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Archive for the ‘Millenials’ Category

Last week I came across a fascinating piece at Salon.com… which, arguably, is made are all the more fascinating for its utter familiarity. The piece, by Rebecca Traister, is called “The new single womanhood: Young, urban and not necessarily looking for a man, a crop of memoirists are sketching out a brave new female world,” and, while it’s ostensibly a sort of genre-as-a-whole reading review, it feels like more of a mirror. Check it out:

Embedded in Crosley’s quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women’s lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing’s autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now–miraculously–find somewhat ho-hum.

…The decade since [Meghan] Daum’s freshman entry has seen scads of books built along the same calm lines: telling what it’s like to be among the first generations of American women not expected to marry or reproduce in their early 20s, for whom advanced education and employment have not been politically freighted departures, but rather part of a charted path, and for whom romantic solitude is regarded as neither pitiable or revolutionary.

The literary records of this newly carved out period of female life approach it from different angles and vary in quality. But they serve as magnifying glasses for women eager to examine not only their navels but also the opportunities and anxieties presented to them as they embark on a road that sharply diverges from the one traveled by most of their mothers, and certainly by their grandmothers.

Sound familiar? The extended adolescence, the untraveled roads, the elusiveness of happiness, the lives lived featuring each and every one of us as the mistress of our own universe… and then, of course–wait for it dear reader–the choices.

As Helena Andrews has said about her memoir, and the women whose stories resonate with her own: “We got the undergrad degree, we’ve got the master’s degree, most of us, the great job, the closet we’ve always coveted, and we think that happiness should come immediately after that. And that’s not always the case… We know what we can do, which is anything. But we need to figure out what we want to do.”

That, too, is new. And that, too, is unremarkable, even in its newness, because that’s where history has landed us, and the one thing we all have in common is the time in which we’re living. And while we obviously don’t want to go backward, there are growing pains to be expected in the going forward. The freedom to do whatever we want without answering to anyone is both exhilarating and a little bit scary. We are in charge, we can do anything we want… and our work is to figure out exactly what that is.

It’s a tough job, but everybody’s gotta do it.


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… and according to a recent New York Times piece (that, as fate would have it, ran on Friday, a big birthday for yours truly; big enough to officially bump me from one age range box to the next, in fact) neither do you. Surely by now you’ve heard the phrase “extended adolescence”. And whether you take pride or offense in the suggestion that you and Peter Pan have much in common, the fact is, according to Frank F. Furstenberg, who leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood:

people between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children, and become financially independent.

I’m guessing you knew that already. And this too:

“A new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults,” Mr. Furstenberg said.

National surveys reveal that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including younger adults, agree that between 20 and 22, people should be finished with school, working and living on their own. But in practice many people in their 20s and early 30s have not yet reached these traditional milestones.

Marriage and parenthood — once seen as prerequisites for adulthood — are now viewed more as lifestyle choices.

The stretched-out walk to independence is rooted in social and economic shifts that started in the 1970s, including a change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy that sent many more people to college, and the women’s movement, which opened up educational and professional opportunities.

Women account for more than half of college students and nearly half of the work force, which in turn has delayed motherhood and marriage.

You get the drift. And I’m guessing you don’t need the New York Times to spell it out for you. Because, more than likely, in one way or another, it is you. We live in a world of wildly expanded opportunities, an all you can eat buffet where everything looks too damn tasty to miss out on any of it. And women in particular have absorbed the message that to be at this buffet at all is a lucky opportunity — so of course we want to get our money’s worth. To try (it ALL) before we buy. It’s a great big world out there, and there’s no MapQuest to tap for directions — we have to figure out our path as we go. And we kinda want to do a little scouting around before we commit to one path, and forgo all the others.

To me, the most interesting question the article brings up is this: while financial independence is one thing, as for the rest of it — marriage, parenthood, and one single Career — is making such commitments all there is to being an adult? Is signing on to something — one thing — forever and ever the only thing that can ferry you over the threshold, out of NeverNeverLand and into GrownUpDom?

Maybe I’m just a product of my times, but I don’t think so. I tend to think of a grown up as someone who makes her own decisions and takes responsibility for where they lead her. And doesn’t expect every one to be right — and doesn’t expect that there’s a right answer to every one. Even — no, especially — if they lead her to dead ends, forcing her to back up and start all over again in the search for a truer fit, head held high over the nagging chorus of Why Doesn’t She Just Grow Ups that surrounds her. Even if her decisions never lead her to a mortgage, or a job that she’ll stay in until she retires, or a promise to stick with one partner til death does she part. Even, in fact, if they lead her out the window in her jammies, following a guy in green tights.


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This just in: parents take helicoptering over the top. To wit, this post on the NYTimes Motherlode blog that links to a CNN story on moms who quit their jobs to help their kids get into college.

No joke. According to the piece, these are highly educated, professional women who take a “college prep leave” or quit entirely in order to micromanage their kids through the grueling college application process — along with all the resume-building that accompanies it:

There are no statistics counting how many mothers compromise their careers to help their teens with college admissions, but college counselors say they’ve witnessed more cases of mothers pausing their jobs or completely quitting their jobs. Over the past five years, Jeannie Borin, president of College Connections, says she saw a 10 percent uptick in mothers who quit or postponed their career to get their teens into college. Her counseling company offers services in 32 states.

These mothers, who can afford to quit their jobs, may stop working for months, a year or several years leading up to the admission process, say researchers and college admissions counselors. They reduce their full-time hours to part time or request a temporary leave. Because many of them have jobs that require advanced degrees and specific skills, it’s usually easier for them to transition back into the work force.

“They know it’s going to be an intense year and they take a leave to that effect,” Borin said. “The college frenzy has affected the entire family.”

I vote yuck for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the divide this creates between upper middle class kids and, well, all the rest. But that’s another story. The piece goes on:

Managing a child’s college application process can be similar to a corporate job, says Hilary Levey, a fellow at Harvard University who specializes in family studies. Levey conducted dozens of interviews with mothers who stopped working and stayed at home for their children. She says she talked to mothers who used their Blackberry devices to organize schedules and help their teens craft resumes.

“Raising the child sometimes becomes a career in itself,” Levey said. “Instead of getting a promotion and measuring progress in professional sense, a way to measure how well you are doing is how well your child is doing.”

This kind of takes the idea of parenting-as-competitive sport to all new levels of ugly. In a post a while back, we mentioned a time-use study that found that highly educated parents were spending much more time with their kids these days — which was the good news — but that the reason for the additional time spent went a little toward the dark side: prepping their kids early for limited slots at prestigious universities. In other words, rivalry. We’ve also written about the treadmill that starts early for so many kids, when their lives are pretty much dictated by the need to build a college resume. Put the two together and you wonder if these kids will ever get out from under the weight of great expectations — or be able to make a decision for themselves.

A while back I interviewed a teacher and counselor who had worked at the same private girls high school for the past two decades. She told me that the rate of parental involvement had lately escalated to the point where the school had to issue a written “communication protocol” spelling out the steps the students should take in handling their own problems before parents were allowed to intervene. “For the longest time, parents would call the school – my daughter didn’t make the team, didn’t make it into the play – and she’s always been the best at this,” she said. “And we’d say, well, you know what, your daughter needs to go talk to the director of the play, the coach, the teacher. And the parents were appalled. What do you mean? You’re not going to talk to me about it?”

One of the comments to the Motherlode post offered a similar take on the rising role of helicopter parents:

I work at a university, and the number of parents that have called my office asking about registering their kids for classes, picking up forms or papers for their kids, or any other item or request that should be fielded by the actual student makes me a little nervous for the next generation. Parents should know that there are consequences to this kind of micromanagement, namely, a kid who can’t handle the real world by themselves.

And a kid who is never allowed to fail. And yet, because she’s never been able to climb down from the treadmill, may never feel that she’s succeeded, either. And it’s worse for girls, experts say, because they’re hard-wired to please. They’ll stick with the program, no matter how crazy, so they won’t let anyone down.

And then, of course, comes the real world. No benchmarks of worth, such as grades or fat college admission packets. But the chase all the same. Grass is greener, anyone?

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So clearly, you don’t often start the day thinking of “The Graduate.” But I was reminded of the iconic film about post-grad angst this A.M. via an op-ed from the Daily Pennsylvanian, written by Juliette Mullin, a senior at Penn, where, Mullin writes, students tend to equate the Penn seal on their diplomas with a six-figure salary.

And what I thought was this: Funny how expectations can do us in. (This seems to be a recurrent theme on Undecided, yeah?) Here’s how Mullin’s piece begins:

Lately, I’ve been having the same conversation on repeat. It doesn’t matter whom I’m talking to or where I am, everyone loves asking the same question: “Do you have plans for next year?”

This question has become such a sore spot for so many seniors at this point in the year that most will flat out preempt it with “I know this is the question we’re not supposed to ask each other but…”

Now it’s not how you ask that bothers me. In fact, unlike most, I don’t even mind being asked. What bothers me is the response I often get when I tell someone my plans are still up in the air — the look of slight pity and concern that I still don’t have my life completely figured out, followed by a weak, “Sorry I asked.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? No matter how old you are. Sure, it’s a question college seniors have been ever asked, and it’s been ever loaded, mixed as it is with curiosity on the part of the questioner (I confess. Often guilty as charged) with just a dash of reproach. But add the expectations that ride the backs of so many women today — Succeed! Excel! Score Trophies! — coupled with the added onus of graduating from a prestigious school like Penn and you’ve got a boatload of angst, according to Mullin, who compares figuring out her future to the stress of taking one more class — but more so:

Unlike our classes, however, we tend to go through this alone, constantly feeling behind the pack. This year, it’s especially tough thanks to the economy. And, of course, it’s all made more stressful by being at a school with such a pre-professional focus.

When Career Services Senior Associate Director Barbara Hewitt used to work at a more “liberal-arts focused school,” she found that the general stress level surrounding the job hunt was not nearly as pronounced as it is at Penn. Here, we look at the students who have already secured well-paid Wall Street or engineering jobs for next year and immediately start to feel like we’re behind.

Which leads us back to expectations. Sure, they help us to move forward, to do our best, yadda yadda. But when they are impossibly high, when the you-can-do-anything mantra becomes part and parcel of the iconic self, well, anything less becomes grounds for disappointment.

Or indecision. That grass over there? Gotta be greener. Let’s check.

Meanwhile, scroll to the end of the story, and you find that our Ms. Mullin seems to have things figured out. At least right now. And I agree with her, but in a much larger sense: no matter your age, your job, your personal goals — life itself is a work in progress. Look at it that way, and you’re less likely to be lusting over that other side of the fence.

Until you get to that mindset, though, what then?

There’s always plastics.

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If developmental psychologists have it right, that adolescence is the time we lay the groundwork for the grown-up we will someday become, and if they also have it right that adolescence now extends well into the twenty-somethings, what’s up with the new plan to usher kids out of high school in two years?

Well, not all kids. Just those who can pass a series of tests at the end of their sophomore year, allowing them to move straight to community college. According to the New York Times, the point is to make sure students master their basic high school requirements, then hop into community-college level math and English without needing remedial work.  Now, I’m sure most of us wouldn’t have minded blowing off the junior prom, but car-pooling to college at age 16?!  From the story:

Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Terry Holliday, said high school graduation requirements there had long been based on having students accumulate enough course credits to graduate.

“This would reform that,” Dr. Holliday said. “We’ve been tied to seat time for 100 years. This would allow an approach based on subject mastery — a system based around move-on-when-ready.”

The new system aims to provide students with a clear outline of what they need to study to succeed, said Phil Daro, a consultant based in Berkeley, Calif., who is a member of an advisory committee for the effort.

I vote ugh. Now, I guess it all makes sense when you’re talking about academics, and making efficient use of state education funds. But what about, um, growing up? Did you know what you wanted out of life when you were 16? Did anyone?

Well, there’s Doogie Howser, M.D. But back on point. How do you figure out a life plan when you may not have even passed your driver’s test? Granted, there’s no real need for a 16-year-old college freshman to choose a career, or even a major, but still. Seems to me, this rush to adult-hood is another recipe for a lot of indecision down the line, just one more example of the treadmill we wrote about last fall. In case you missed it first time around, here’s a quick hit:

… Just last week, I came across a piece — call it an advice column — in the New York Times entitled “Helping Teenagers Find their Dreams.” Clearly, it was a parent who was asking for help. Not a kid. Made me want to take drugs.

The response rightly started out with an admonition that parents not force their own dreams on their unsuspecting kids. Cool. But once that was out of the way, the column kicked into overdrive with a double-dose of exercises and whatnot you can do with your teenagers to help them find their bliss. Or whatever.

Ugh. I can’t help wondering if these poor overly-guided teens are the same ones who grew up with (the now discredited) Baby Einstein series or some such. Or teens who, a few years prior, were like a young girl my daughter ran into once in Starbucks. Wearing grade-school plaid and drinking a double-latte, the little girl was working with her tutor, powering through a Kaplan-style prep course for her high school entrance exam. (And, for some reason, no one even questioned the caffeine.)

Or teens currently working with college counsellors, making a mile-long list — and checking it twice — that ranges from “reach” to “safety.”

About just that, we heard from a college counsellor at a private high school shortly after than post ran. She was up to her ears in letters of recommendation for graduating seniors, and wrote to offer her take:

It must be a blessing that your blog address was passed on to me at the time of year when I am writing letters of recommendations for my students.

It seems that so many of them are applying to 15-20 colleges this year. Most of them have been planning for college since they were small children and are so devastated when they are not accepted to their dream school. And they are so crushed because they have been building a “resumé” of activities since they could walk, which is almost as long as I have been teaching.

I see a lot of students who are overscheduled, stressed out beyond belief and afraid to give up some of their activities for fear that it will ruin their chances to get into college and therefore their lives.

Most of them go on to accomplish great things. But I wonder if they are taking the time to enjoy life…

Or to grow up.

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What a day for a daydream. Just as we’re settling into another week of work after a blissful three-day weekend, here come three signs of intelligent life in the universe. The common denominator? Changing the norms of how we think of work — and maybe even chipping away at the cult of busy-ness that encourages even five-year-olds to have dayplanners.

Sign No. 1 is a new study out of the U.K’s New Economics Foundation that suggests that a 21 hour workweek might help us all to flourish in the 21st century. From the study:

There is nothing natural or inevitable about what’s considered ‘normal’ today. Time, like work, has become commodified – a recent legacy of industrial capitalism. Yet the logic of industrial time is out of step with today’s conditions, where instant communications and mobile technologies bring new risks and pressures, as well as opportunities. The challenge is to break the power of the old industrial clock without adding new pressures, and to free up time to live sustainable lives.

And, from a piece in the Guardian about the study:

Citing the example of Utah, the study shows how the US state’s decision in 2008 to place all public-sector workers on a four-day week saved energy, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

The report argues that 21 hours a week is already close to the average length of time spent in paid employment.

“A lot of this is already happening,” said the report’s joint author, Andrew Simms of the NEF. “Job sharing is common practice … It’s going to be increasing. Maybe we’ll have less income and more time.

“Other than the benefit of having more time, what will happen is a reduction in inequality and the potential to be better-quality friends, partners and parents engaging more with communities.

There’s a daydream for you. Scaling back the workweek — even to just forty hours — would clearly allow more time for life itself. And what if that became the norm, rather than the exception, even for those in high-powered careers? I think we’d see a change in workplace expectations with a possible bonus: If we knew that no matter what our life’s work, we could still have a life apart from it, would we be more free in choosing what to do with our lives? More likely to follow our passions?

As for the second sign — something we’ve noted here before but clearly bears repeating — Reuters Life! reports on that Accenture study we noted above that found that millennial women not only believe they will find a balance between a “rewarding career and a fulfilling personal life”, but because of their sheer numbers are likely to have the muscle to make it happen. Possibly a “trickle -up” effect for the rest of us? From the story:

Accenture surveyed the 1,000 women because “we are always interested in attracting and retaining the best and the brightest,” explained LaMae Allen deJongh, noting that globally the company employed 60,000 women.

Women are soon expected to make up half the U.S. workforce and the so-called millennials, those born after 1980, are now one-third of the working population.

DeJongh, managing director of US human capital and diversity at the company, said the survey showed that “one-size is not going to fit all” when it comes to retaining women. Half of the respondents said flexible hours were important to them.

Finally, sign No. 3 may not be representative of anything but one enlightened dad, but here’s a post from our fan Chrysula’s blog. It’s written by a freelance photog who has chosen to be a stay-at-home pop, “a part of the first generation of men that could consider staying home an option.” He explains his choice this way:

My own father, by which I mean– the only father I’ve ever known–was a great dad to me growing up, but he worked until 9pm everyday, and was frequently away on long business trips. I knew this model wasn’t going to work for us. What it all seemed to boil down to was being there for my son when he needed me. A simple proposition at first glance, until I realized that it meant being on call 24/7 for the rest of my life. Simply put, that became my priority. Other parents may prioritize putting food on the table, paying for college tuition, helping others, keeping the world safe, or simply holding on to their own sanity or self respect. And who’s to say they are right or wrong? All I knew was that I never really had a choice.

“Many people would disagree, pointing out that not only is there a choice, but that it is a real luxury. I know I am very lucky, although I resent people highlighting it. On the other hand I know there are many impoverished mothers, who are secretly wealthy because they hold tight to what matters to them most. And I know that even a child can put up with great hardships, as long as they know someone is always watching over them. It seems to me that as a culture when we sacrifice the goal of being there for the sake of practicality, or comfort, or convenience, or even ‘the future’, that we risk a lot more than we gain.

“And that’s my balance. I do most of the cooking, almost all the cleaning, all the laundry, and the weekday food shopping. I do my best to scratch out some profit as a photographer. I don’t give a damn what people think about my life. And I pick my son up from school.”

Wow. Talk about sweet dreams.

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Hey! You! Anybody out there?!

If you’re part of the Millennial Generation, you surely are. But you aren’t likely to read much more than the first few lines of this post, are you? That’s among the findings of a recent Pew Research Center study on Gen Y (roughly defined as those from 18 – 29) and how they communicate.

Out? Facetime. In? Status updates.

In short (literally), if you’re young and hip, you like it quick. So says a yahoo news story, via the AP, on one aspect of the study — the demise of blogging among the millennial set:

A new study has found that young people are losing interest in long-form blogging, as their communication habits have become increasingly brief, and mobile. Tech experts say it doesn’t mean blogging is going away. Rather, it’s gone the way of the telephone and e-mail — still useful, just not sexy.

“Remember when ‘You’ve got mail!’ used to produce a moment of enthusiasm and not dread?” asks Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Now when it comes to blogs, she says, “people focus on using them for what they’re good for and turning to other channels for more exciting things.”

In less time than most of us care to note, we’ve seen the diminished use – if not outright demise — of snail mail, faxes, land lines, newspapers, email and now — blogs? Chalk it up to social networking, says the yahoo story:

With social networking has come the ability to do a quick status update and that has “kind of sucked the life out of long-form blogging,” says Amanda Lenhart, a Pew senior researcher and lead author of the latest study.

More young people are also accessing the Internet from their mobile phones, only increasing the need for brevity. The survey found, for instance, that half of 18- to 29-year-olds had done so.

All of that rings true to Sarah Rondeau, a freshman at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

“It’s a matter of typing quickly. People these days don’t find reading that fun,” the 18-year-old student says. She loves Facebook and has recently started using Twitter to share pictures of her dorm room and blurbs about campus life, which are, in turn, shared on the Holy Cross Web site for prospective students.

Life by status update? I’m all for short and quick. It’s efficient! There’s quantity! And yet, at the risk of being called, well, old, I have to wonder: Where’s the depth? The bigger picture? The other side? Where does this leave the art of chitchat?

And in fact, there are subtle rumblings around the edges that hint that all is not always well in the land of quick connections. For example, PR Newswire reports that a St. Paul company is offering seminars to show twentysomethings how to use facetime rather than screentime to score a job. Huh? That needs to be taught? And there’s this: A story out of CUNY’s Baruch College links the high depression rate among millenial students to uber-connection:

Baruch psychology professor David Sitt acknowledges the implications of technological evolution on an entire generation’s social character.

“We are changing our expectations of what we need in life to make us happy,” said Sitt. “Since technology has propelled us forward it creates a speed where everything is immediate and the window for gratification has narrowed.”

According to Sitt, depression grows from a root need for gratification as social networking tools and electronic gadgets instill in us a constant pressure to connect.

“Initially we only needed to see our friends once a month, now it has turned into everyday,” said Sitt. “We have this idea that if we don’t check our emails or post on Facebook every second then we missed out on something or that people have forgotten about us.”

I tweet, therefore I am? All of which brings us back to something we wrote about last month — the way in which these cyberlives have begun to erode our real ones. From that post:

Is this uber-connection to our cyber-lives and cyber friends and god-knows-what-all-else keeping us from being fully present in our own here and now? From appreciating what we have — rather than jonesing for what we don’t? Does the fact that we have one foot in our own life and the other in about a hundred others make us continually wonder what we’re missing?

All those distractions! All those choices! No wonder we’re always angsting over that greener grass — because the other side of the fence is always up in our face.

And the thing is, when that other side of the fence comes to you via short and quick, it’s almost always looking better than it is.

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