If you're around the same age as me, you've probably been invited to quite a lot of thirtieth birthday bashes over the past year. I can appreciate the importance of this final hurrah to the twenties, especially given my own anxiety of entering this new age bracket. I don't look a day over 26, you say? You're too kind, dear reader! While I wish it was just about simple vanity though, I've noticed there's something deeper happening within my generation as the thirties approach and begin to take hold: a not-so-mid life crisis.
To some sociologists we're known as late Generation X and early Generation Y, the Entitlement Generation or - my personal favourite - Generation Me. While we're coined as being confident and ambitious, we're also found to be more narcissistic, cynical, depressed and anxious than any generation before. We were raised to be 'go getters' where anything was possible in a globalised neoliberal world (and had time to ponder and analyse such expressions). As we turn thirty and the world markets have turned against us, we come to see that many of the goals we had worked so hard for are now out of reach. Great Expectations left a long way to fall.
If this has not featured as a standard dinner party conversation for you yet, prepare yourself. It normally starts with a thoughtful comment about the sheer number of young people and recent graduates who are unemployed. The conversation turns to how these news stories reinforce how lucky those who managed to squeeze into the workforce before the financial crash should feel, especially if you have a good job that you enjoy. This weirdly seems to only make matters worse for those around the table, like when you're feeling quite poorly and a loved one says you had better cheer up.
I'm seeing it take over an entire swathe of my peers and, if you think I'm just being overly dramatic (tut tut), there's proof! A couple of years back, a British counselling group found that those in their mid-30s were increasing feeling the effects of a midlife crisis similar to that which is normally attributed to individuals in their 50s. As the financial crisis has persisted, this has crept closer into the early 30s.
Are we just being spoiled whiners, as older generations would no doubt label us? I'm not so sure. Our parents' generation had a solid understanding of what they were supposed to be doing at every stage of their life, until they hit their fifties and realised it had all been too planned out and they hadn't enjoyed their youth to the fullest. Having seen that, maybe that's why we were so reluctant to join the adults' table.
Those in our generation have been less willing to settle down and therefore less likely to have started a family early on. If they have done, this time is often when tensions begin to manifest. Qualification inflation meant that we felt the need to continue to study (and spend) in order to get the leg up in the labour market. With rising cost of higher education, adulthood seemed even less affordable. With skyrocketing housing prices, owning a home might also not come for some time. Recent ONS data found nearly three million mid-20 and early 30-year-olds are moving back home with their parents. It's not how we pictured adulthood.
That said, it still seems that we have lost our way. I think the fundamental point is how we've come to define success. Our generation has consistency ranked success in terms of power and influence, above financial stability, love, family, friendship and so on. As power and money become increasingly synonymous, we have become more pessimistic about our own ability to make real and lasting changes in the world. On the other hand, because of this we've become more attuned to growing income inequality and brakes on social mobility and equal opportunities. I fear, however, that we might become increasingly politically and socially apathetic if we don't start to recalibrate our view of success, accomplishment and, perhaps even more basic still, happiness.
Let's grab adulthood by the balls and cast off our generation's melancholy. Only then will we feel empowered to make transformation in areas we are particularly conscious of and passionate about. We can then begin to fight back against this early mid-life crisis and maybe even begin to change Generation Me into Generation We.
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