Millennials Have No Roadmap to Adulthood

Mar 30, 2015 by

My parents and grandparents knew just what kind of adults they should be at 25. I don’t, but it’s not my fault.

Life is often referred to as a highway, to borrow from Tom Cochrane, and for my generation that hasn’t changed.

“Adulthood today lacks a well-defined roadmap,” writes Steven Mintz, in his forthcoming book, The Prime of Life. “Today, individuals must define or negotiate their roles and relationships without clear rules or precedents to follow.”

This is especially true for us millennials, who are the product of a terrible economy that has required us to hit the emergency button in our lives. But it’s becoming evident that we have been given a roadmap to a road we are not even on and then we’re blamed for going in the wrong direction.

I recently turned 25 and I am failing at being an adult. I don’t see myself buying a house anytime soon or investing in property. I don’t want to have kids anytime soon because I honestly don’t know how I afford to feed myself half the time, let alone a child. And the only person I want to marry is the barista at the cafe by my house, but I haven’t even told him my name.

Traditionally, by 25 we are expected to have accomplished, or at least gotten close to accomplishing, five pillars of “adulthood”: having children, graduating from college, getting married, finding a career and buying a home. It’s no wonder that, since turning 25, I find myself having daily anxieties about not being the kind of adult my parents or grandparents were.

The Great Recession made us boomerang back home or stay in school to remain afloat during the storm. While this situation seemed to make us too reliant on parents or other support systems, it isn’t like millennials weren’t trying. I mean, honestly, who wouldn’t want to be completely independent? We aren’t complete failures, we’re just delayed and it’s really not our fault.

On the surface, this new adulthood may seem selfish and narcissistic. While I agree that my generation may be a tad self-obsessed, primarily due to the advent of social media, this new adulthood will potentially create a better world.

According to the Pew Research Center series “Millennials: A portrait of generation next,” we are a group that is confident, connected and open to change even in the face of adversity. But we are delayed in maturing.

The same study found that we are more racially and ethnically diverse, liberal and, even though 37% of us are unemployed, nine in 10 report having enough money to eventually meet our financial goals.

The author of the report, Jeffrey Arnett wrote a book about “emerging adults,” a demographic 18 to 29 years old, that is experiencing an extended adolescence. This extra time allows young people to “develop skills for daily living, gain a better understanding of who they are and what they want from life and begin to build a foundation for their adult lives.”

While this new stage of development may have pushed us back, that’s not actually a terrible thing, he suggests. Due to more time to think and explore, we’ve become better people and know what we want and are able to create a better foundation for our futures.

Arnett told the New York Times Magazine in 2013 that emerging adulthood is a time where 20-somethings don’t see themselves as adults and go through: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.”

Due to this new stage of exploration, our deadline for getting our acts together is now around 30 or later, and not earlier, like in prior decades. And with longer life expectancies, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are taking our time growing up, since we now have so much more life to live.

So no matter what your thoughts are toward millennials, adulthood is officially delayed with no signs of it reverting back to 1960s standards. It’s just going to take some time for my generation to get where others were years before them.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. And as my mom would say while driving, we’ll get there when we get there.

Zach Stafford is a writer currently living in Chicago. He is the co-editor of Boys, An Anthology.

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