I finished up my summer internship last week. As I was leaving the office, everyone repeatedly said “enjoy senior year and don’t work too hard.” What? What kind of advice is that? How about “work hard this year, maintain the GPA and get a good job”? Despite being surprised, it got me thinking. Is this the close of my childhood, “Act One” of life? Now that I think about it, the way they said it was as if I had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. You know that low, hopeless tone people can have in their voice? Their eyebrows perk up and their lips purse in a way that says “it is what it is?” But the thing is, I’m not dying. I’m optimistic. After all, aren’t all twenty-something’s optimistic? We have our whole future ahead and this is the point where we make that choice. We can be whoever we want! Teacher, doctor, broker, investment manager (ahem). It’s all there for the taking, theoretically. So then why are these mid-lifers walking around with envy in their words? Didn’t they accomplish what they set out to achieve?
The New York Times came out with a great article a few days ago, titled “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” They delve into the recent trends of parental dependency, late marriage, frequent job changes, etc. What I found the most interesting is how it all ties to the 1960s and the changes that went along with that decade in my parents’ generation, the baby boomers. This psychologist, Keniston, was doing a study on kids like my parents in 1970. Today, he notices a connection to us:
“He was describing the parents of today’s young people when they themselves were young — and amazingly, they weren’t all that different from their own children now. Keniston’s article seems a lovely demonstration of the eternal cycle of life, the perennial conflict between the generations, the gradual resolution of those conflicts. It’s reassuring, actually, to think of it as recursive, to imagine that there must always be a cohort of 20-somethings who take their time settling down, just as there must always be a cohort of 50-somethings who worry about it.”
These people who are telling me to enjoy senior year have been down this road. They were optimistic back in the day. They looked forward to setting out and paving their own path. Then something happened. It was obvious. Where is the optimism now? I’m sure everyone has their own opinion, but since this is my blog, I’ll tell you mine. It’s kids.
I’m the youngest of five kids, all four of my siblings married with children (I’m aware my family is big, your reaction is universal). With this lovely setup, I have four examples above me of what happens when kids are brought into the picture. “Ball and chain” may sound too harsh, but it’s an understatement. At least with a ball and chain you can sleep without it waking you in the middle of the night, or drag it down the stairs without it crying and needing a band-aid and Neosporin. Only one of the four siblings, in my opinion, made the right decision. They waited. Three years actually, and from what I saw it was the best thing they could have done. Those three years were almost like a bucket list for the inevitably approaching parenthood (death). They travelled and partied, living their twenties like senior year. Once three years were up though, they had had enough of life support (meaning living awesomely) and figuratively “pulled the plug.” Parenthood began, and life became devoted (enslaved?) to another human being for the next 25-30 years.
So how does this tie into a job? People settle. They sometimes settle for spouses (hence 1 in 2 marriages ending in divorce), but also suppress their lifestyle to a state of mannered boredom. I think of kids as a coping mechanism to this adjustment. To avoid the problems at hand, people have kids and pour their energy into molding these mimics of them into what they wanted to be but never became. It’s the lost dreams of their 20s being passed down to the next generation. So when my bosses at my internship told me to enjoy my senior year, they meant it. Jobs should come second, enjoying life should be first. I think that’s a great philosophy and harkens back to my first post and my interpretation of Ben Franklin’s masterful quote. But with life comes balance. We all can’t roll in the mud and drop acid like its 1969. Settling is natural. My bosses settled for their jobs. It may have been fun in 1980, but if you do fun 9-5 for thirty years, let’s face it, it eventually becomes work.
The take away from today’s post? Live life and live it well. Enjoy what it offers, but work towards something too. As Benny said: “Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure.” This year’s pursuit of a job will be a healthy balance, though finding that middle ground will be the challenge.