Over the past year I have read many an article attesting to the difficulty that twenty-something year olds face when trying to unfurl their wings and break into the so-called ‘adult world’, and as such I am in two minds as to whether or not my generation is wilfully trying to remain in a booze fuelled, Neverland-like limbo. It is scarcely the first time that an entire generation has struggled to progress from fretful youth into confidence and distinction, which are ultimately the hallmarks of a successful transition into adulthood.
We are a demographic that are famed for our unrest; when our world-shaking reluctance to conform to social norms brings forth progress and stokes the fires of industry, the passion and vitality of youth is praised. However there are many historical instances where this leap has been thwarted by circumstance, with the two world wars being but a few examples amongst many of this. In both instances a whole generation’s youth was stolen and the ramifications for them in their adult lives hardly bear thinking about. The bloom of beauty is a bud most fragile, or so the saying goes… and once the first flush has come around, its like will never be seen again, though it may go on to flower time and time again. Though an aphorism most frequently applied to the marriageability of a young maid, I have always considered this to be true of anybody who is ‘coming of age’ regardless of their gender and perceived beauty.
I fully believe that the vigour and exuberance of youth is something that ought to be cherished and cultivated for lack of a better and less clichéd turn of phrase, because when it is tempered and checked too many times, it becomes hardened and brittle. How much genius is lost year on year because the half-baked ideas of youth are curbed and made ‘realistic’, according to society’s reckoning? Can the loss be quantified, and if so, how? Certainly not in terms of projected profits; money and margins are not adequate means of measuring the loss of potential that comes of trying to fit like a cog into the greater wheel.
There are civilizations of old where the passage into adulthood is marked arbitrarily by a dangerous rite of passage. The event does not fundamentally mean that a youth is more competent at the setting of the sun that he was ere it rose that morning, but the symbolism is so readily recognised amongst their peers as to be deemed tangible proof of becoming adult. There was once a time when I considered my having passed my driving test to be thus, an event that somehow made me more adult than I was before, but five years down the line I think differently.
It seems to me that we keep moving the goal posts for becoming an adult as a society. Adulthood is running away from me. I have been able to drive since February 2010, almost five years now but I still feel like an absolute novice in this particular sphere. I run a car that has seen more than half my years, albeit not under my ownerage and which costs more to insure and claim against in any given year than its intrinsic value as a road worthy vehicle. Were I or anyone else to damage it beyond a superficial prang, it would be a total loss as far as my insurers were concerned but I am expected to pay more for my premium because statistically I am more likely to be involved in an accident. The logic of this is indisputable and therefore I begrudgingly consider it fair but that doesn’t make it any less difficult a pill to swallow. Having a ‘No Claims Bonus’ is trifling when you car is worth £400 but your yearly insurance premium is closer to £500 and your excess is, stupendously, in excess of £600! I have a toy car and I am playing at being adult, although the costs incurred are vast.
It doesn’t encourage me to feel that society views me to be an adult, and I can entirely see why people draw the transition out for as long as possible. Our society remains extremely hypocritical in this regard — it took me the best part of a year to find a creditor willing to give me a card and even then, it came with a measly limit of £250. Every mark of adulthood is hard won and British society pulls no punches; there is little margin for errors.
This is never more apparent than within the workplace; I recognise that young, untried employees are bound to start at the bottom of the food chain, but how is it that we allow young people to work as unpaid interns on the one hand, whilst simultaneously expecting them to meet society’s exacting standards of presentation and self-grooming, and sustain a thriving social life, all without relying upon the state for handouts and ideally without living at home either? There are a lot of double standards at play and I think we have a right to feel hard done by! It is small wonder that so many young adults fall by the wayside and opt to follow unsavoury paths in life. The criteria for entry into those circles is far less exacting. We as a society mean a great deal by the term adult, it would seem. I am not advocating leniency, only raising my voice to dispel any notion that I am consciously trying to extend this period of intermission — I want to forge ahead and make something of my middle years, but would appreciate the benefit of society’s doubt once in a while.