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Woman Standing on Dock
Woman Standing on Docks

Emerging adulthood: Time for decisions and revisions.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot


In past years, graduation has been a time of excitement and possibility. More often now, I listen to my patients express worry and fear as the big day draws closer. 

What is it that has led to this ambivalence about the next phase of life? Why are my young patients so overwhelmed by doubts when they might instead be overwhelming their friends and family with adventurous hopes and plans?

Clark University psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett has coined the term emerging adulthood to describe what would appear to be a new phenomenon in human development. Emerging adulthood describes the period in a person’s life between the ages of 18 and the late twenties when the child is first emerging from a still protected status into an independent way of life.

But wait, you may say. What’s so different about modern young people that they get a whole new phase of life? Haven’t all humans, then, experienced the same phase throughout history?

Perhaps in some cases, but modern youth face challenges and opportunities that quite simply did not exist for the majority of the population in human history. Let’s consider a few.

Today, graduating students find themselves thrust into an information-based economy. Fewer jobs exist overall, and those that are most desirable require greater expertise, which means more education. Young people must compete vigorously for unpaid internships or burden themselves with thousands upon thousands of dollars in university debt.

Conversely, they find themselves in an entrepreneurial ecosystem that broadens the field of possibility considerably for any person with reasonable intellect, creativity, and even very limited means. The number of startups has increased dramatically over the past few years - 13% between 1999 and 2012. The information economy has made it possible for young, business savvy entrepreneurs to sell their expertise and their products online with little risk and great potential for reward.

Marriage is occurring much later in life, with three-quarters of young people choosing to live with their romantic partners instead for at least some period of time. Likewise, the rush to have children has subsided as birth control has become more acceptable and women’s career options have increased.

This leaves today’s young people in a quandary between the accepted mores of their parents and grand-parents and a very brave new world with seemingly limitless options. 

Which way to go? How to decide among them? Do I dare disturb the universe?

The good news, graduates, is that you don’t have to decide today. Emerging adulthood is a natural by-product of longer human lives with many more opportunities to make decisions and revisions in the years to come. Enjoy your special day today. Do not fear what tomorrow may hold. It holds enough to keep you busy, but no more than you can handle.

If you're a young adult going through a life transition, you may be facing conflicting decisions and emotions. Rather than idle in confusion, worrying and fretting, perhaps you would benefit from counsel. As a therapist and life coach, I am available to listen and to offer an objective perspective as well as much needed support. Let's talk one-on-one about how my coaching and therapy practice can serve you. I can be reached at my Uptown New Orleans office at 504-481-8997.

Dr. Eileen Wynne

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