Generation X (-tremely Undecided)

I’ve got a birthday coming up. Not a milestone, but I look at me 5 years ago and I don’t see a lot of change between 27 year old me and 22 year old me (except that 22 year old me could easily drink 27 year old me under the table.) This makes me concerned that I’m not getting any closer to making the decisions that I need to make in life to make me, well, for lack of a better word, happy.

I’m not unhappy, but I think I’m living with the burden of the gift of freedom of choice sitting heavily on my shoulders. I’m part of the first generation of women who have been able to choose the entirety of the path of their lives, and now I’m wondering if I’ve been pre-programmed genetically to be unable to make decisions within this new realm of freedom.

I’ve been taught growing up that as a woman I could do anything – a sentiment I believe (with the exception of astronaut- afraid of heights- and Olympic athlete- well, you know). But I worry that what I haven’t been taught, and that the woman in my generation are unprepared for, is how to decide what the anything we do actually is.

I am the first generation of woman that grew up not just with equal rights but with more job and social opportunities of an equal standing between the sexes than our parents had available to them, but also in a world where jet travel is standard and you no longer need to marry a man who lived on your block, because you are exposed to so many different people, cultures, and countries.

This should be a good thing, but have years and years of women not being allowed to make decisions led my generation of women to be unable to choose between all these exciting new exposures?

Historically, the rights of women in the United States and England only became a talking point in the late 18th century, with the right to vote (and partake in mass decision making) happening in 1920 in America and England. This didn’t lead to the lack of choice in life being eradicated over night; in fact, it wasn’t until 1975 that “the first British Sex Discrimination Act, an Equal Pay Act, and an Equal Opportunities Commission came into force.” In America, the Equal Rights Amendment (proposed in 1966) died in 1982 because not enough states would ratify it. (Wikipedia)

That’s hundreds of years of our female ancestors not having a lot of choice in the life path that was offered to them. 80 years ago you didn’t pick your own job, you barely chose your own husband, and if you were lucky enough to have some say in the matter, you picked from your local pool – you certainly didn’t move to another country to look for a job or a husband on your own.

As a yuppy first world woman, I’ve been blessed with the gift of the freedom of choice. I can vote in not one but two major countries. I could go anywhere, do anything, and this makes me feel so unsettled. How do I know if I’m going to the right place, or doing the right thing? I feel guilt because I wonder if I’m not doing enough with the freedoms that my female ancestors fought so hard for.

Apparently I’m not alone; Journalist Shannon Kelley writes that, today, “dazzled by apparently unlimited options, women in their 20s and 30s can suffer from “analysis paralysis,” or “the grass is greener syndrome” which she sees as a “generational problem” as a result of “today’s young women {who} have grown up with a panorama of possibilities” (Psychology Today.)

This article continues to discuss Psychologist Barry Schwartz’s theories on “the paradox of choice,” including that “his research has shown that too many choices can leave us confused and depressed, actually undermining our ability to choose wisely (Schwartz, 2004).”

It exits in our love lives too – now that woman have so much say in who they marry and why they marry, Lori Gottlieb (the author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”) believes that many women “think I have to pick just the right one. Instead of wondering, ‘Am I happy?’ they wonder, ‘Is this the best I can do?’ ” (NYtimes)

Professor Hazel Rose Markus, an author from Stanford University’s Department of Psychology (in a 2010 Daily Telegraph article) seems to agree with the theory that too many choices are not necessarily a good thing, telling us that “Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness.”

This makes sense- I live haunted by a deep sense of dissatisfaction, of fear that there is something bigger and better I could have chosen, which is something no 27 year old with an excellent job, comfy flat, decent health (okay that’s a stretch), no debt, and great support network should feel.

It’s not just me. I don’t know any woman in my age bracket who hasn’t had a quarter life crisis to do with having to choose- jobs, relationships, etc. We seem unprepared to trust our abilities to make decisions and choices.

I feel restless and I’m terrified that I’ll make the wrong choices in my life and regret them forever. I keep reading articles talking about how everyone wishes that in their twenties someone had told them its okay to make mistakes and waste your life away- I don’t want to hear that! I can’t wait until I’m thirty to make career choices, or to be able to not have a panic attack over picking a venue for birthday drinks (seriously.)

I don’t want to be overwhelmed by this fear of missing out because I don’t know how to make decisions.

So what’s the verdict? Am I worrying too much? And am I worrying because I’m genetically predisposed to do so, or because I worry about everything (as anyone who has ever left my house and watched me double check the lock at least twice may testify to.) Will I look back on this in my thirties and think ‘oh if only someone had told me my twenties was the time to experiment and screw up?’

I don’t know really – it’s all very hard to decide.

Some further cited reading:

Psychology Today

Telegraph Today

Gala Darling

Or chat to me about this on twitter @makingthemarrow

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One thought on “Generation X (-tremely Undecided)

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this. I flitted away my early twenties bouncing from one menial job to the next desperately trying to conjure up an epiphany as to what I wanted to do with my life. But alas, I never truly uncovered my destined vocation. With so many choices available to us, how can you solidly decide on just one career path? It wasn’t until I joined the Army and I was told what I would do as a job that I finally found peace and comfort. Finally, I could focus entirely on one set of skills without anxiety of wondering if there was something better (because in my case it didn’t matter… I was bound by the government to do what I was tasked.) Luckily for me I really like what I do, and perhaps all I needed was for someone to make me do it?

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