Thursday, March 26, 2015

Twenty-somethings, you have my heart

The twenties: chaotic, thrilling, exhausting, delicious
-- and short.
I'm writing about twenty-somethings today, not because I have four of them, but because I respect and enjoy them and have four of them. I'll have to generalize, something twenty-somethings hate, but we're all busy and it will save time.   

I love a few things in particular about twenty-somethings.

I love their sense of humor which is wry and casual and irresistible. 
I love their open caring for one another because that is one huggy generation. 
I love that they fit career goals to who they are, rather than the other way around. This generation lives mindfully, with balance and awareness of how they spend time, and 
with whom, and on what.  Because  twenty-somethings are comfortable with who they are.



Of the things that don't change from generation to generation, one is this: the twenties can be one mind-stretching decade.

In a quiet restaurant the other night I listened to a couple of twenty-something women behind me discuss a work problem that one of them was having. She had committed some error after being given unclear instructions. First she didn't want to appear inexperienced by asking for clarification. Then she was corrected, and corrected publicly. From the content (they were sitting right there) I guessed she was a young attorney working among more established people, possibly in her first job, eager to please, or, at least, eager not to make a mistake. The correction had really gotten to her.

But worse, she talked about how this must have made her look to them when she was doing what she thought was the right thing.

I encounter such worry a lot in my eavesdropping. I wanted to slide my chair over and tell her, "It gets easier."

I too, encounter people my age (which I refer to as not-forty) who see twenty-
Example of a not-forty person
who was probably never young
even in his own mind
somethings as self-involved, unmotivated and aimless. It would be more helpful if such not-forty people who regard twenty-somethings that way would recall the same "who am I and what do I want now?" questions they tussled with after the kids left. Not to mention their own twenties-angst as they shifted from following rules to writing them.   

As my experience and restaurant research has shown, the twenties is a time when one must deal with self-doubt in everything from work suitability to the personal lives they've crafted, and here is why in my opinion:

To start with, the state of being completely secure and self-assured is not aged into, but reached, and not without some travel through the former state of being, well, angsty, as you kids call it.  I also think there is a here-and-now mindset in the twenties, when it seems that what it is, is what will always be. Time's gifts of perspective, which include proof that we can change as we see fit, can't be realized yet. Thus, the pressure to get it right, right now.

Choice-anxiety is an old problem with a new acronym - FOMO - or, fear of missing out.

We had that FOMO thing in our twenties, but we took Cosmo quizzes for it. Because, no magazine was more eager to exploit – oh, I'm sorry, I meant "explain" – the anxiety of twenties-in-flux than Cosmopolitan Magazine with it's holy crap cover teasers:  Who are you really? How sexy are you really? What do people think of you really? And so on.

Me, I found nothing in my twenties more daunting than those "really" questions. Did I really know myself? Was I really happy? Questions which only launched we innocent twenty-somethings into binge-worrying about everything from what our co-workers thought of us, to whether we had the right linen to invite the boss for dinner.

It was enough to suffer the squirmy feeling that everyone else, Cosmo for example,  knew me better than I knew myself without a quiz result that said, "You need more confidence!"

For fun, while I was writing this, I peeked at the Cosmo site and they're still at it: Are you really in love or forcing it?  And this: Are you really a secret bitch?

Sigh. It's all fun and games until you wind up with answers you don't like and sit moody and glaring at your not-really lover across the table because he probably thinks you're really a bitch.

Something else I came across while I was reading up on twenty-somethings I don't actually know, was, a site created by Paul Angone who specializes in the being of twenties. Mr. Angone makes the elegant suggestion of discovering happiness by first discovering and pursuing your passion.

Raise your hand if you are a twenty-something saying, "I don't have one of those yet."

It's okay. In his piece called "The unsexy truth to finding your passion," Mr. Angone offers a nice homing device:  

Through my 20’s, many of my “great ideas” and passionate pursuits have gone straight to the trash, except for one thing.


And I haven’t kept writing because I’ve been pinch-me-I’m-dreaming “successful.” I’ve kept writing because I can not, NOT do it.

If you are a twenty-something grappling with questions of who you  are and what you want now, take heart:

You probably have the answers to the questions now, just not on demand. Instead, they may be covertly toiling to drive you from the plan which blocks your passion, and toward the place where you come alive. You may only know it when you no longer have questions. You will definitely know it when you regard yourself as the true authority on what's good for you.

Many of us who are not-forty respect and cheer you twenty-somethings. 


We know that while some things will come more easily to you now than at any other time, some things will never be harder to figure out than they are right now,  which means one good thing – it only gets easier.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Age is a requirement. Old is an elective. And other things I learned at college last week.

Who can see the metaphor in this photo?
In a phone conversation with my college junior recently, I reported that he was over budget and asked what was going on. He reported that it had just snowed an inch on his North Carolina campus and because the administration had "freaked out over the snow," they'd cancelled classes, and so he and his friends threw a "snowpocalypse" party. 
And so he had to spend a little more on that. 
I'll bet all those morning commuters in NC who slid into each other on the way to work didn't  throw a party. 
Ah. Youth. 
A while back, someone in my writer group posted a question: when are we "old?" I thought about that, but not because age is troubling in my view. It is just unanswerable in my view, an issue of attitude more than years. 
I know everyone says that, but I mean it. I've known humorless thirty-year-olds who are older than whimsical sixty-year-olds. And while it's hard to describe the difference between an old and a young attitude, it's easy to observe if your four millennials range in age from snowpocalyse to married-with-a-masters.   
First, what youth isn't, is fewer years, or lines, or aches and pains, or better memory and vision. We aren't old if these things are going on. We're old if we complain about them, because nothing is more tedious.

And, we aren't "old" if we are no longer young. We're old when we feel we've seen the best of life already and don't bother to grow. 
Better to ask, what is "young?" Well, sometimes it's just offering a not-old response to a spontaneous opportunity for fun. 
It's this: 
We'd risen at four-thirty a.m. to catch an early flight from Boston to North Carolina to visit our snowpocalypse-throwing son, wishing to spend as much of our arrival day with him as we could.  We met him for lunch, and again for dinner at a "nice restaurant," after which, we planned, he would head to whatever-he-does, and we would head back to the hotel. 
But our son was eager to introduce us to his buddies, and had already invited them, and they'd already said "Sure!" and so he asked us to "come by at around ten" for a couple of rounds of beer pong before their actual party started at twelve. 

We would use water, he added graciously. "You don't have to actually drink beer." 

This could not have been less like whatever-we-do. We could have passed, we almost did. 
"We'll be there," I said. 
We went.
We stayed.
We played. 
The guys whooped and yelled when my husband got the ball in the cup and there was high-fiving when he and our son won, and then there was another round, and then I started asking questions about this and that, and then I said, "Can I try?" and five guys jumped in to advise me to "float, not toss" the little ball and use more wrist than arm, and so on. 
A little before eleven, we cleared out well in advance of actual party-goers who probably didn't want to see their own parents that night or anyone else's.
My notes from the plane:
Young is taking part in something fun even if it's hard.
Old is taking part in something fun if it's easy.
Young is looking forward to something that's even better.
Old is looking back on everything that's already happened as better.
Young isn't immature, young is energetic.
Old isn't tired, old is cautious.
Old cancels classes.
Young has a snowpocalypse party. 
The experience of hanging out with my son and his respectable (and authentic –  no pressure there to dial down the language in our presence) friends left us feeling lighter for having shed the parent cloak for a brief time, but mostly it left us feeling included in something spontaneous and happy and fun which, yes, felt like youth. 
What I learned at college last week is this: age is a required course.  But "old" is an elective.
Now go and organize a wine-pong party and act your age.