After some reading this week I felt compelled to tweak a few details on my blog. The most identifiable change is the prominent “Emerging Adulthood” label at the top. This new title reflects the beliefs of psychologist Jeffrey Arnett that young adults in industrialized countries are experiencing a new phase of life affectionately known as “Emerging Adulthood.” This phase chronologically encompasses ages 18 to 30ish, (not coincidentally, the approximate age demographics of this blog.)
For my Psychology of Old Age class at Salem State University I was required to read that article, entitled “Oh Grow Up!” and there was a time for the professor to field reactions of the class. The opinions of the class spanned from surprise at this new “category” of adulthood to world-weary acknowledgement. As discussion developed a few words relating to this new phase piled high. Specifically the phrase, “there are so many choices now” was echoed repeatedly.
Since the class is composed mainly of “adult learners” (those over 22) most in the class are pursuing some form of career change, redefinition, or advancement. Most have experienced the choice they made to start a certain job as less than satisfactory. They would like to enhance their lives with more identity-based work, work more tailored to their interests, or perhaps work with a higher salary.
Thinking back to the career opportunities I envisioned at 17, these were cardboard cut-outs compared to flesh-and-blood jobs. Two-dimensional at best, my ideas of careers were along the lines of “teacher,” “engineer,” “writer.” They included little flexibility and a startling lack of knowledge for attending a fairly good high school. Although I still recognize “Teacher” as a job title, I can also see that many people who describe themselves as such don’t view a traditional classroom as their domain.
Instead, “Teacher” has expanded as a path to include opportunities as a “Teacher’s Aide” “HR Training Department” “Behavior Therapist” “Employment Specialist” “Soccer Coach” and surprisingly “Technical Writer.” These career choices wouldn’t have entered my definition of “Teacher” in high school. These people make their living instructing others about how to do things that they don’t yet know. They impart knowledge. They Teach. However, these job titles don’t necessarily involve traditional classrooms in elementary, middle, high schools or universities. My definition of this career choice was far too narrow. I suspect that many youth operate under similarly narrow definitions of careers.
So, when they pick their career at 18 or 22 and then work at it for two or three years, they become disenchanted when they realize they don’t like children, or teens. They don’t like lecturing in front of large groups. These crises experienced are not because they inadequately defined their skills or likes, but most likely because they narrowly defined a job. As emerging adults, with fully formed brains they are more likely to see the discrepancies of their old definitions. This usually means some sort of re-education, bringing us back to Salem State and Emerging Adulthood and choices.
Were all these career choices available thirty years ago? I don’t know. We didn’t cover that in my class, and I’m sure that I’m not knowledgeable enough to hazard a guess. There is no longer a single career choice which must be made, but numerous, each leading down a specific pathway. And hopefully, each pathway clarifies the goals of the individual and provides more fulfillment and functionality. In the meantime, each choice requires time, and this is reflected in new phase of Emerging Adulthood.