By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW, MSW


I’ve been chatting with young people lately, thinking with them about the future and how to negotiate finding their own place within this big changing world economy. First a disclaimer: I don’t have a clue what it is like for today’s young adults.  Five million years ago when I attended university I had a salaried position working for the state lined up two months prior to graduation.

It seems like achieving financial and professional independence is happening later and later in life and this creates tremendous stress for all parties involved.  Young adults want to feel like they are contributing and not just taking from society. They want the satisfaction of traveling in a professional direction with a future. The parents of young adults want to relax and stop worrying about where their adult child will land.

The unprecedented rate of technological change has left many of us scratching our heads (Me, when I first got a cell phone and was talking with a client, at the end of the conversation: “Um…I don’t know how to hang up.”). The economic collapses of Enron, the mortgage crisis, the dot com bust, the housing bubble, Lehman Brothers, the bankruptcy crisis in Greece and Iceland etc…etc…means the landscape of our economy is volcanic and absent an oracle or a direct line to Warren Buffet it’s hard to know what to expect.

Add to that the overly fawning parenting culture we have entered, where talented children are told they are geniuses instead of told they must nurture whatever native skills they have with diligent effort for the rest of their lives.

I haven’t come up with any sweeping conclusions for my young adult clients, but I have a few principles I’d like to share:

  1. Don’t take out student debt for a hobby. A hobby is any major that is unlikely to support you. Creativity is a vital part of a rich and meaningful life, but rarely a reliable source of income. You can double major or minor in things like art, dance, and writing.
  2. Everything we learn is additive. It’s easy for me to assimilate new information about mental health theory and research because I have a lot of knowledge in that area. The more we learn about anything, the more easily we can learn.
  3. The world only wants your gifts if they benefits people/institutions outside of yourself. Discover that being of service is in itself a gift and not a burden.
  4. Be tech savvy unlike me. Don’t really know how to expound on this one except to say I feel like the smoker telling their kids “don’t smoke! It’s bad for you!” Technology and its endless iterations looks like it will be the major employer for the foreseeable future.

Also I just want to say: adulthood is delightful.  Sure you’ll have more responsibilities and less free time, but in exchange you’ll deepen your connections to other people and to your community at large and you will get to have amazing experiences like decorating your home and falling in love and throwing a successful dinner party and the quiet satisfaction of contributing to the greater good.


2 thoughts on ““Well…Back In My Day” (Sound of Spittoon Being Used)

  1. I don’t agree with everything you said here and let me tell you why. I majored in sociology and minored in art at SF State. There were never any classes in my minor available, so I didn’t get to attend art classes. After I graduated, my life fell apart as I had undealt with issues of addiction due to a lot of trauma as a baby and child. When people have a strong pull towards the arts, you need to practice and nurture that as much as you can, and minor, maybe, in something else if you think that is what you need to do. Now, I regret not having delved into art at my first chance, when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Sociology helps a lot with not freaking out now, as a 47 year old woman, in a quickly devolving society. Now, there are not that many viable jobs doing what I really wanted to do which was to work in or run a non-profit helping people with disabilities and the elderly. There are no protections for those kinds of jobs, either. I say, follow your heart but don’t do anything by half measures.

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