Monday, February 3, 2014

The Defining Decade

I've been seeing a lot of buzz lately about The Defining Decade, so I decided to read it. It was...alright.
The thing that really bothered me throughout the book was the assumptions that the author made about the things that 20-somethings will want in the future. There's this idea, that everyone wants to (or should want to) settle down, get married and have kids and buy a home. It's true that some people want that, but it felt a lot like the author thought of that as the rule, and that people who want different things in life are somehow deviant.
There was also this trivializing vibe that I got at various points in the book. There was one story, about Cathy, who didn't have a great track record in romantic relationships, and often used music to make herself feel less alone. Apparently, she told Cathy "Your iPod is whispering in your ear. It was keeping you company, but now it's like a good friend turned bad, keeping you over in the corner away from other relationships where you might learn something new. It is turning your life into a dark, looping rock opera." and then Cathy said "My iPod is my friend...maybe my closest friend." Maybe this really was the case for Cathy, that she had this destructive relationship with her iPod, but it just came off as condescending. Jay also wrote "You might be surprised by the number of hours a week I spend hearing about Facebook. Many of my clients feel their lives on Facebook are evaluated, even judged, daily. They reluctantly admit they spend hours posting pictures and comments, flipping through them again and again, trying to see their Facebook pages as others will. They imagine their ex-girlfriends reacting to how they look now." It read as though the author was saying "All of these millennials are only capable of having emotional relationships with their iPods and their Facebooks!" I expected that the book would focus a little more on the more serious issues that millennials face — the fact that they're entering an economy that expects them to spend significant time working for free, saddled by more student debt than any previous generation. 
There were some good things about the book, though. I liked the concept of identity capital, which I had never heard of before. Identity capital is all of the stuff that makes you the person you are, the things that you use to define yourself. For instance, this blog, and going to school, and having worked at my summer camp, those are all pieces of my identity capital. 
The thing I really did like, was the feeling throughout that if someone in their 20's doesn't exactly have their life on track, it's still very possible for them to have a good life. I'm constantly worried about my future, and I feel like every single choice that I make is going to have a huge impact on my whole entire life. I know that thought process isn't reasonable, but it's hard for me to get out of that mindset. There were a couple stories in this book about people who had been out of college for several years, but hadn't worked any professional jobs, and were sort of aimless in their careers. Things work out for all of them in the book, and I'm assuming that they live happily ever after, fulfilled in their careers and personal lives.
Should you read it? I can't give you my wholehearted recommendation, but if it's a topic that you're interested in—if you or someone you care about is a millennial who is terrified of everything, or who feels sort of aimless in their life, then this could be a worthwhile read. If you're a baby boomer who thinks that millennials are a waste of space and should just get a job already, then you probably shouldn't read this. But, then again, if you're that person, you probably don't give a damn about what I think you should do.

4 comments:

  1. So say you want to take a less traditional route to life. Maybe stay more diversified professionally and write and blog and freelance and don't get married and settle down. (And write run on sentences). Do people do this because they enjoy having more freedom, or because they can't find one thing they want to stick with? Aka, they can't find the right life for themselves?

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    1. I think that if staying diversified professionally and not settling down are conscious choices, if someone looks at their options and decides that's what they want, then they're evidence of being able to choose something and stick with it. However, if someone falls into that by accident, never realizing other possibilities, then it's evidence of something else - maybe not that they can't find the right thing to stick with, but that they don't know exactly what they want. However, the same can be said of people who settle down and get married - if that's the only option that occurs to someone, it's likely that they aren't making that choice for the right reasons.
      Also, for a lot of people, the industry that they're in doesn't allow for a person to stick with one job for a long time - more and more jobs are freelance or contract work, and 9 to 5 jobs with security and benefits are rare in many industries. I don't think they have to go hand in hand either - you can have a house and a family and have work that is on and off, and you can have a 9 to 5 job and have a less traditional personal life.

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  2. I'm not sure that's an either/or situation. I've known people who seem to really enjoy bopping from one thing to another. Or they do one thing for a while and when it approaches the point of becoming dull routine, they move in a different direction. 'Course, I've also known people who simply just don't know what they want to do, like, ever. And so they're in odd-job purgatory. But I think the idea that the only way to be happy is to have that *one* thing is problematic. There are just too many people around for that to be true for everyone.

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    1. I think it is really problematic to push people to find that "one" thing, as though someone can find a "soulmate" in a career (also the idea of soulmates is ridiculous, but that's for another post.) For a lot of people, they might be passionate about something, but not enjoy it as a job, or just have a passion that doesn't lend itself to making money. There's also the "do what you love - for shitty pay and terrible hours" factor, that employers in "passion" industries tend to push people to work more, without complaining about the bad pay, because they're "doing what they love" and it shouldn't matter. The thing is, if your job sucks, your job sucks - being in your dream industry doesn't make it much better on a day-to-day basis.

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