Christine Hassler wants to be the go-to author for the twenty-year-old generation. Her latest, the 20 Something Manifesto: Quarter-Lifers Speak Out about Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Get It builds off an earlier work, 20 Something, 20 Everything and is probably found in your local bookstore’s self-help section. “You are not alone” the back cover notes – if you are in your twenties, excited and under pressure to figure out the rest of your life.
The book, which relies heavily on the narratives of 20-somethings, is less of a manifesto in the dictionary definition (Hassler likes her Mirriam-Websters’s) and more an assemblage and a catalog of the entitled. The entitled generation, Hassler argues, is suffering from an expectations hangover. The stories she collected backs this up. The underlying methodology is to illustrate a situation and then provide practical solutions.
For example, “Who Am I?” chapter 2 asks, noting that this question as well as “What do I want?” and “How do I get what I want” dominate the minds of twenty-year-olds. Hassler has observed many pose these questions through three broad stages of their twenties, an awareness continuum. In the first stage, “Basic,” is characterized by self-identity through interests, confusion, reliance on external feedback, and the lack of a strong sense of self. The second stage, often ages 24-27, is marked by self-questioning and evaluation, private thoughts and judgments, greater assertion, self-sufficiency, and the construction of a true sense of self. Finally in the integrative stage, people live by personal values and ethics, handle challenges without loss of self, forge deeper connections and spiritual awareness, and secure and continually evaluate sense of self.
These questions and others are throughout the book as issues of friendship, love, work, career, body and mind organize problems and solutions. A number of exercises, or general suggestions, accompany each section. These include a broad bag of activities, ranging from journal writing to self-reflection to throwing parties. Each is designed to help further clarify the question, issue and potential solution.
For anyone who is not part of the entitled generation – older, poorer, or perhaps beset by substantive hardships – the plight of the confused twenty-something is a difficult to appreciate. It is especially difficult if contrasted with the literature of the oppressed. Most people in the world and throughout human history have never faced this sort of situation – the challenges that stem from too many opportunities and too much support. Swallowing hard and bracketing an instinctive sense of outrage (“You don’t know how lucky you are!”), it is nonetheless valuable to realize that many twenty-year-olds are in this muddle. It has to be real for them.
I will leave the long-term societal implications for a different post. My immediate concern here is this phenomenon’s relationship with higher education. Two quick observations emerge, bearing in mind that this is only applicable to some, not all. These are crass generalizations and the world is filled with many who are not suffering from an expectation hangover.
First, for the entitled generation, attending college is an expectation. For many, the goals and purposes of a college education are unknown and unquestioned. One goes to college because one is supposed to go to college. Understanding and appreciating that is and will be of increasing importance to institutions of higher education. We within academia tend to treat the value of education as self-evident. Moreover the costs, financial and otherwise, are high and serve as evidence that our “product” is valued. One the flip side, the potential perceived value of a baccalaureate degree at graduation has to be rethought and re-calibrated.
Second, the number of students attending graduate programs is bound to increase. Masters programs provide opportunities for growth, exploration and decision-making that are difficult, if not impossible, for many students at the undergraduate level. A masters education indicates some form of progress and a masters degree provides status. Not only would I expect the number of students in masters and professional programs to grow, I would also expect the number of people with more than one graduate degree to grow.
Fascinating, isn’t it?