Emerging Adulthood

I read a New York Times article last year about life stages. I was surprised by the inclusion of an “Emerging Adulthood” phase, demarcated as the first half of young adulthood, around ages 18-30, and characterized by self discovery. This gave new meaning to another concept I heard of around the same time that “30 is the new 20” and “40 is the new 30”. Personally, my initial reaction was disbelief at the arbitrary re-categorization and redefinition of the human experience because “emerging adulthood” seems to be a very modern concept only available to those with sufficient social, economic support structures to allow such freedom.

Yes, most of the modern and modernizing world is seeing longer lifespans, near doubling in some areas, and so perhaps we need to create twice as many life stages or refine our understanding of the human condition, but that’s not what I’m trying to address. I think the idea is valid, but I contend that the idea comes with pros and cons.

I was lucky to have grown up in an environment where I could observe, and to some degree experience the freedoms of Emerging Adulthood. For example, I attended a good American university that emphasized the liberal arts education where students try different fields of study to discover their interests. In fact I triple majored and double minored in very different fields. Also, western societies don’t shun the idea of taking a year off to travel the world before starting a career. I did not do this, but I did serve in the Marines which provided travel opportunities. Additionally, some people switch jobs frequently in search of the “perfect job.”

Today I have the knowledge, means and freedom to choose Emerging Adulthood experiences. I am able to question the purpose of life and work, pursue long term goals, continue education and perpetually grow – perhaps even prolonging this stage to my mid 30’s, but I can’t help thinking how easy it is for all those around me in Silicon Valley to read such an article and so easily find “truth” in the words to rationalize their current lifestyle – not that there’s anything wrong at all about it, nor am I making any judgements against any particular lifestyles.

Without getting into much detail arguing for the other side because I mainly wanted to point out how quixotic I found the idea of Emerging Adulthood and how we shouldn’t be so quick to accept it, I will point out less American perspectives. We should consider other approaches and uses of this age range. European and now Asian countries emphasis specialization once one enters university. Travel is emphasized by some, but may be linked to career (I’m thinking of the Netherlands where medical students are given a year stipend to work around the world). Is instituting a sense of purpose and adulthood sooner in life better (for individuals or society)? On the other end of this spectrum are developing countries that can’t afford any of these luxuries, but they are driving greater development in their local societies.



~ by fp on January 26, 2013.

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