Over the past few months, things have happened. Some of them have been super awesome (I’m serving on the board of my food co-op now!), and others have been downright awful. Sometime soon I hope to write some about the amazing things that I have going on in my life. For now, however, I want to tell the story of the past few months, and speak directly to people newly entering adulthood about some things that typically, and wrongly, go unsaid.
In February my husband, Jack, and I got pre-approved to buy a house, so we made an offer and it got accepted by the sellers. We were set to close no later than the end of March. On March 25, the bank called us and said that several people had made mistakes, and they couldn’t actually give us the loan after all. Our lease was set to end in less than a week, our finances (already tight) were stretched to the breaking point, and we (including our 80 lb dog) had nowhere to go.
Over the next several days, we spent countless hours on the phone. We made countless impossible decisions. We were briefly homeless, with all of our possessions in storage. That’s a long way to fall from expecting to own your own home. Thankfully, our situation has stabilized over the past month, but the experience has definitely shaped how we think about the American social structure. Recently, Jack and I were discussing what we would tell people newly entering adulthood, and here’s what I said:
- Your new-found financial autonomy will be awesome, and you’ll probably mostly do just fine managing yourself.
- Sometimes you’ll do a really good job investigating the right thing to do with your money, and your choice will still bite you in the ass. This might mean that the most consumer-vetted vacuum breaks a week after you buy it, or it might mean that a financial institution makes a legal promise to you and then goes back on it.
- No one is going to want to help you. In fact much of the misfortune that comes your way will likely be treated as your fault. People will often cite your age as a reason why it’s okay for elder members of society to ignore the fact that you are being systematically denied opportunities that they were given.
- When you advocate for yourself, it will be viewed as an imposition on the institution you are advocating against, and people will claim that you are being “entitled”. Be aware that “entitled” behavior is something that only people in their 20’s can exhibit. When older people advocate for themselves, it’s called “being responsible” or “taking a stand”.
- In short the early years of adulthood are an exercise in persisting through a series of unpredictable challenges while people in much more comfortable positions tell you that you’re just being whiny.
John Dewey says in the first chapter of Democracy and Education “there is the necessity that these immature members be not merely physically preserved in adequate numbers, but that they be initiated into the interests, purposes, information, skill, and practices of the mature members: otherwise the group will cease its characteristic life”.
If you are an elder member of society, I implore you to still take what I am speaking out about seriously. My generation’s ability to carry society forward depends on your willingness to fully initiate us into it. If you are a new adult, I urge you to seek out elder members of your community who are willing to treat you with the dignity you deserve. Your education doesn’t just happen in colleges and universities; it also happens informally during interactions with your community.
I hope that in the coming months I have an opportunity to write more on these important subjects: engaging in one’s community, maintaining hope in the face of bleak circumstances, and the importance of informal education. Until then, keep persisting young people, or as John Green would say “Don’t forget to be awesome!”.