The Trying Twenties
In the text, Gail Sheehy describes the difficulties, as well as freedom, which twenty-somethings are presented with when they enter the adult world. The twenties is the period when one is eager to find his own way of life. Some choose to go to graduate school, some get married early and try out different jobs to see which suits them best, and some stay single and put their career first. Two impulses are at work during this period. One is to be set as early as possible; the other is to keep experimenting. A balance struck between the two determines what one's twenties will be like. People in their twenties have many "illusions" which fill them with enthusiasm in every effort they make. Illusions also bring will power. Young people don't usually have much money while the problems they face are endless, but with sturdy wills they can overcome any difficulty. Twenty-somethings also tend to believe there is only one true course in life, which cannot be altered. They are blind to other possibilities. Thus if they find any part of their personality not congruent with that course, they will regard it as undesirable and try to suppress it. They shape their character to fit the course they have chosen, instead of the other way round. They will rediscover those suppressed parts later in their forties. In the text of further reading, the same author continues to talk about the problems people are likely to face in their 30s through 50s. If one can pass through the midlife transition, he will find new purposes in life. But if one refuses to undergo such a transition, he will be disappointed about life which may turn him into a person reconciled to the situation. The motto at 50 might be "No more bullshit". Text
The Trying Twenties confronts us with the question of how to take hold in the adult world. Incandescent with our energies, having outgrown the family and the formlessness of our transiting years, we are impatient to pour ourselves into the exactly right form — our own way of living in the world. Or while looking for it, we want to try out some provisional form. For now we are not only trying to prove ourselves competent in the larger society but intensely aware of being on trial. Graduate student is a safe and familiar form for those who can afford it. Working toward a degree is something young people already know how to do. It postpones having to prove oneself in the bigger, bullying arena. Very few Americans had such a privilege before World War II; they reached the jumping-off point by the tender age of 16 or 18 or 20 and had to make their move ready or not. But today, a quarter of a century is often spent before an individual is expected or expects himself to fix his life's course. Or more. Given the permissiveness to experiment, the prolonged schooling available, and the moratoria allowed, it is not unusual for an adventurer to be nearly 30 before firmly setting a course. Today, the seven-year spread of this stage seems commonly to be from the ages of 22 to 28. The tasks of this period are as enormous as they are exhilarating: To shape a dream, that vision of one's own possibilities in the world that will generate energy, aliveness, and hope. To prepare for a lifework. To find a mentor if possible. And to form the capacity for intimacy without losing in the process whatever constancy of self we have thus far assembled. The first test structure must be erected around the life we choose to try. One young man with vague aspirations of having his own creative enterprise, for instance, wasn't sure if his forte would be photography or cabinetmaking or architecture. There was no sponsor in sight; his parents worked for the telephone company. So he took a job with Ma Bell. He married and together with his wife decided to postpone children indefinitely. Once the structure was set, he could throw all his free-time energies into experimenting within it....
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