Today, in honor of Independence Day, we’re going to have a change of pace from the usual tactical level, immediately applicable financial tip. Instead let’s get philosophical and explore the situation in front of us from a more strategic vantage point. Let’s talk about something you need to understand as you make life choices of all stripes. Let’s talk about valuing your freedom.
Recently I ran across an article/photo essay on the UK’s Daily Mail website which provided a glimpse into a handful of “Peter Pan generation Lost Boys” as captured by the lens of one Liz Calvi of West Hartford Connecticut. The content completely captured my attention, and my ire, not so much for the photographs but for the language used to explain why these young men had all dropped out of college and moved back in with mom and dad. And I quote (emphases mine):
- They “were forced to move back in with their parents, unable to get a job…”
- “You’re almost in this trap, where you have to go to college to get a job…” (but college is untenable due to the costs)
- “But college costs so much money, so sometimes you have to go back home to live with your parents.”
I reacted so viscerally to these statements, and to the representative photographs, because I don’t find this line of thought uncommon at all among the lost boys I encounter with regularity. In writing the following I do not specifically pick on any of the men in depicted in the article. I speak to every young person when I seek to clear something up once and for all with another quote, this one from my mother:
“Nobody’s making you do anything.”
Those are truly empowering words and they’re important to note as you consider your options in life. We live in a free country where forced behavior is an extremely rare, usually illegal, occurrence. Look, going to college is a choice. Dropping out is a choice. Moving back in with mom and dad is a choice. Laying around in a bed or posing in front of a poorly maintained home for a photographer is a choice. Your choice.
Cost dynamics might influence your decisions. But nobody or nothing “forces” you to do these things.
We must keep this in mind as we go about life, lest we fall for the trap of thinking our consequences have nothing to do with our chosen behaviors. Thinking that people or circumstances can make us do anything denies us our autonomy and leads to a victimhood mentality. The problem with victimhood thinking is that you place the power to improve your situation in the hands of the “oppressor,” whoever or whatever that might be.
So long as you lack power (or give away power) over your condition you will inevitably fail to hope for, seek, or take hold of opportunities within your means to make changes. You’re simply stuck until someone else takes action. Thus among “victims” one will readily note a lack of creativity, ambition, and assertion of will. No wonder, when the photographer of the aforementioned essay “wanted to find a softness and vulnerability to these guys,” she seems to have succeeded.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s not hard out there or that early adulthood in today’s college tuition and job environment is all gravy. I’ve written about and documented these conditions extensively. But they won’t force you into mom’s basement. If you want to and choose to be there, fine.
Look here, students, college avoiders, dropouts, young single people of all types: You might not have a degree. You might not have lots of money. But you have freedom, and freedom in spades. Don’t squander it.
Get out every day and accomplish one big thing. Train for a competition. Volunteer to help out a cause and to build skills and connections. Figure out how to replace your employer. Get online and qualify for some certifications. Move to an area with better wages (think cold and resource rich). Find someone you admire and become their sidekick and protege. Develop a stand up comedy routine. Live among indigenous peoples. Serve on a political committee. Go to the library, read five books on a given topic, and become an expert. Go to college, for free, via MOOCs, audits, and employer benefit programs. Scrounge up some basic supplies to paint the house. Learn the art of barter. Start a small business venture. Figure out what you’re currently doing that’s not working and do the exact opposite thing. Provide tours of local attractions. Learn a couple dishes and host dinner parties. Live off the land. Win an outlandish bet. Organize community events. Pull off an elaborate hoax. Go on ride-alongs with cops or truckers. Play in or manage a band. Grab two or three other buddies and go in on things together (like housing). Busk a downtown metro area. Attend college overseas. Write up events for the local paper. Learn to live well on minimum wage. Organize a world record attempt. Join a commune. Form a club. Fight for a lost cause. Learn a lost art like rock masonry or cobbling.
I don’t know what you should do. Just go out and do it.
Because the only thing more tragic than a generation of young Peter Pans is a generation of old Peter Pans. Because to potential employers seeing is believing. Because doing something is better than doing nothing. Because the world rewards interesting, intelligent, aspiring people. Because dignity isn’t found in a passive existence. Because hard work is its own reward. Because you can’t stumble across an opportunity if you’re not out stumbling around in the first place. Because you’ll have grandkids someday asking you to tell them again about that time you _____. Because you can.