May 21, 2009

Twenty Somethings in the News: Too many choices?

I can do anything, so how do I choose?

Newsweek has a great article up, written by Jenny Norenberg, about all the options young people have these days over career, location, relationships. Norenberg both appreciates the options she's been given and sees how they can be overwhelming at times. She also talks about her mother, who had fewer options (getting married after college was the expectation, if not the rule) but greater stability. Here's an excerpt from this excellent piece:

Since graduation, we've struggled to make our own happiness. It seems that having so many choices has sometimes overwhelmed us. In the seven years since I left home for college, I've had 13 addresses and lived in six cities. How can I stay with one person, at one job, in one city, when I have the world at my fingertips?


The more choices you have, the more decisions you must make—and the more you have yourself to blame if you wind up unhappy. There is a kind of perverted contentedness in certainty born of a lack of alternatives. At my age, my mother, whether she liked it or not, had fewer tough decisions to make. I don't envy the pressure she endured to follow a traditional career path and marry early. But sometimes I envy the stability she had.

Once again I've been unable to resist the lure of a new city. So, as I start my legal career in Chicago, I'm again building friendships from scratch, learning my way around a strange new place. Yes, my friends and I could have avoided the loneliness and uncertainty inherent in our journeys, and gone back to our hometowns or stayed in the college town where we had each other. But I doubt any one of us would trade our adventures for that life. I have a sense of identity and self-assurance now that I didn't have, couldn't have had, when I graduated from college. And I know someday I'll look back on this time--before I had a spouse, a home and children to care for--and be thankful for the years that just belonged to me.

I feel much the same about my life. I've lived in a lot of places, done a lot of different things. And there are always more options waiting just around the bend! It can make it hard to see where to go next, what to do next. While it hasn't always been perfect, while I haven't always been happy, I love that I have been able to experience these things. I know it's something I will be able to appreciate later.

What do you think? Do you think we have too many choices at the risk of building stable homes, families and lives...or do you think our lives are richer for the experiences we get to have that our parents didn't? Do you ever wish you had fewer choices?

Thanks, Well-Heeled!


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  2. I think having less choices would definitely be easier, but I would never trade the opportunities we all have now. I really think that the 30s are the new 20s (sort of). The 30s are where you settle down and figure out your life. The 20s are some crazy in between.

  3. This is exactly what I've been saying since I graduated last summer! I love having choices but on the other hand that makes it so difficult to choose. And now I'm ending up making the "traditional" women's choices - I'm married and I'm planning to be a teacher. Go figure!

  4. Joseph, thank you! Both for the compliments and the help! ;)

    Jen, I have to agree. I've been able to do so many wonderful things because of all the options available to me. I've been able to move around, see the world, and do so many things women from my mother's generation were never able to even consider. I feel very lucky!

    And Bluebelle, I find myself moving more and more toward traditional choices, too. I mean, eventually I will get married and have children. I don't think it's a bad thing, though. It's your choice what you want to do with your life, and if that's what you want, lucky you for being able to go for that, too! :)

  5. This is so true, and rather sad, I think. We've lost our roots. In my own life, I've been working a bit backwards on this. I left home, moved across state lines a couple times, and NOW I'm putting down roots with a new "family." Of course, by doing this, I'm exercise the freedom of choice.

    My roommate and I have talked several times about how we would not be able to live on our 100 years ago, and would have a hard time of it 50 years ago. I love my life, and am glad that I live in this day.

  6. Wow, the excerpt you posted from that article is amazing and truly inspiring.

    And I think you landed on something pretty powerful - with this abundance of choice, some of us are actually choosing the traditional route. I know I have been thinking more and more about the fact that marriage and babies are in my future even though I know that these things are currently nowhere in sight. My near future (next 5 years) will likely be a continuation of the change I have seen in the last 2 years since graduation.

    We have more choices and we can do so much more, but I wonder if it's enough. Over time I'm seeing more and more the importance of being around those you love and building a life based on those relationships.

    It's weird that when I read your blog about your struggles, I feel closer to you even though we haven't talked in a while. Sometimes I think we all have a better handle on things then we give ourselves credit for.