Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Choices and Emerging Adults

Sally Koslow from her new book, Slouching Towards Adulthood:
Any-hoo, choices. I’ve noticed that having too many options leads to snow blindness. It’s not just Aunt Sally’s wisdom: studies support the brain-draining oppression that multiple choices bring. Seemingly limitless possibility paralyzes us, a dilemma that social psychologist Sheena Iyengar, Ph.D., from Columbia University’s School of Business, refers to as the paradox of choice in The Art of Choosing. In one experiment, Dr. Iyengar showed how shoppers who chose from more options were less happy with their purchases than those with more limited opportunities. “When faced with two dozen varieties of jam in a grocery store, for example, or lots of investment options for their pension plan, people often chose arbitrarily to walk away without making any choice at all, rather than labor to make a reasoned choice,” reports Gretchen Rubin in her best-selling book, The Happiness Project.

A jam is the state in which many adultescents find themselves at graduation, feeling their lives are lousy with choices after they’ve been handed their bachelor’s degrees. They hear the echo of their parents’ trope wishing them Godspeed. Find your passion! The money will follow! You can be anything you want to be! Of course it helps that they’ve heard these mantras all their lives. By the time the diploma ink dries, many recent graduates begin to embrace the idea of life being one infinite Friendly’s menu.

Assuredly, some graduates take their bachelor’s degrees and head straight to med school or Wall Street or public service. Applications for AmeriCorps positions, for example, nearly tripled to 258,829 in 2010 from 91,399 in 2008, the New York Times reports. Yet with bravado that astonishes most of their parents, many adultescents don’t do the obvious and become instead stars in their own reality dramas. They pick a direction, reverse it, spin the dial, turn thirty degrees, win an all-expenses-paid free ticket to Bangladesh, start a novel, stay in a village with no paved roads, plumbing or electricity but stellar cell service, crowd-source their next move on Facebook, get an MBA, jet to Equatorial Guinea, regroup in Kalamazoo, study an Eastern spiritual practice whose name their parents can’t remember or pronounce, start a job, quit, ditch the novel and begin a screenplay, take a break to play more reindeer games, find a shaman, burn the half-finished screenplay, go to law school, where tuition has jacked up four times faster than the soaring costs of college, accrue vast loans, drop out, become a shaman, sell their car and fill a self-storage unity with their worldly possessions. Only then do they fly two stars to the right, straight on till morning.

“We live better than kings,” Ari Siegel, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, exclaims. That is, assuming you have some modest baksheesh at your disposal. “You book a flight anywhere in the world online and can be there the next day. You can function as an anthropologist, seeing things from a lot of different angles, living out The Sun Also Rises. Travel is an escape…although,” he adds, when catches his breath, “the overwhelming amount of choice can create a person who doesn’t have much of his own identity.”
(HT: Mockingbird)

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