“Kids are great. It’s a shame they have to grow up to be regular people that call you names.” - Charles Barkley
The idea for this post came to me after reading a Free Press journalist who I’ve come to love and hate: Kathryn Boyle. After reading her article ‘It’s Time to Get Serious’, which I’d encourage you to read, I fell conflicted by the ideas of different writers whose work I’m enjoying near-equally.
I’ve been studying friendship lately. Why deep connections happen at a certain time in our lives and what it takes to make some stick. (If you’re interested in the book I’m reading, you can find it here.) Yet, I’ve found that I’m reading a lot more about the way young-twenties life is handled from the perspectives of Friedman and Sow - whose takes directly challenge that of Kathryn Boyle. It’s feel-good, cushioned, plush, women empowerment-y. And honestly, I like it.
But, I also like the hardboiled takes. The ones that make you spit out your coffee - even when I disagree with them.
While I’m not big on generational blame passing, I do believe there is a lot good to be found in the idea of accepting adulthood. I decided to bring the ideas to my own Substack, where I’ll attempt to make sense of them as a key member of the target audience: a twenty-five year old.
Hot Take #1: It’s time to grow up. But, it’s also time to redefine growing up.
“Growing up” to a 25 y/o usually is defined as: not being the youngest at the office, a few promotions, furnishing a house, marriage, and having kids. Usually in that order. Generation X made that clear enough. So, what’s the rush? We’ll go travel for a year (guilty) and start a business or three. The curtain is already pulled back on our ending. So why not at least put a creative spin on the middle? ‘Cause if you can’t achieve individualism by thirty-five, you’ll be tossed into the ‘elephant graveyard’.
We’ve been conditioned to see the standardized events as our only major life milestones worth anything. They’ll always be there. And once you have kids (from an unmarried 25 y/o perspective) that might as well be the end of it all. Society has stopped setting goals for you. You’re finished. Which is actually the furthest thing from the truth.
Most of us want some, if not all, of those ‘standard things.’ Because we should. I know that I do. There is nothing wrong with falling into that natural progression with your life milestones. Again, it’s natural for a reason.
But, where I struggle to understand is the sacrificial element that ‘growing up’ is coined with.
Here lies the problem: when growing up is defined as a grand sacrifice, people are never going to want to do it.
You don’t have kids yet? Well, you’re getting older and the global population is declining so: chop, chop. Time to save your country. Quit your day job because, we need numbers.
Lol. Living in a time where officially-backed employees admit to lab-farming COVID mutations after two and a half cocktails - I’ll admit I’m not super keen on rushing toward the population crisis. Seriously? Come on.
Adulthood is an obligation that all of us fortunate to live into our twenties are called to. But, why is it branded to us like we need to be scrub a decade-long mess to earn another birthday cake? As someone who attended university during a national school shooting epidemic, graduated into the crashing job market of COVID-19, and has witnessed our esteemed political leaders fighting with meme lords on Twitter: I have a problem believing that the ‘growing up too slow’ argument is fully withstanding. Rather, my generation seems to be going numb to crisis after crisis. Doomsday headlines begin to sound a lot like the alarm clock.
Growing up is the rewarding ladder of taking on responsibilities that give you some purpose.
One of the things that positively impacted my mental health more than anything was getting a dog right out of college. Why? It gave me a reason to wake up before nine in the morning. Life was no longer just about having fun on the weekend. I was now responsible for this twenty-pound alien. He relied on me for a morning walk. He relied on me to get his food. He relied on me to take him to the vet. Yeah, he was a pain and a half that first year. But, I was no longer just another tech employee / author working remotely at a bedroom desk all day. I had a little bit more purpose. Because this living, breathing thing needed me.
I feel fortunate that my family had already cut me off financially and taught me several lessons before I started life in Austin. That was probably my first major responsibility: keep myself alive. Learn about taxes so I don’t go to jail. When that got easier, my need for responsibility in that area was simply there. It was just a part of life. So, I got a dog. The next step on my ladder, was joining finance classes. Learning how to build wealth. I’m no expert, but I took on the responsibility of at least figuring out the system. And isn’t that really what growing up is?
Forget the ‘huge life purpose’ position. If you’re feeling stuck, take on whatever responsibility seems best fit at that moment. The ‘growing up’ part follows.
What I’m saying is, this ladder is never ending. We’ll constantly be challenged to take and adjust our responsibility to align with a purpose in life. And that purpose doesn’t always have to be your ‘overarching life purpose.’ That’s a ridiculous amount of pressure. You just need to have one for the hour, the month, the year, or the decade.
Pay off your debt, keep a job, start an initiative, expand your education, start a side gig, join a gym group, volunteer somewhere - literally whatever feels like the next best step right now. Prioritize something, anything other than ‘just having fun’ in your twenties. The new responsibility doesn’t have to be a forever thing. It’s just the next step on the ladder. Just get out of bed for something new in the morning and watch your life transform.
Hot Take #2: Are you experience-driven or are you FOMO-driven?
Writing this one feels like calling myself out. Even though, I’m technically the oldest of ‘Gen-Z’ I found this to be very interesting/true to my life:
“FOMO drives millennials’ experiential appetite: Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) millennials experience FOMO. In a world where life experiences are broadcasted across social media, the fear of missing out drives millennials to show up, share and engage.”
By: Millennials Fueling the Experience Economy - Eventbrite
The article then goes onto say that for the millennial generation, real value derives from experiencing rather than possessing. Right on! Right?
Well, yes. Sometimes?
But, I must admit that I’ve struggled through this idea as well. As someone who wholeheartedly believes that your twenties are just a good a time as any to explore the world, learn a new language, whatever: it’s hard to root my sole existence into an ‘experience-based’ culture. And, remember, this is coming from someone who has lived in three different states in the past year and a half.
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Full disclosure: FOMO crippled me in college. In an Oreo split, academic-socialite world where grades and Instagram likes equate success, I set a precedent for my life where I couldn’t win. If I went out on a weekend, I’d spend the whole time thinking I needed to be studying at two in the morning. If I spent the weekend in the library, I’d feel jealousy toward the people who were able to let loose. Unfortunately, this precedent followed me into my early adulthood. Let’s not even talk about the weekends I spent around the clock at work.
When I graduated, I grew intimidated by the observations I began to collect in my new city: Why is there a photo backdrop at Ben and Jerrys? Why did they offer me a discount at the gym if I post a photo of myself working out with a hashtag? Why am I seeing these things in the same day?
I earnestly thought, something was wrong with Austin. I needed to move to the mountains (and then the coast (ha)) to escape this sh*t. The rude awakening was that smart business is everywhere and it’s built around FOMO. Because, as we saw in the numbers, FOMO is the driving factor for consumer choices. (If you’re interested in the effect of this consumer choice you can read my separate article here.)
Experience-based culture burdens the idea that ‘fun and FOMO’ are the directionless drivers of our life vehicles. And while fun is exhilarating and even necessary, is it really the only valuable measure to decide what running shoes to buy and what career path is best for us and how to save our money and which partner is a true match?
Like every day, I woke up early this morning to get these words on paper before the separate responsibilities of my day kick in. Writing isn’t ‘fun’ today. I’d rather be the girl headed out for a ski weekend. (FOMO) And I love writing. But, I love writing because there’s some deep challenge buried in it. And sure, the experiences that have come with it are great. But, I also don’t think moving to three more cities next year will make me a better writer or business woman. Sorry for the bad news, 23 y/o Linds.
Having more worldly experience is invaluable. But growing up is asking yourself, are we really seeking constant worldly experience? Are we just seeking to avoid the monotony of a routine? Or maybe do we want to escape to the otherside of FOMO?
Hot Take #3: Give seniority a break
Disclaimer: I love my managers. You’ll see why in the next section.
While I don’t see eye-to-eye with Boyle on everything, I think I clapped my hands reading this one.
“That we are beholden to the decisions of leaders whose worldviews were shaped by the wars, famines, and innovations of a bygone world, pre-Internet and before widespread mass education, is in part why our political culture feels so stale. That the gerontocracy is a global phenomenon and not just an American quirk should concern us: younger generations who are native to technological strength, modern science and emerging cultural ailments are still sidelined and pursuing status markers they should have achieved a decade ago.”
By: Kathryn Boyle’s ‘It’s Time To Get Serious’ - The Free Press
When I was a junior-year college intern, the day before my offer-decision, my boss took me out for brunch and to a boutique airport so I could compliment the inside of her private jet. Little 20-year-old me thought, if she’s wanting to flash her wealth on me, a broke college student, in her final moments as my boss - then that’s probably good career news.
Well, I was wrong.
The news was delivered to me that I wasn’t prepared enough to inherit the role up for grabs. Which honestly, that’s fine. That’s 100% fair. But, then I asked “In retrospect, what would’ve made me more prepared?” To which, I received the response, “Maybe grad school?”
Given the metrics of average graduate debt being over a hundred grand, no thanks. Sitting inside a parked PJ talking about my lack of college credentials suddenly felt like more of a mockery than anything. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t older. If it was the only reason I had been given for not being good enough, I was helpless. That day hurt.
I got over it quickly thanks to my parents motivational speeches and attacked the job hunt my senior year of college. I completed my sixth interview with a Fortune 10 company and was thrilled. I’d gotten the word that the job was mine. Then my recruiter went dead on the other line.
After a week of hearing nothing, I called him up and asked for my offer letter. He returned my call:
“Lindsey, your offer wasn’t approved. We usually only hire graduate students for this program. Undergrads were a test run. Accounting said we needed to make cuts in order hire at all - so we’re dissolving our undergraduate positions. If you decide on grad school and want to re-interview later, let’s stay in touch.”
Mind you, this was pre-covid. It didn’t make sense. The other undergrad guy and I were back on the job hunt. And I get it, that’s business. Especially in that industry. Yet, I was still devastated. Despite other opportunities on the table, that was my job. My name was on it. For a moment.
Things worked out perfectly down the line and I’ve had the most amazing opportunities and bosses since. But, I didn’t see that at the time. All I saw was people telling me that I was good enough for a spot: I just wasn’t three years older.
Surprise: I love my managers
Now that I’ve had a few great ones, I actually love the manager-mentee relationship. What a formative one. I’ve gotten so blessed with incredible business women to look up at. But, I’ve realized it’s because my bosses have done two things beautifully:
They invest in my goals rather than my seniority
They measure their own success by how well I’m doing (Which in turn, makes me want to do even better)
This redefined ‘growing up’ for me. It’s no longer about waiting for the years to vest. Now, it’s about taking on more responsibility and handling it. That’s something we can work with.
Why this is considered ‘Shine Theory’
‘Big Friendship’ makes a case for replacing seniority thinking with “Shine Theory.”
“Shine Theory is a commitment to asking, ‘Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?’ The answer is almost always yes.” - Friedman and Sow
What does networking do for us if seniority wins 9/10 times anyways? The answer: not near as much. But, when we decide to invest in genuine key development: especially with our leaders, our competitors, and other people aligned with our goals: we are more likely to shine. Because we’re now relying on a team that is working together. Not a system against one another. Which hopefully, eventually, changes the methodology altogether.
Rebranding young people with goals from “adorable” to “dead serious”
Don’t even get me started with the baby-talk I sometimes get on the literary circuit. Occasionally when I tell a fellow professional that I write books during “free time” in my twenties I get a: “that’s adorable” or “you have so much time. you should be out partying/experiencing/ect.” And I don’t love it.
I’m twenty-five and often forgoing an expansive social life, international trips with friends, and any form of staying up past 11 because I want to sit 65+ hours a week at my desk and meet my deadlines. I’m sure that makes me sound like a fun-loving delight. But, the truth is, I want to follow through with my personal and professional goals. Why else would I give up half my Saturdays for the rest of the year in the name of industry coaching? Because I want that senior-expertise. Not out of pity, either.
Young people who are taking the measures to achieve their goals aren’t cute. They’re just taking themselves seriously. And judging their place inside the work by their age rather than their output is the least “grown up” thing we can do.
“I don’t shine if you don’t shine”
If you ask me, growing up is a lot more about if you’re making friends at the bus stop rather than waiting and waiting on the bus to come at all. ‘Cause who knows? One of your friends might have a car.
Wow, this was long. It took me a few weeks to collect all of these thoughts and put them together. And if you made it this far, thanks for being here. Even if you don’t agree with me, I hope I at least provided some fun talking points to cover over your next family dinner. Your readership means a lot, as always. Talk to you soon.
PS: TSL is 14 days away from being done with dev editing!! Yay:) After early mornings and late nights, I can’t wait to sleep in until 8AM in two weeks to celebrate. Lol.
Lauren Brill introduced me (and others) to you (and your existence). Glad she did. I wish this article was written and I read it when I was turning 25.
You are wise beyond your years! Excellent article!