Understanding the Dilema of the Modern, Middle-Class, Young Adult

If I were to die today, my tombstone might read: “He lived for 25 years. He was in school for 20 of them.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, being a student is a cushy job.  Aside from class times, I set my own hours.  Most of my time “working” is spent reading and presumably learning.  While not recommended, procrastination isn’t a terminable offense.  The problem is that my “challenges” to date, however, have primarily arisen from a curriculum.  Surely there must be lessons beyond these confines.  I want to be challenged by adventure.  I want to be defined by adventure.  I want a life-long adventure.  Adventure. 

it’s hard out here for a bro

And so I seek some solution for those of us who see as arbitrary and inconsequential the various economic, social and political systems of the world.  I just don’t see how this world makes any sense.  I want adventure, not responsibility.  To this end James Michner’s Caravans has been instructive.  I must say upfront that I did not find an answer.  I did, however, gain a better understanding of the dilema itself.

Before I get into Caravans, allow me to introduce the book by way of bikes and buses.

I dreamt of bikes and buses.

don’t you just love the clean lines?

My time in law school has been riddled with day-dreams.  I’ve spent countless hours procrastinating on craigslist, looking at bikes and VW vans.

There’s a common thread that wove the two together, though I didn’t see it until I my dad subtly pointed it out, as dads so often do.  He saw my wanderlust.  He recognized my feelings of inadequacy in the adventure department.

By my age, my mom had traveled around the world, and my dad had started his own business.  Me, well, I’ve written some papers…. wanna read ’em?  Sure, I’ve hiked, camped and gone on a few road trips.  Yes, I’ve seen a Red Sox game.  But these weren’t my adventures.  I didn’t own them.

carefree

This sentiment is clearly not unique to me.  In fact, it seems extremely common among my peers.  Whose got the coolest pictures of them doing the coolest things on Facebook? I think that the lack of adventure and resulting compensatory actions are a result of the times we live in.

When my parents were young, it sounds like anything goes was how it went.  Humans were allowed to play a little faster and looser.  Before homeland security checks and stiff penalties for standard kids-being-kids offenses.  Back in the good old bad days.  Simpler times, right?  At other moments I feel like this lack is just a result of my own laziness and woe-is-me attitude, to which I respond: “woe is me for this cursed, piss-poor attitude I have.”

And what of the bike and bus I dreamt of?  They symbolized freedom to me and were, quite literally, my vehicles of escapism.  Surely, I thought, these would be the devices to lead me on an adventure.  I must say, I love my bike and my van.  Both have fueled fun and memories.  But the deeper feeling of inadequacy persists.  While the bike and bus are fine for now, they won’t provide the meaningful and sustainable adventure I seek.  Enough about me, let’s get back to the matter at hand.

Caravans. 

After my parents diagnosed me with lack-of-adventure-itis, my mom perscribed one of her favorite books, Caravans.  The book was a great read and I found the following passage particularly relevant:

When Ellen first joined our group she struck me as one destined for tragedy. . .I saw her as a girl of good intention who was determined to disaffiliate herself with our society, and I wondered if she were strong enough to find something better to rely on.

But when Ellen returned in her second year with increased bitterness, claiming that the world seemed pointless, as if it were interested only in a perpetual Saturday night dance at some cosmic country club, I began to take her malaise more seriously, and I asked my wife to talk with her.  Ellen brought her young Haverford boy to dine with us and we found him charming but were forced to agree with her that his ambitions were as ordinary as her father’s.

If you’ve ever felt like the setup of the world around you is not your own, this passage must be resonating.  And to bring it home:

“What is my problem?” she asked, and I said, “You have the disease that eats at our world.  You cannot find peace in old conventions and beliefs, yet you are not sufficiently committed to anything to forge new ones for yourself.”

Ellen Jaspar is sick with the disease that is beginning to infect our ablest young people.  She has disaffiliated herself with the beliefs that gave our society its structure in the past, but she has found no new structure upon which she can rely for that support which every human life requires.

So perhaps I am sick.  Perhaps I will continue to drift until I find some new structure to believe in.  Perhaps I am your prototypical 25 year-old.  Well, so be it.  Right now, adventure makes sense to me.  Because if I’m doing anything else I’m thinking: “I’d rather be on an adventure.”

If I could always do what I’d rather be doing, I’d never rather be doing anything else again.

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5 thoughts on “Understanding the Dilema of the Modern, Middle-Class, Young Adult

  1. Here is SoundEagle’s take on life and what you could reasonably expect to face as a “Modern, Middle-Class, Young Adult”:

    Yes, Ben, you are right about your being the “prototypical 25 year-old”. There are three phases in the adult life. You are in the “Experimental Phase”, valid for a person usually aged between 17 and 35+, where the person tends to travel and sample the world to see what’s out there and where/how they fit in.

    The second is the “Consolidation Phase”, valid for a person usually aged between 25+ and 60+, where the person tends to be career-minded and seeks a partner to consolidate their wealth and to raise a family.

    The third is the “Soulmate Phase”, valid for a person usually aged 55+ or 65+ (depending on the age of retirement), where the person tends to be well-off financially and no longer needs to be concerned with career and/or raising a family. , Aided by accumulated wisdom and wealth, the person is free to stay with the existing partner/spouse, or to seek one or more soulmate(s) in environments or circumstances that are (far) less encumbered by peer pressure, social expectation, career and/or family duties.

    1. Sound Eagle – I like your take on the dilema. “Sampling” perfectly describes my behavior over the past few years and it directly correlates to fully appreciating the gravity of a finite life. I want to identify the things that are truly worth my time here.

      It’s comforting to know that the sampling is constructive and not simply an exercise in spinning my wheels. One day I’m convinced I want to be a landscaper and the next day it’s an architect. And yet, here I am, wrapping up my law degree! But I tell you what has been a consistent: writing. So here’s to blogs, bloggers and the blogosphere!

      Thank you for your thoughts- hope to see you around.

      Ben

      1. Hi Ben,

        SoundEagle is delighted by your reply. Your paragraph

        This sentiment is clearly not unique to me. In fact, it seems extremely common among my peers. Whose got the coolest pictures of them doing the coolest things on Facebook? I think that the lack of adventure and resulting compensatory actions are a result of the times we live in.

        is quite telling in that the delay of the “Consolidation Phase” due to the dissolution of traditional norms; the emancipation of gender roles and identities; the fluidity of modern life; the affordability of real-life travelling and online surfing; and the globalisation of culture, and of the workforce and workplace, have all contributed to the ascendancy of the “Experimental Phase”. You are right in that it can easily become a sort of a la carte joyride, thrill-seeking or trophy hunting for excitement and palming off as seasoned world-traveler on social media to tout among peers and fans, acting like a kind of laissez-faire, everyday journalist or tourist without reaching deeper understanding and discovering issues that affect or concern the peoples, cultures and environments at those destinations.

        The wise can travel less and still knows more than those who travel far and wide, for they bring their baggage with them, apart from being unwise. There are limits and pitfalls in sampling the world without when the world within has not been properly sampled.

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