YOUNG ADULT-ISH: RETHINKING THE M WORD

The M Project was created to give a voice to a generation of young people who’d been misunderstood and disregarded simply for being a millennial. Stigma has surrounded that word for years, labelling us as lazy, technology obsessed and entitled among other things, even while we established ourselves as a culturally aware, technologically innovative and entrepreneurial part of society.

And yes, we have ongoing issues of existential dread and procrastination, but times are changing. The eldest millennials, wise in the ways of floppy disks and landlines, are well into their 30s. While the youngest millennials, who the Pew Research Centre cut off at 1996, are still figuring out their own paths to adulthood.

It’s because of this breadth of age that being grouped in a generational tab like ‘millennial’ has always been a sticking point for me. The idea that such a large number of people could be labelled as sharing the same experiences, attitudes and concerns simply because they are roughly the same age just doesn’t feel realistic.

The first time I stopped to think about that was after I asked my dad what it was like to be a teenager in the 1970s. Influenced by music, movies and history, I was expecting stories about tie-die, the Vietnam War and great rock bands. So often on TV and in music these things symbolise a generation. But Dad just turned to me, knowing what I expected, and said that wasn’t his 70s. While others his age may have been coming into daily contact with those things, he grew up in a rural town on the border of two states, working on the family fruit farm and inevitably starting his own.

It was then that I realised how easy it is to generalise what someone’s life is like, the moment we’re given an ounce of context about their youth or young adult life. But very rarely do we hit the mark.

As the youngest of four children, all born in the early to mid 1990s, I can’t even say I’ve had the same kind of young adult experience as my eldest brother. I took the path of university and share housing, and while I have ideas and a plan for my future, there’s still a level of insecurity. When my brother was my age, he already had a career and an awesome wife.

The very concept of what it means to be a young adult has changed and expanded dramatically in the past fifty years. Traditional milestones that once denoted the transition from adolescence, such as full-time employment, long-term relationships and the decision to start families, have been pushed back a full decade, making 30 the median age for any of these things in developed countries. So, if the 29-39 age bracket now encompasses the life experiences of traditional young adulthood 18-29-year olds exist in the void this cultural shift has created.

The millennial generation currently encompasses both halves of what it means to be a young adult in this everchanging world. It is an age of transition; we are the young adults, or adult-ish at the very least. The twenty-something year olds who may or may not have an idea of what they want to do with their lives, as well as those who have begun to tick off the traditional milestones and are settling down (if they so choose). We have issues and concerns about our place and future in society, the same concerns that will be there for generations to come. Whether it’s realising we’re the ones who have to call the dentist now, or whether or not we’ll ever be able to buy a house.

The 18-29 age group has changed a lot in the past handful of decades, to the point where a new classification ‘Emerging Adulthood’ has emerged. We’re more likely to attend university, less likely to marry or have children until our 30s, and spend more time searching or working towards a career than going straight into full-time employment. While this kind of soul-searching and potential instability has been seen as a cause for concern by older generations, it has become the new normal.

The concept of emerging adulthood is a relatively new one, but it highlights and fills the gap, the new time in young adult life that has become a space for exploration and questioning, which is all too easy to see in our current contexts. A person’s twenties are no longer an immediate transition into complete adulthood in the way they once were. Moving out of home isn’t necessarily the milestone it once was, or even as frequent.

I’ve been lucky enough to be financially as well as physically independent from my parents for the past four years, but I’ve only learned to cook in the past two … and then relearn when the microwave broke and I realised I’d never cooked rice without it. Even though I’d funded my way interstate and into a strange city, that was the first time I felt like a semi-functioning adult. But that’s also balanced out by the fact I brought Rosie-Bear, the teddy my Gran made me when I was little, to Melbourne with me. She sits in my closet and guards my shoes, but I know she’s there. Don’t judge.

The fact is, there will always be people existing in these stages of moving from school to university or employment and learning how to survive in the world. Millennials don’t have the ultimate claim on being considered less-than by the older generation. Gen Z does and will face the same judgements for not being able to follow the paths those before them did; for simply being products of an ever-evolving world that continues to shift what it means to be a young adult.

We millennials are currently inhabiting this particular phase of life; some accepting their adulthood and independence early, while others delay the inevitable. We all have experiences, hardships and stories to share. But what is important to consider is that we are not severely different from generations before or after us. The journeys, good and bad, that the millennial generation is facing now are only of a different note to what every group of young adults has faced.

Even now it is easy to look at the kids and teenagers growing up behind us and wonder how things have changed so quickly. I didn’t own a phone until I was sixteen, and yet the other day I saw a toddler demonstrate a better understanding of an iPhone than how to speak in coherent sentences. The very concept of this kind of change baffles me, and I do worry for their future in the same way our parents and grandparents worry about us.

Generational tabs do create a contextual bond in the grand scheme. But perhaps it is better to focus on the journey of growing into adulthood, with all its failings and adventures, that connects our generation to those before and after us. Let us be voices of experience, of life, of our age, not only our generation.

For those are the experiences, the concerns and the hopes that the M Project wants to celebrate. Submit your articles and blogposts to us via Submittable, or start the conversation via our email address Millennials@grattanstreetpress.com

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Amelia


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

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