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Fun-employment! (Crisis Ensues)

Submitted by LeahG on March 31, 2010 – 9:02 pmComments

By: Leah Goldstein

I am going to go ahead and posit that the recent increase in unemployment (I have friends calling it “fun-employment,” which I suppose is less anxiety provoking), is related to a possible increase in existential questioning and identity seeking among young and early adults.  In other words: “I lost my job. Now what?!”

In Erik Erikson’s theory regarding human development, there is a point in a young adult’s life (”fidelity”) when existential and identity related questions are not only expected, but a normal milestone. I don’t know about you, but since the financial crash, I’ve noticed a lot more of these adolescent-like behaviors in my peers and myself. As influential as Erikson’s theories are to modern psychology, social work, sociology, etc., it is not the normative value in this culture to track or assess mental and behavioral health. We have massive amounts of data regarding our financial health as a nation being thrown into almost every media (look at the ticker on most news channels), but we don’t really get feedback on how the nation is doing emotionally with the same speed and accuracy. So, empirically it’s difficult to say whether existential crises are more likely to happen en masse during “tough times,and whether or not it’s normal or healthy.

I’d be willing to bet that sudden, drastic financial shifts can make anyone (no matter if they are starting or ending a career) question the ‘meaning of it all,’  but let’s focus on emerging adults for now. Yes, we’ve been calling it a “quarter-life-crisis” for years, but socially speaking I think this phenomenon took on a whole new intensity with the economic sh*t storm. Financial shifts and sudden unemployment can send emerging adults who were once on the verge of a career path (and maybe a more solid sense of self) into fits of “WTF?!” and “FML!!”  I’d also be willing to bet that this may be especially true for those who were raised in relative affluence (or regular affluence).

So if you’re like most twenty-somethings, you are currently “fun-employed,” or balancing three dead-end jobs. This anchorless feeling, and sudden presence of circuitous questioning, “WHY?” is not only completely draining, but resembling of several mood and personality disorders. However, maybe these questions are actually healthy and adaptable. For example: for those of us who had “plans” and a “path,” we are now forced to utilize our skills, stretch our creativity, and to fill roles and jobs we never thought we would. For those of us who were planning on being double majors and  triple minors for life, we are now forced to actually use our weird shape shifting brains and interests to figure out what we actually want.

The sense of yourself, the ability to calm yourself, the ability to be present, and aware of your strengths and limitations probably makes you a better caretaker, partner and community member in general. It is important to note that, going along with Erikson’s theory, what is important is that you are making your own decisions on your path and identity. So yes, it sucks right now, but maybe the stress that comes along with unemployment is actually normal, healthy and adaptable for people in the emerging adult age range.

Leah Goldstein is a writer/musician/social scientist who lives in Brooklyn, and kind of loves having ADHD. You can find her on twitter @thetarhythm

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