Since Douglas Copeland first defined my generation as Generation X, scores of books, studies and treatises have been written trying to get to the core of who we are. Moving beyond just my generation, Generation Y and now the Millennials are coming into their own, and with this maturity comes a whole host of new issues.
I began my blog in March 2010. It was the culmination of a long-term thought process, a process I went through in hopes of changing my life and coming to terms with what I really wanted. I knew I wasn’t alone in the thirty-something malaise, but I didn’t think it was a common problem. Imagine my surprise when, upon entering the world of travel blogging, I found an entire community of people who seemed to share the same outlook.
Articles and books have been written on the phenomenon of the thirty-something midlife crisis. Older generations may scoff at the idea, but it is very real and has an equally real impact on our society. What is most interesting is that this sense of discontentment seems to be occurring at an even younger age for Generation Y.
Rather than enter in a long and complex analysis of the sociological underpinnings for this shift in attitudes, it is easier to pinpoint some key reasons. Our generation, unlike the ones before us, came of age in a perfect storm of societal influences. A combination of the burgeoning computer age, a rapid increase in personal wealth and credit and the parenting philosophy that every child is a winner, has helped mold the moral backbone of Generations X and Y. As a child I knew that I didn’t have any limitations, that I could do what I wanted and that if I didn’t like something, I could do something else. Gone forever was the concept that you did something because it was necessary, not because it was enjoyable.
My father worked for the same organization all his life, as did his father before him. I however have worked for four different organizations in my short ten years of professional life. I haven’t changed jobs so often because I was bad at them or was laid off. I left them because I no longer found them enjoyable. While this concept may not seem unusual to anyone younger than 45, I can guarantee you that older generations are cringing at this attitude. I am certainly not alone in this phenomenon of job-hopping; it’s been widely discussed and researched. But aside from this professional promiscuity, the basis for this shift in priorities is what most intrigues me.
The concept of ‘I will not do that which does not make me happy’ is causing people to make life altering decisions in numbers never before seen. Rather than patiently wait for retirement to see the world, many are leaving behind their lives and seeking something new. But what makes them do this, what has made them so dissatisfied?
Once again, using myself as an example, I have been trying to figure this out. I was brought up in a traditional middle class household, neither rich nor poor. I did well in school and went to college where I also did well. I was on the socially accepted track for those in my socioeconomic bracket. After graduate school, I entered the workforce and did what I was supposed to do. I earned a living, had an apartment, and started the next phase of my life. At this time I was fortunate enough to find my soul mate, with whom I have been ever since – married for all intents and purposes. Both of us now have good jobs, are progressing well in our chosen career paths, own a home, two cars and three dogs. The American dream, right? That was what I had been told all my life would make me happy.
And yet, as I sit here, my partner who is just thirty-one years old is suffering from heart issues due to the extreme stress of his job. His career is literally killing him. He works at least twelve hours a day and when he is at home, usually has more work to do. The only time I see him for more than a few hours at a time is on vacation. Simply put, even though we should be happy, we are not.
My example, I don’t think, is abnormal. I also don’t think that it is historically unique. I think that individuals and families in the 1950s, ’60s, and so on probably felt the same way. What is unique is that in contrast, I was brought up to believe that if I didn’t like something, I could change it. In retrospect, I don’t think my father liked his job all that much. However, he was brought up in a time where it was instilled in the youth of the nation that what is most important is to work hard, support your family and everything else be damned.
Please don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job and my partner loves his profession, in spite of the aforementioned health issues. But it necessarily begs the question – is this all there is? Are two-week experiential trips once a year going to be our only exposure to travel for the next twenty years?
Every evening, I take time to feed my travel addiction and read through a variety of travel blogs. I am constantly amazed by and envious of these travelers’ adventures and their ability to leave their lives behind and pursue the great unknown. I have also read many articles by people who feel the same as I, wondering what more there is for us. Some of those individuals have pursued their dreams in a variety of ways, perhaps best encapsulated by Keith Savage in his article The Precipice.
For those of us though who have been in the professional world for ten years or more, the challenge is even more difficult. I own a home, I have dogs, I have a comfortable life that requires both a salary and for my dogs, my presence. As nice as it sounds, I simply cannot say goodbye to my daily life, my furkids and my house and trek around the world. I know that people do it; I do not mean to say that it is impossible. Rather, I am saying that for me, and thousands like me, it is simply not the right decision at this time.
Even if it were possible, what is the endgame? Unlike those who are ten years younger, I am at a mid-point in my career. Let’s say my partner and I take a career break and travel the world for a year or two. To what would we return? His career would be destroyed and mine would be considerably derailed. Even though the travel experiences would no doubt be life altering and enlightening, how would we be able to pick up and carry on as if nothing had happened? And why on earth would we want to return to the exact same set of circumstances that made us so unhappy in the first place?
Of course our other option would be a permanent relocation abroad, which is certainly an intriguing idea. However, when you go through life with someone else, both must reach this realization together and I don’t think either of us are there yet.
This begs the question, what does this mean for the future, for my future. I too, like Keith, am on a precipice. I do not know exactly what this means or what this entails, but I can feel it, almost like a gathering storm. On the one hand, I enjoy my saccharine, suburban life that I have worked very hard to create. I am blessed with a great job and wonderful friends. On the other hand, my soul is aching for more – for enrichment that conference calls and trips to Home Depot cannot fulfill.
Perhaps I am spoiled. Perhaps my entire generation and those following are simply the victims of our parents’ success. Those who do not make as much and struggle much more than I, do not have the luxury of seriously considering a career break or a move abroad. For them life is a struggle and that is all. Regardless though of what brought us to this point, and whether or not I am spoiled, the fact remains that this malaise is not uncommon and is growing by the year.
I am not sure what this means for our generation, or if it will have any impact on society as a whole. Maybe the thousands, if not more, who feel this way will continue to do nothing and simply slog through through their quotidien routine. Maybe Hobbes was right, that “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
I do not know what will happen as we move forward. To come full circle, I began this blog as a way to add some of the enrichment and sense of adventure that was so lacking from my life. To at least temporarily leave behind the daily life of emails and meetings and enter into one that truly drives me – that of travel – has been a thrilling process. I enjoy discussing travel and teaching others about the wide world around them. Where it will take me, I’m not sure. But I feel that I am finally on a path that will lead me to the answer I am so desperately seeking.
Ultimately, this may be our generation’s greatest challenge. To figure out how to stop tilting at windmills and instead find out where we really belong.
What do you think? Am I being completely selfish or is this thirty-something malaise normal? How do you reach a balance in your life?