Friday, August 27, 2010

Mona Lisa Smile Part 1

I recently read somewhere that the pursuit of happiness is the source of all misery. There was also a great article written recently in the New York Times about the new twenty-somethings.  And the one thing that really stuck out was that part of the reason we are now experiencing the rise of the so-called quarter-life crisis, is because we have too many options. 

Just a generation ago, when our parents graduated from college, there were much different expectations for twenty-two year olds.  My parents, for example, met in college, dated for four years, and got married as soon as my dad graduated. Just about two years later I was born, my father dropped out of law school, and the family moved the big city where my dad got a nice button-up corporate job and my mom was teacher.  Soon after, my brother was born and my family moved back to the quaint suburbs of the Midwest where they could own a home a raise a nuclear family.  All this before my parents were thirty.

I, on the other hand, spent six months abroad when I was twenty years old and didn't marry the guy I dated for four years in college because I wanted to pursue my own dreams.  I moved thousands of miles away and decided to get a masters in business five years after undergrad.  And that's a fairly linear career path as far as some of my peers are concerned.  Some took a year off after college to backpack across the globe.  Others took jobs in foreign countries, or even moved back in with their parents.  Many have done a combination of the former at different points since graduation. 

Watching 'Mona Lisa Smile' really makes me appreciate all the freedoms that a) I take for granted and b) make me miserable.  With the rapid rise in technology, communication and travel are easier than ever.  Nobody stays in one place anymore, let alone one job or even one career.

Even in the last few years, Generation Y has been taught lessons about the frail nature of a singular career.  My papa worked for GM for decades, retired at the ripe old age of 55 (not!), and has been retired now for almost longer than he worked.  GM didn't expect to have to pay out his pension for thirty-plus years and now everyone is paying the price.  After the financial crisis, GM's stock dove and my grandfather's life savings and benefits are in jeopardy.

If banks can crumble and nobody's job is safe, why should we live a linear life, doing the 'corporate' thing? When there are seemingly endless possibilities (internships in Fiji, nannying in Norway, tour guiding in Israel), it makes little sense to pick a single job, a single city or even a single person and settle down.  But is there ever an end?  Do we ever grow up?  Does there ever come a magic AHA moment when we decide that starting a 401K, investing for retirement, learning how to cook, buying a home and having that brood of children makes sense?

Psychologists say that we're most content with our decisions when we have fewer choices.  This makes sense, right?!  This means that even though we can travel the globe at the drop of a hat, stay in touch with our friends and family thousands of miles away and across the seas, float in and out of careers, jobs, partners and cities, we are not actually happier than our grandmothers who didn't go to college, married the man their parents approved of, and spent their days making a house for their family.

I've been feeling a little antsy lately because I feel like I'm coming to a crossroads in my life.  In just eleven short months I will be finished with my MBA and no longer tied to anything in LA.  Not a job, career, city or even a man.  The world is my oyster and I don't have the first clue what to do with it.  Part of me definitely wants to move closer to my family, find someone to spend the rest of my life with, get a predictable post-MBA job and live that life in the Midwest we're all expected to at some point. 

But I have to admit, LA has gotten to me a little bit lately. All this sunshine, great restaurants, beautiful beaches, good friends,  fun day trips, cultural activities.  Why grow up when I have another fifty years to be predictable?  But I'm lonely.  I've lived here for five years now and manage to keep myself detached from so many things.  Is that even relevant?  Attachment is a quaint idea we might have to retire along with things like rotary telephones and the Concorde.  

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