Thursday, August 19, 2010

You reap what you sew

My great aunt forwarded me this New York Times article about the prolonged adaptation to adulthood experience by the 20-somethings of today. Though I admittedly only made it through page 3 of 10 of the dissertation on the “failure to launch” syndrome of my 20-something cohorts, I was already reaching for my laptop to tap away at the keys.

Ironically (though perhaps spurred by the New York Times piece), today NPR featured a local father of grown children, now in his 50s, reflecting on the “failure” of his 20-something year old children to accept less-desirable jobs, settle down and grow up. But how did this “emerging adulthood” phenomenon take root? The failure of this crop of 20-somethings to be ready for harvesting wasn’t a mysterious growing season or a product of global warming; he accepted ownership for having planted the seeds: As a baseball coach for his son, he presented awards and trophies to each player, no matter how poor his performance or meager the effort. Everyone got an award. I remember the politics involved with high school sports (especially for soccer at my school). Players that didn’t have the same talent or skills still earned reasonable amount of playing time “to be fair”; what lesson does this teach kids? When you grow up consistently receiving the affirmation that yes, you are special. Yes, you deserve these things, you will believe it. And when it comes time to face the music, and maybe you aren’t good enough, the news is shocking and sends you reeling.

Of course we feel entitled. Everyone got an award at the end of the school year. Everyone made the team. Everyone received playing time. Everyone got student of the month. Any criticism by a figure outside of the nuclear family web was met with vehement denial and rejection: how dare you speak to my child that way? How dare you tell me my child isn’t the best? When someone told us no, we waved our arms, cried for help, and quickly the politics of the system swooped in to rescue and coddle us from the horrors of rejection.

Up until graduation, the discussion is what do you want to be? As soon as you cross that stage and accept your diploma, suddenly the conversation turns to Get real. Get a job. Grow up. Accept realty. Graduation speeches should actually be a debriefing of the dissolution of the fa├žade of childhood dreams, when they pull the curtain revealing the truth behind the Wizard.

Last night, I cracked open a bottle of wine with some visiting house guest. We had all the formalities of being adults: calling it a night at a reasonable hour to be rested for work the following day and mechanically swirling and sipping our Zinfandel in perfect wine tasting form. But after reminiscing about some favorite childhood memories, the conversation transitioned into the preferred mantra of 20-somethings: I hate my job.

Christina, the oldest of the group at 29, rolled her eyes and sighed. Those of us in the room under 25 still were diligently releasing steam of youthful hopes, evaporating into expanding dream clouds that Christina struck through with a bolt of reality: “I guess that’s what makes being early twenties so unique- you guys still think you have time to dream. By the time you reach my age, you give up on what you always wanted to be, and come to terms with what you actually are.”

Is that really it? Is that the final line? Accepting that no, you really can’t do anything you put your mind to? Is life truly a revolution of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables? Will I look back in 20 years and laugh at the silly dreams I once held of how my life would be?

“Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame....

But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So much different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dream

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