This article first appeared in the Post Independent newspaper on March 23, 2012.

A friend I work with calls it the twenty-something crisis. She’s 30 years old, rides horses part time and flags on county roads the rest of the time. She’s still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. I call it a conundrum; crisis sounds too disastrous, criticalRegardless of the label, we’re describing a similar experience: the time in life when you find yourself awkwardly straddling the gap between your carefree youth and the desire, or obligation, of responsible adulthood.

Back in the days of tribal societies, before the invention of roads, telephone lines, train tracks, flight paths, interweb connections and virtual communities, knowing what to do with your life was easy. It was determined by your tribe and based on your skills, and how you could best contribute to the success of the tribe. Stealth mover with bullseye aim? Hunter. Keen eye for herbs and plants? Gatherer. Intuitive healing spirit? Healer. Gentle natured, knowledge sharer? Teacher. Good memory? Keeper of stories. The list goes on, and the bottom line is that each tribe member had a role that contributed directly to the tribe. That was your life path. That was what you did with your life.

In this increasingly globalized world, however, knowing how to contribute best to society is far more challenging. The close-knit tribal community has been replaced with national and global communities. Rather than being given a role by society, most people now, especially youth, are choosing their own roles based on personal desires that are subject to change. We can choose a life path based on money, intellectual stimulation, ease, adventure, etc.

That freedom of choice is almost too great. In this globalized world, we can do just about anything.

For me, and several close twenty-something friends, post college years (college years when we when were supposed to be choosing our societal roles) were driven by carefree exploration and adventure. Go out into the world, experience the opportunities she holds, find what you like, dislike. Sacrifice indoor space and rent payments for the backseat of your car. Work odd jobs as ski instructors, climbing guides, waiters, coffee slingers, ranch hands, underprivileged-youth teachers, landscape laborers so you can collect your pennies for the next road trip, international flight or cross country adventure. At some point we’ll take life seriously. We’ll decide on a career, maybe even use the degree we’re dutifully paying off, and secure our roles in whatever tribe we may have ended up in.

Along my journey, I’ve found several tribes. I found an inspiring tribe of writers in San Francisco where I tried the 9-5 magazine job. I found a tribe of world travelers while trekking around Nepal a couple of years ago. Occasionally I ]return to my native tribe in northeastern PA where I am always welcomed back yet I can’t seem to stick around. And here in the RFV, I’ve found tribes of climbers, skiers, fellow adventure seekers and nature-lovers that I seem to have a place with, yet every time I get comfortable here, I’m overcome with the urge to seek out other tribes. Recently, that urge has led me to graduate school applications. Maybe once I establish my societal place and role in grad school, I will better be able to find my purpose in the world.

But really, at what point do you ‘start taking life seriously’? Should you ever actually do so? Can you still be contributing to society if you change your role at least once a year? The twenty-something conundrum is more than just a struggle of defining lifetime occupation; it is the struggle of that with the added element of ultimate choice and freedom. Of course people in my generation can’t decide what to do with their lives! We can to anything we want, and we don’t have the close-knit tribal roles to consider. The entire globe is at our fingertips, virtually, figuratively and literally. With a world this big, what’s a twenty-something to do?

Advertisements