“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?” cried Daisy,
“and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Start running. Start dancing. Start studying to train as a medic. Start a church. Apply for a transfer to New York. Transfer to London from Minneapolis. Move to Abu Dhabi. Move to Thailand. Move to Moldova. Move to South Sudan. Quit your job without having a new job to go to…
All of these things have all happened to me and my friends in the past couple of years. And we’ve all either turned or are about to turn thirty.
When we were teenagers we were all told we’d have several careers in our lifetimes. The days of one-job for life were long gone, and the time where you’d only do one thing in your life were numbered when we were 16. Now they are definitely gone. We’re the slash-generation – all of us have multiple roles and identities. Just look at our Twitter descriptions. We’re all ‘accountants/photographers/wannabe breadmakers/proud mothers of two’ these days. No one is or does just one thing anymore.
In spite of having multiple jobs, careers and identities, after almost a decade of working life, those of us without partners and children have still begun to get itchy. ‘Is this it?’ we start to ask ourselves secretly. ‘Am I really just going to be an accountant/photographer/wannabe breadmaker for the rest of my life?’
All our friends are getting married and moving away. Our Facebook feeds start to fill up with the mindless details of the mundanity of parenthood and home ownership – images of living rooms redecorated and statuses featuring the adorable things that the baby just said. We begin to feel we have no stories to tell, or worse still, that we’re not even part of a story worth telling.
We suspect that when it comes to telling the stories of our lives, whole swathes of it will be able to be summed up ‘Got up, got dressed, went to work early, stayed in the office late, came home, went to bed’ with bits of social drinking spattered in between it all to take the edge off the boredom.
For a lot of us our lives are different to how we imagined them – not necessarily better or worse. But, for example, ten years ago, I really did think it highly probable I’d be married with children at this age. (Not that I did very much to make that happen then, or that I was a particularly enticing catch at that time), and would never have dreamed that I’d be living in London, having been and done the things I have since I moved.
I’ve no idea whether I’ll still be in London in a decade’s time, or if I’ll be married with children in the next ten years. If that’s not going to be one of the big stories of my life, what is?
All this existential angst might be precipitated by heartbreak, or by a bad experience at work, or redundancy. Or it could be a characteristic of us as the ‘shoulder generation’, those who straddle Gen X and Gen Y. Whatever the motivation, after the crisis and the self-analysis, invariably we take a bold decision.
Without children, infirm parents or any commitments that tie us into responsibility, we have immense freedom, the advantage of youthfulness without naivity, of experience on our CVs we can return to if we abandon our jobs momentarily, of financial security, and of the certainty of who we are that grows with age.
All of my childless friends are moving, taking risks, doing dramatic or adventurous things. It’s almost as if we woke up one morning, to get up, get dressed and go into work early to come home late to fall into bed, and thought ‘I’ve got nothing to lose, and I’m not going to be young forever. I’m not going to do this any more.’
So we’ve taken bold steps – moved country, changed careers, quit our jobs, reinvented ourselves entirely. Maybe this is more than a 30-something shift. Maybe we’re actually generationally insane.
Whatever it is, at least we’ll have cool photos to show and great stories to tell at the end of it all. I hope.