What do you want to be when you grow up?
"Old Economy Steve" sums up a lot of life's troubles for Gen Y.
When I was a kid, there was a question I heard constantly. Every year, at least, our teachers made a production out of asking us. Our grandparents asked every visit. Our parents, our uncles and aunts, babysitters... everyone.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
When I was small, I had an answer. I wanted to be a mommy. But that wasn't good enough for my Baby Boomer teachers and parents, my Gen X babysitters. They were modern people, who refused to accept a little girl's limited understanding of gender roles. I could be anything. I could be anything I wanted to be.
When I got older, I read "Sedako and the Thousand Paper Cranes," and decided that when I grew up I wanted to cure leukemia. I wanted to put on a white coat and spend all day in a lab, looking through microscopes and testing drugs on monkeys. Then I learned more about monkeys, and I wasn't so sure I wanted to do that anymore.
So I decided I wanted to be president. I was going to go to law school, to become an organizer, to make changes in my community and country that would benefit everyone.
When I was a teenager, having the time of my life, politics and law school sounded like too much work. When people asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I told them if worst came to worst I could wait tables to pay for art supplies.
It wasn't really an answer. It was the most practical answer I could give. And now, I'm a stay at home parent.
I'm a Gen Y mom. A Millennial mom.
We're an odd bunch, us Gen Y mothers. As the oldest of the Generation Y crowd hit thirty, we find ourselves confronted by expectations of adulthood that don't seem to fit. We've watched Gen X grow up and cope with changing social standards, and we've hesitated.
They didn't make adulthood look very promising.
And then there's us.
Plenty of stories have been written about the Millennial's unwillingness, or inability, to grow up. About how long we live at home. About how many of us don't bother to get driver's licenses. About how apathetic we seem to be.
It's as though when everyone asked us, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" we all glibly retorted that we had a crappy job back-up plan. And we all just went ahead and focused on those.
As always, reality is more complicated.
Yes, we came of age in an economy where we had little hope of ever earning at our parents' potential.
Yes, we came of age in a society that requires us to get accredited four year degrees to qualify for jobs waiting tables and answering phones.
Yes, we go into the world loaded with debt in a time when our grandparents are still in the workforce, still occupying jobs we want, still working to save for retirement when their entire life's saving may have been lost.
And yes, we all have friends we've sent to war, friends who've never come back.
Most Gen Yers are waiting to have kids. We go to college, work, get our Master's degrees or even Ph.Ds, work, establish a career, then get married. And then start considering if it's time to have kids. And by then, we're hitting thirty- our healthiest child-bearing years already behind us.
Nobody asked us, "When you grow up, how do you want to support yourself until you finally manage to find a job that utilizes your degrees, personal skill sets, and passions?" They asked us what we wanted to be. And most of us, in the secret dark holes in our hearts, we know we're not what we wanted to be. We're baristas working through grad school. We're nannies, waiting for that teaching job to open up. We're waiting tables, using our degrees in history to strike up conversations with patrons. We're car salesmen with degrees in gender studies.
It's not what we expected. We're not what we expected.
And more importantly, our sense of stability. It's not there.
That's because stability, as we know it, doesn't exist. People don't go to school, major in something, and then start a career in that same thing, working in the same field until they retire. That isn't the way it works.