I recently overheard a colleague say something that really made me think. At first I sniggered at its banality. A statement made like many, without due thought and intended simply to fill the void in what otherwise might be another listless day in the office. But after a time, the statement had not yet left me. I began to dig at it and soon found deeper connotations in what was said. Let me make something clear, in my eyes this person is neither right nor wrong. I believe their curt projection is now the real ambition of many 20 plus year olds. In actuality, my own aspirations may not rest too far from this particular yearning but never have I heard it stated so succinctly and definitively when surrounded by a person’s colleagues, friends or peers. Highly insightful, it’s a tiny glimpse into the driving forces behind so many young professionals in our society today.
Allow me to paint the scene. It’s Friday and spirits are buoyant as we anticipate the weekend. Conversation was flowing and plans were shared. A lull was happened upon; then, the silence was broken
“I can’t wait to be 30 and to own my house in North London. You know, to go out on a Sunday and take the dog for a walk, grab a flat-white, buy the Sunday papers; then head home and just chillax.”
Little mind was paid as the conversation diverted to the topic of North London and how wonderful it is. A fairly mundane transgression I’m sure you will agree. Or was it? Having stayed upon these words, I feel that they say a great deal about a generation, about young people, about their hopes, their dreams and the depiction of their future but more over, these words illustrate how this generation have an apparent issue with feeling content.
Everyone has hopes, dreams and ambitions. But none of us really know what awaits us further down the line. Perhaps for some, it is the unwillingness to accept change beyond our control that gives cause to such meticulous planning. In projecting they find structure, meaning and a level of distraction that makes each day more manageable. For as long as they hold a vision of where they imagine they will be happiest, they are most contented in its pursuit. However, we are living now and know nothing more than the pleasure we can gain from the existence we are currently sharing.
Age and its effect on people can be very interesting. Everyone feels that his or her age should mean something. That it should correspond to seminal moments in their life. Reaching 30 has traditionally marked the end of a person’s youth and signals their responsible adult life to begin. I’m not sure if this is entirely true. Perhaps women feel differently, as the hands of youth appear to tick ever more slowly, biological clocks continue as they have done for centuries. However, the U.K. National Office for Statistics has found that the number of women conceiving after their 30th birthday is steadily rising year on year.
With first time parents seemingly getting older, 30 for many can remain as frivolous as any stage in a person’s 20’s. Today, few parents put pressure on their children to marry or to conceive by a certain age. Social normality for Generation Y doesn’t exist as it did for baby boomers or even for Generation X. Stigma attached to singles at 30 and beyond has, for the most part in our society at least, vanished. Attitudes to the church and to marriage have cosmically shifted. The millennial generation experience social freedom like no other has before. They are not restricted by the traditional values or expectations that may have previously been attached to their age. In past generations the decision to marry or to buy a house would have been predicated by the pressure to start a family and settle into the assumption of domestic bliss. Now for 18 – 35 year olds this just isn’t the case. I honestly upset at the thought that this individual will reach the age of 30 only to realise that they still feel the same way they did when they were 29 or younger.
Money of course is always spectre on the horizon for most of us. Financial security and the well being that can be attached to materialism are markedly obvious in the remainder of this declaration. Generation Y stands as the most debt-laden section of society as they amass life altering loans for college on top of overdrafts and credit cards. When surveyed last year, 81% of college freshmen in the United States said that wealth was of key importance to them. We’re working through a time of great financial insecurity so it’s understandable that money is a grave concern. Home-ownership and mortgage lending are pervading factors in the success of both local and global economies. Owning a home is a common aspiration for most humans. Whether they are rich or not so rich, the majority of people on this planet would like a place to call their own, even if that requires a lifetime of debt and interest repayments.
Intrinsically tied to home ownership is responsibility. Not to be ignored, the statement was made in the work place, an environment where dependability and ambition are held in the greatest esteem. My workmate’s statement certainly marks them as being responsible and career focused without explicitly saying so. Consider too that both home and dog ownership require enormous levels of commitment, a trait also much desired by employers. Maybe I’m the exception but I don’t know many 30 year olds that can afford their own house, particularly without a partner. Akin to that, people who do own their own property work so incredibly hard to pay for it, that owning an animal would be simply out of the question. I accept, this is not the case for everyone, but I feel the contented, dog owning, mortgage-paying singleton is more fantastical than factual.
It’s perfectly reasonable for a person to hope, wish and work toward these goals, nevertheless the streamlined delivery of the entire package comes across as ill considered, self-promoting and perhaps a little insecure. But, according to the American National Institute of Health these are now common characteristics of this millennial generation. They recently found that for people in their 20’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder is three times higher than the generation that is 65 or older. Three times the arrogance, three times the self-service, three times lacking in consideration for others. It’s a frightening realisation but one that helps us to understand from where this thinking may stem.
During the ‘60’s and ‘70’s peace, love and freedom were the shared dreams of that era. Global conflict and its grave consequences are just as prescient today but with the effect of the financial crisis, students and career starters place their emphasis on further education and career success rather than tackling global issues. Greenpeace have recently been campaigning in the Arctic with the aim to stopping oil exploration in that region. Russian authorities boarded their ship and 30 members were taken into custody under accusation of piracy. This story has received little in the way of press coverage, however Ms. Miley Cyrus and her attempts to sell her music are front-page news. It really says a lot about what the general public find to be interesting and what media outlets discern to be news.
So what is this all about? I hear this person harmlessly making this statement and those who hear it nod in compliance. But supposing that it all comes true, supposing this person attains their goals and meets the standards they have set for themselves, will they then be happy? With a dog, a house and a job to pay for them, the likelihood is that their life will be even more complex. Throw in relationships, everyday stress and even a brood of their own and their forecast suddenly seems a lot less rosy. Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live his or her life but as a society, if we continue to place greater importance on our potential happiness rather than that which we are experiencing now, then we will never tackle the real issues that impede us from realising how amazing our present could and most certainly should be. It’s far easier to imagine what will make us happy in five years rather than confront that which upsets us now.
Our ambition and aspirations give us peace and something to distract us from the stresses we face daily. In working toward something we can derive meaning but in doing so, particularly in the case of my colleague, we miss out in the meaning that is already surrounding us. I fear that my friend’s life will be dotted by regret if only because of their casual attention to the wonderful life they are already leading. This individual is neither sick nor poor. They are highly educated, pleasant and well meaning. In relative terms, they have already succeeded in life. They just haven’t stopped to realise it yet. Call it youthful exuberance or blind ignorance, this person is well endowed with everything they could possibly need to be happy but their incessant want for more prevents them from recognising it.
Perhaps one day an event will wake them to how lucky they are, or maybe they’re destined to live out their days in an interminable pursuit for more. We’re shown that success is measured by wealth and that our security will be guaranteed by achieving it but this imbalanced view does little to consider our role and responsibility to each other. It also alienates those sections of society that are not fit to compete. The world is changing, more rapidly than ever before. As we furrow our brows and harden ourselves to the task of increasing our material worth, think of the changes that could be achieved if a tiny portion of that energy was directed into community, charity or the environment.
Here and now is the life we lead; then and there, if we allow it, is the life we’re lead by. If we take the time to think, maybe we can make a real difference to the people around us and in doing so improve our own perspective on things.