All those who wander are lost

BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY

Today it seems like there is an overwhelming desire for twenty-somethings to ‘find themselves’. There is also an overwhelming pressure for twenty-somethings to ‘find themselves’. Yet does every young adult naturally yearn to find out who they are, or does peer pressure make us feel like finding ourselves is something that we should be doing? It appears to be quiet the chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Regardless, it is undeniable that today’s twenty-somethings are particularly guilty of going to lengths to ‘look for ourselves’. Maybe there is an age and height requirement that we must reach before life hands us a sneaky palm card with all the answers on it. As far as I’m aware, no one (except maybe Beyonce) has it all sorted out.

Despite this, we are constantly bombarded with various pressures that convince us that everyone else has it more together than we do. When a twenty-something goes travelling, they proclaim that they are going to ‘find themselves’. The last time I went travelling, I found myself holding up a jacket to cover my friend whilst she peed in a plastic cup aboard a booze cruise. When a student finishes their degree, they believe that their real lives are about to start. Their real lives of course still involve making coffee, except that this time they get to wear a suit whilst doing so. When a young adult buys their first car, they finally have the independence they have always dreamed of. Which apparently involves instagramming pictures of them on their first Maccas drive-thru. In general, when our generation find ‘the one’, begin regular exercise routines or find new friends outside of high school, suddenly they are following the yellow brick road towards the ‘real world’. Whilst no one expects the road to be free from bumps along the way, it seems perceivable that once we climb aboard this path, it acts more like a travellator, always keeping us on the straight and narrow towards our goals.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

The thing that our generation don’t seem to realise is that ‘having it all sorted out’ is completely objective according to what you believe constitutes a stable, happy individual. If what constitutes ‘finding yourself’ is completely different from person to person, why do we insist on judging each other’s life choices, and therefore also thrusting upon ourselves this pressure to ‘get it together’?

The funny thing is, I don’t know a single adult who has it ‘together’. At least 22% of our parents have been divorced, and statistics show that divorce rates rise exponentially after twenty years of marriage. Mature age students make up 82% of the 6% rise in tertiary education applications, and the largest peak in Australian travelers is between the ages of 49-60 years. Clearly, no matter what age you are, adults are still finding themselves.

So often, twenty-somethings are told that “we don’t know how good we have it” and that “we have so many opportunities that past generations never had.” Which explains why baby boomers appear to be reconsidering marriages, education, careers and travelling the world far and wide. And you know what? Good on them. I am the first to admit that my generation has the most amazing opportunities at our fingertips. But where the world is more fast paced and socially conscious than ever, the over exposure to opportunities is enough to make us spoilt for choice. A good marketer knows that too many choices actually deter a consumer from purchasing a product. Surely by comparison, society needs to begin to recognise that twenty-somethings are now not only faced with the regular coming of age struggles, but that we are also spoilt for choice in how to live our lives.

Once we have a job, our generation can travel the world basically wherever and whenever we want. We can study undergraduate degrees, double degrees, honours and masters. Twenty-somethings can meet potential soul mates in more places than ever with the somewhat overbearing interconnectedness of the modern world. We can become talented in exotic dance styles, unfamiliar sports and foreign languages. Not only this, but we are expected to be well versed in most of these endeavours.

Call me crazy, but this all sounds just a little bit too Jane Austen for me. Once upon a time, in order to become accepted by society, a woman had to be ‘accomplished’. In Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bingley describes being accomplished as having a “thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.” If we look at the expectations enforced upon young adults in today’s context, this description is not a far stretch from what is expected of both genders. Once we are accomplished by society’s standards, we imagine that we will finally begin reaching for the carrot dangled in front of us.

The 'accomplished' woman.

The ‘accomplished’ woman.

However, if statistics are any indicator, no one will ever understand themselves, they will never be able to please everyone, they will not always find themselves in stable relationships, they will not always know what their passion is in life, and many will still feel like there is much more to explore in the wider world. Where all these opportunities were only provided to older generations more recently, our generation has a whole lifetime to indulge in these ‘coming of age’ experiences. We have longer to let them confuse the hell out of us, but we also have longer to revel in them. Perhaps that is the carrot at the end of the string. Maybe we only really ‘come of age’ and ‘have it all figured out’ when we are too old to search any longer. Maybe a cup of tea and a packet of Werther’s Originals really is the key to happiness, or at least a good Friday night in.

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4 thoughts on “All those who wander are lost

  1. The whole finish uni and travel thing is a bit of a mess. in my opinion, if what you’re studying is your true passion you’d be jumping into it straight after graduation, or you’d already have a job/internship. Travelling isn’t necessarily career procrastination for people our age, but it has utterances of it that we blast away with all the facebook/instagram uploads of Santorini cocktails.

    Sometime people go travelling because they’re running away from something they don’t want to face. Also I agree with Austen for both genders, becoming familiar with the world raises our value and experiences.

  2. Great insight! Its a pity that a large portion of our world cant have such a mature perspective of all that is expected and the reality of those expectations.
    As great as it is to have choices, it does truly test the character of the 21st Century adult to make mature choices and be disciplined and successful with their endeavors.

    • I think a lot of students will identify with this, particularly art students. Is there a middle ground though, between not knowing yourself and having it all sorted out? I would like to spend the rest of my life in self and world discovery, because the last think I’d want is to ‘find myself’ sitting in an office chair in an Ill-fitting beige suit thinking, ‘what am I fucking doing?’ Life’s about mistakes, wrong turns and constantly revising ones values!

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