, our parents told us that we could still do whatever we wanted. They complained to administrators if we got what they knew was an unfair B+ or when we weren't given enough time to throw our pudgy frames around the dance stage.
So where has that gotten us? A lot of my friends went to graduate school immediately following college. Some of them needed advanced degrees and others wanted to put off the uncomfortable cling of the real world. A lot of them followed their passions, letting that—rather than the prospect of impending financial instability—make their decisions.
Other friends are scared to move forward, nostalgic for college, wondering where the lives they expected would come so easily have gone. I may be a little bit like that. Friends recognize that their passions will need side jobs, waiting tables, teaching. We see that we want to enter such un-enterable professions that we’ve decided to give them up entirely.
But I have hope. I hope that all this turnover in the job market will create a generation that follows its passions, rather than what it thinks will be the most lucrative profession ten years down the line. If our job uncertainty is so absolute, what’s the point of even thinking ten years down the line? I hope that young people take the opportunity to open up new and innovative businesses, rather than waiting for their parents to retire. I hope we don’t give up. Because I know there’s something amazing waiting for us. We just have to recognize that we’re not going to be handed whatever that may be.