Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Though Hamlet asked the infamous question, “To be or not to be?”. He stood at a crossroads trying to make sense of his life, contemplating his next steps. Does that sound relatable to you guys? It definitely was for me.
To give you some context, I’d like to begin by sharing a personal experience from my life. Even though I hail from a metropolitan city and a fairly educated family, my family was and still continues to be overprotective and controlling. Growing up, there was not much room for self-expression. Opinions contrary to the popular ones dominating the household were not entertained, rather frowned upon. Things like curfew timing and clothes were non-negotiable.In a rebellious act striving to find myself and my freedom, I decided to move away from home to pursue my Masters degree. I finally had the liberty to explore myself, my identity. It had sounded like a cakewalk in my head. Instead, I was confused.
Growing up, most of my choices were made for me so when I finally had to make these choices myself, I was overwhelmed. Trying to gauge, Who was I? What values aligned with my thoughts? What would my political orientation be? I felt like I had more to unlearn than to learn at first, in order to think for myself. So later on, when it came to picking a topic for my Masters' dissertation guess what I chose? My research asked a simple question, “Are there more people like me or am I the only one going through all these doubts and emotions?”
In my quest for answers and also some validation, I came across the concept of Emerging Adulthood. Psychologists had identified this new period in our life span which lies between adolescence and adulthood, exactly where I felt I was. I learnt how in this period of our lives we all go through exploring our identity, we find ourselves feeling unstable with respect to where we are in our life, our focus towards our personal growth increases, and our emotions predominantly oscillate between feeling more than a teenager but less than a whole adult but also knowing we'll make something of ourselves. It's not just about us prolonging our teens, being reckless, refusing to grow up but instead a period of consciously exploring ourselves.
It is ironic that for a country like India which boasts of a vast population, there is not much effort going into understanding this period. If we are to believe census predictions, it is estimated that the young people will make up 20% of the population by 2020. We have our own unique challenges and nobody is studying them. So this was my attempt to bring forth our challenges and what can I, as a psychologist and researcher do for us.
In my quest to unravel their experiences, I went out and spoke to 358 young Indians. The results I got were surprising as they revealed that all these signs of being an emerging adult were also experienced by other young people housed in India. And I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I wasn’t alone and there were others who were figuring their life out.
So let me share with you, how you can identify if you’re in this phase of your life and take comfort in knowing that there are at least 358 of us with you. There are five features that make us an emerging adult. It is not to say that these features may not occur during other phases of life, however, they are most prominent and impactful between the ages of 18 years to 29 years.
The first one that we go through is the experience of Exploring Our Identity, understanding who we are, forming a more definite sense of self, choosing beliefs, values that resonate with us as well as the merits and demerits as we see, of these beliefs. This identity exploration is not like the one we talk about in adolescence but instead is a more conscious and informed exploration about who we are and want to be in our relationships, at our work and most importantly, as a part of this world.
The second feature is the experience of Instability in various aspects of our life. During this time, most of us begin to move out of home, away from our family, childhood friends and the familiarity. We are open to choices, we want to actively experiment with different aspects of our life, and seek new experiences. During this exploration, we go through our own periods of instability but this instability for us is not always negative, as has been made out to be by previous generations. It does cause us more confusion than clarity for a while but most of us are optimistic about seeking these answers.
This is also our time of Self-focus where we focus most on our wants, our desires, who do we identify as, what career paths do we want to walk, how are we growing personally before we have to begin thinking about settling down. It is a strange feeling of being in-between. We often don't feel completely like an adult neither do we feel like teenagers. In fact, the results of my research showed that out of 358 emerging adults, 61.6% of people responded saying “in some respects, yes” or “in some respects, no”. During these years of our life, we prefer to live for ourselves, be answerable to ourselves and not to the expectations around us. We want to build ourselves before we take on the responsibility society expects us to- tying the knot, starting a family, owning a house, a car, already planning for our savings.
The last and most important feature, is the Age of possibilities, where most aspects of our life are open to experimentation and not much has been decided for certain. Our future holds endless possibilities. My research showed that over 60% of emerging adults were optimistic about their future with regard to the quality of life and career achievements. This comes in contrast to the popular opinion of viewing today’s youth as being pessimistic, lazy, entitled. Even in times like today, most of us find hope in what is to come and most of all in what we can do. And I think it has something to do with the time we are taking out to fully understand ourselves.
All these features of our emerging adulthood have developed from changes happening around us. First significant change we have seen in our generation is our increasing investment in education. We all want to study more, learn more, acquire different skills rather than just get a job and then marry to have kids. This investment of ours has pushed our adoption of conventional adult roles further away.
The next big change we see is how we’re looking at each other more as humans striving for our purpose first and not just let gender decide future roles for us. We're seeing more women investing in themselves rather than just investing in their partners and families. We're seeing more men shed conventional gender roles and help out women, they're focusing on things they 'like' to do rather than just focusing on earning a high enough salary to support their families.
And at last, we are a part of the sex revolution. We have grown to become more aware of our sexual preferences, able to provide sex education for ourselves, live with reduced stigma, which has helped us make informed choices about “settling down”.
However, these changes are still so new that they have the potential to cause psychological concerns for us especially if all we hear is “you’re being irresponsible”, “your generation is so entitled”, “you have no sense of direction”, "you need to settle down soon", "you're causing decline in car sales". But after listening to stories of 358 young adults like you and me, I know we’re all emerging into our adulthood and it’s okay to take our time.
Important: The writer of this feature is Bhavleen Singh, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Reva University, Bangalore. Professionally, she wants to research and work as a therapist to explore the depths of emerging adulthood among young adults housed in India. In her free time, she can be found reading and penning down her thoughts on how best can we help our youth navigate their life adaptively.
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