In other words, millennials don’t have a rigid template for conformity that compels them to live a certain way whether or not they want to.
Or maybe there is such a template, but it’s less mandated than in past generations. There are still plenty of people who reach life-changing milestones solely because it’s what they feel is expected of them.
I’m almost 35. It’s a weird age in many ways, even more so when you haven’t connected all the socially acceptable dots. Having not done so, I react with a wry grin whenever one of my 25-year-old friends panics about not having it all figured out/achieved/purchased by now. Just like a 45-year-old would no doubt smirk at my own age-related reflection.
(Though I guess in an age where the Internet repeatedly tells guys that they need a beard to be a man, it's understandable that an adult wouldn't feel like an adult without the metaphorical beard of responsibilities.)
I’m lucky that I don’t rue such things. I used to. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18 and had one semester of college already under my belt. I had wanted a license, but my parents cited insurance costs and that one time I forgot to throw the car in park (because my brother yanked the driver’s door open while I was looking the other way at my mom overreacting to my parking job) to deny me. Starting at 15 (when I took driver’s ed) and continuing until that day, I felt considerable regret of what hypothetical fun I might have missed in high school by not being able to drive (I lived miles away from my school and most friends, and many found it an imposition to pick me up just to bring me back to their part of town). Nowadays, I find that ruefulness ridiculous. But that frame of mind at the time often overshadowed the good times I did have and the things I accomplished. So I don’t let things like that get to me anymore.
The truth is, there is no “roadmap to adulthood.” There never was. The (perceived?) difference today is that people have, overall, a greater courage in making a wider array of decisions. It’s OK if you don’t graduate from college and have settled into your career at 22. You’re not worthless if you’re not married by 23. You don’t have to be locked in to the rest of your life before you’re old enough to rent a car. (Fewer teens are getting driver’s licenses, even.)
Marriage, children, buying a home — these can all be wonderful things, but they shouldn’t be checkpoints of self-esteem.
I’ve always found it somewhat amazing that marriage/long-term companionship is such a common and expected achievement. Because when you think about it, finding a person who’s perfect for you in the long haul is really hard. And yet, it’s safe to assume past a certain age (not 25) that a given person is married or seriously involved.
A single person pining for that ideal could understandably feel worthless because if everyone can do it, why can’t they? But just as it was with my teenage frustration over not having a driver’s license, that’s a poisonous line of thinking. Moping over what might have been with your life is a fantastic way to not appreciate the good things that do exist. Besides, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side — oftentimes, it’s artificial turf.
The truth is, many people couple up out of fear of loneliness or out of a willingness to settle for someone less than ideal. Many people buy expensive cars or lavish homes in the hopes that they will make them seem more interesting to others. And again, others do all of these things because they are at a loss of what to do if their milestones don’t keep up with everyone else’s.
The good news is that more people of every generation are now doing those things by choice rather than by custom. Or, more to the point, they’re not doing those “adult” things that they don’t want to just for their own sake. So it’s not necessarily that people in past decades followed the roadmap more because of better character or other such nonsense, but that the people who suppressed dissenting desires then are not doing that anymore. That’s a credit to society today.
You know what’s great about a roadmap? All the routes you can take.