There’s this car ad out now with a bunch of 20-somethings spending an epic day out in nature, climbing a mountain, jumping into a river, catching fireflies around a bonfire, and generally looking to be having the kind of fun you only see in, well, commercials.
The song that’s playing is one that I discovered only a few weeks ago and now sing to myself all the time: “We Are Young” by Fun. The lyrics to the chorus go:
Tonight, we are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can go higher
Than the sun
It’s very catchy. I enjoy singing it and listening to it. But something about the song depresses me.
It’s the idea that it is the mandate of the young to go out, go crazy, have adventures, hit the bars, and paint the town red. The implication that a quiet night at home with friends is a waste of time and youth and energy. It’s the same drive that makes me feel guilty for not attending Burning Man or SXSW or that epic concert or backpack Europe or or or–
I have a job. I like my job. I’m lucky to both have a job and have a job I like. I don’t want to throw that stability away. But at the same time I don’t want to miss opportunities to do epic things like I’m “supposed” to be doing now. Even though I know that when I’m out there doing the epic, adventurous thing, a lot of the time I’m exhausted and hungry and just looking to get back to a comfortable place and to have a routine again.
When I was a kid I thought that my early-to-mid-twenties would be awesome. I’d be an adult, but still able to do everything I wanted! I’d go to fabulous parties and meet interesting people and pull all-nighters and basically live out the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother!”
Sometimes my life does feel like that, and it’s exciting and fun and I’m so grateful for what I have and what I get to do. But the dark and scuzzy underside is that there’s a whole lot of anxiety that goes into your early-to-mid-twenties. What am I doing with my life? Is this what I want to keep doing? How do I get to where I want to be? How do I balance work, friends, family, and hobbies while still taking care of myself? Do I spend money on a vacation or on classes or do I save up for an unforeseen crisis? Should I date, who should I date, what should I be looking for?
Throw in a recession and a set of not-always-super-in-demand skills, add an anemic resume, and don’t forget a dash of doubt about what higher education can realistically provide for you.
It’s not exactly a cocktail that encourages a lot of last-minute dashes to the mountains or forays into interesting new bars. And yet, some of the happiest moments of my young adulthood have been far more about the people involved than the exciting circumstances. House parties with my friends, long car rides back to college to visit current students, free improv shows with someone we know in them.
I guess what I should take away is that there’s no one way to do “being young” right. All young people–all people–are different, and have different ideas of what makes a good time. If for you, a good time is tea with your roommates and an early bedtime, rock it. If you’d prefer to go rock-climbing on weekends, more power to you. Remembering that commercials are trying to make you think that your life lacks something that their product will provide. Realize that you get to define what it means to “set the world on fire.”
Then if you want to pull an all-nighter, go for it.