Brilliant Careers and a Lackluster Life- Chapter 1 of “Manning Up”

October 3, 2011 | Stephanie

Kay Hymowitz snagged my attention with the first sentence of Chapter 1. It’s a question all of us in our 20s and 30s have asked at least once if not multiple times: What in the world should I do with my life? Now more than ever that’s a hard question to answer due in large part to what Hymowitz refers to as the knowledge economy, an economy that hinges primarily on intellectual rather than physical capital and one that demands highly specialized and educated men and women.

This demand for specific, technically-trained employees with at least a bachelors if not a post-grad or PhD considerably lengthens the path to secure careerhood and consequently adulthood and marriage, leaving a deep swath of untethered, financially independent, and deeply dissatisfied preadults, as Hymowitz terms them, who are preparing themselves for the “ideal career” that fulfills all their hopes and dreams and brightens all the dark places of their soul. That’s a large bill for anyone or anything to fill, and drawing from the career column of life’s balance sheet severely skews the bottom line, delaying mature and responsible adulthood and thus marriage and family.

This cultural phenomenon created a whole new sector of society, one that was glamorized by sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends. It’s a world where preadults live not with family but with other preadults in urban centers of culture, art, and business, where much of the population is young, single, and in many senses immature and narcissistic (pg 41). Hymowitz writes:

And so in the era of preadult, becoming a grown-up is a far more ambiguous proposition than it has been at any point in the past. Are you an adult when you move out of your parents’ house? At law school graduation? When you take the first job that limits jeans to casual Fridays? (pg. 45).

Hymowitz doesn’t provide an answer, or at least not yet, instead dangling questions in front of us, pulling us along with sociological data and an undercurrent that leads us down unknown paths. I curiously await her conclusions on when and how preadults “man-up” and become grown-ups and am looking forward to what she has to say in our chapter for next week- The New Girl Order.

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