Twentysomething: The Paradox of Choice, gen-Y style


By Ryan Healy — Go to college, graduate with a technical degree and become a professional, preferably a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Join the workforce for a few years, then get married and have a kid or two.”

According to my father this was the typical advice given to young baby boomer boys growing up. Their parents expected them to follow the same straight and narrow path as them. They had a few choices; follow the advice or rebel and make it on their own.

“Be whatever you want to be. Find something you love and pursue that passion. With enough desire and enough hard work you can do anything you set your mind to.”

This was the advice I received growing up. Flash forward to today and I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I love. There are too many choices! Should I join the Peace Corps and rebuild houses in Mongolia? Should I work for a presidential campaign for a year? Should I go to Wall Street and become a money making machine with no time for a social life?

Not only can I choose any career, but I can choose any city, state or country. My family lives all over the United States and my friends live all over the world. I can communicate and keep relationships with them through the internet no matter where I move. I feel no pressure to get married or start a family any time soon. I can do all of these things when I am ready.

The choices go way beyond career and family. I can choose from hundreds of TV channels, and if I don’t like the graphics I can choose to watch them in HD. The Internet, where I spend too much time, is a big black hole of decisions about information. Even the cereal aisle at the grocery store can turn into a painful decision process. Life in the 21st century is a constant choice.

If you don’t have you’re head on straight it is much easier today to become paralyzed into inaction because you don’t know what the perfect choice is. Many of my peers will probably never specialize in anything because we will never be satisfied. How can we be? There is so much more to do and so much more to explore. And it’s just a click or two away!

Having an unlimited amount of possibilities is one reason so many of my friends move back home after college. They just don’t know what the right choice is. I can see why some people think this is a problem. Living at home until age twenty-five was not the norm in the old days, but neither was working eight different jobs by the time you are thirty. As long as you are working towards an end goal or figuring out what line of work will be best for you, living at home for a few years is a great option.

One of the most difficult realizations I have made is that there is no such thing as the perfect decision. Whether you are picking out what type of cereal to buy, what TV show to watch, or what career path to venture down, you can only make a decision based on what you know at that particular time. This is why it is so cool to be joining the workforce today. If you make a bad decision and enter a new career that doesn’t align with your strengths, wants, or desires, then you can simply pick up and make another career change with very little consequence.

Making the wrong career choice is not nearly as life altering as it was thirty years ago. It’s a different world today. It’s a beautiful world filled with endless possibilities, and maybe too many. But you know what? I would never trade a life filled with unlimited possibility for a pre-written script. Luckily, that’s one choice I don’t have to make.

Ryan Healy’s blogs is Employee Evolution.

57 replies
  1. Terry
    Terry says:

    I left my company after 21 years and never looked back. For me it is: What gets me excited? What makes me blab uncontrollably to others? Passion is just a tired and vague phrase.

    I get excited talking about making life changes, Supply Chains, SAP, golf. Mostly about making life changes.



    Great point.  If what you are doing does not excite you, then it is time to make a change.  Change can be a little scary, but it’s always exciting.


  2. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Living at home until you are 25 is bludging. It hurts the young person as it hinders their development as a fully independent and emotionally mature human being. And it hurts their parents who might, you know, like some time on their own now.

    I think children should leave home after high school if they can, but they should definitely leave home after college. In some cases, they might be still studying at age 25 and I’m not proposing that there be some hard-and-fast cut-off rule. But it’s ludicrous that someone who has entered the workforce should still live at home.

    Yes, it makes financial sense. And yes, it’s comfortable – their parents have nice homes and DVD players and maybe will even cook and clean for them. But it’s not healthy.



    I would argue that it is almost stupid not to live at home after college.  When you couple the average student loan debt with absurd the rent prices in the typical areas young people move, it is practically impossible to save a dime or even survive without a second income.  I do not live at home because I chose fun over saving, but there are many times I regret this decision.  Working your tail off from 22 to 25 with nothing to show for it besides a rental apartment, credit card debt and a good resume is not healthy. 


    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      I agree with Ryan. I wish I could have moved home after college, but unfortunately my parents do not live close enough to the NY/Metro area for it to be practical. And where do I find myself at age 24? Dissatisfied with my job with rent and college loan payments I have no choice but to pay, and no savings to show for myself. It’s not a fun place to be.

  3. Jackson
    Jackson says:

    My path was drop out of high school, go study jazz in New Orleans, go study Philosophy at a religious school, and travel the country doing political work. Now, at 29, I am married with kids and have a strong career in addition to owning a retail clothing store.

    The parents of yesteryear would love where I am, but they would hate how I got here.

  4. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Hey, Ryan, how do you know that making the “wrong” career choice was such a big deal 30 years ago? You’re not even 30 now.

    I’ll bet you got that off of some blog written by someone else who wasn’t an adult then either.

    And you have no clue as to how true or false it really is. A typical pundit.

  5. Greg
    Greg says:

    Living at home is great…if that is what the parents choose to do. Maybe, after their children have finished college, they want to sell their house, join the Peace Corps, and build houses in Mongolia.


    Good point.  I do not propose burdening your parents, or making them change plans for you once college is finished.  But if they welcome you home, like many parents do, then go for it.


  6. Sam
    Sam says:

    I don’t understand where this belief comes from that all that is required to make a lot of money is the willingness to forgo a social life and accept a high-stress job.

    You do know that there is a lot of competition for those jobs, right? And that if you don’t have the best qualifications (say, you were building yurts in Mongolia), you won’t get that job? Unless you are applying for job with a yurt consultancy or a startup, your tour with the Peace Corp won’t impress the Hiring Director.

    It’s dangerous and immature to assume that since there is a wide variety of consumer choices in America that your career choices are just as vast.


    If taking 2.5 years of my life to help the world by building yurts in Mongolia does not impress a potential employer then I do not want to work for that person.  Not to mention the fact that you need excellent grades and leadership experiences to even be accepted to the peace corps.  Also, I believe it is both dangerous and immature to make every career decision based on impressing a future hiring director.


  7. Denis
    Denis says:

    Good point, Sam.

    Jumping jobs and careers may help one to discover the job and line of work one truly likes but it also promotes the focus on searching for that perfect job that combines all the postives of the previous eight and none of their negatives. Ultimately, one is likely to find that there is no such perfect job in the world. By that time jumping jobs may stop being as fun as it was in the person’s early twenties.

    By the age of 30 or so people typically prefer to have at least a promise of financial stability which they won’t have after accumulating the extensive resume of short term generalist jobs. At that point it may be too late (or at least, much-much harder) to get those well paying jobs one could be happy with later in life.

  8. Alan
    Alan says:

    Again, Ryan is right on this subject. I don’t understand the negative comments on this blog is all about. Seems like most people so far are against choices. Isn’t that what the free market is all about (that everybody seems to pound their fists on the table for)?

    It would be nice if we were required to display our age on the replies. I suspect much of the naysayers are over 40.

  9. akzidenzgrotesk
    akzidenzgrotesk says:

    i kind of tend to agree with caitlin here… i’ve been working my tail off since approximately my first internship in the middle of my second year of college. i have now graduated and landed a pretty good job and i should be done paying off debt and being able to start saving in a few months, right about when i turn 25. sure, i’m luckier than most, but i would also say i feel quite fulfilled and much more sure of myself and capable since i’ve spent the last couple of years scraping together my rent and bills and living on ramen noodles and pretty much completely supporting myself. if i had gone home to live with my parents after college (or even during college, like my younger brother did), i think i’d be a lot less satisfied with my life and a lot more scared of being completely on my own. the earlier you leave the nest, the easier the adjustment is, in my opinion. sure, i don’t remember the last time i spent money on something as frivolous as a cocktail or a pair of shoes i didn’t need for work, but at least i have my own place to go home to and to call my own, and i have the knowledge that if i can live like this, then i can handle real life, no problem.

  10. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Great post Ryan. With so many choices, I know many people — of all generations, in personal and professional situations — who get stuck with “analysis paralysis.” That is, they’re so busy analyzing all the options that they’re almost afraid to jump in and try one. You make a good case for “just do something” and if it doesn’t work, do something else.

    On the Peace Corps question — getting out of the United States (or whatever country you were born and raised in) is vital to personal and professional development IMO. Even if not the peace corps, which is a huge committment and not for everyone, most people would benefit if they just went travelling. Save $5000, put on a backpack, and go to Asia, or South America or Eastern Europe or anywhere — until your money runs out.

    I didn’t do a Peace Corp like experience, but travelled a lot in my 20s, lived in the USA and Mexico (was born and raised in Canada, so even moving to the USA was an eye-opening experience). I can’t really explain it in a resume, but in most professional positions I’ve had since, the global travel experience has been among the most valuable in helping me to do my job.

  11. Jason
    Jason says:

    Alan, I think the sweeping, and probably unfounded, generalizations in this post (and others by Ryan) spur most of the negative comments.

    I think having the ability to make choices is fantastic; however, we can’t ignore the fact that there are consequences to every choice we make. Having 8 jobs before the age of 30 is certainly possible, but I bet it makes that prospective 9th employer pretty weary about hiring you.

    And unless my experience is atypical, there are plenty of people who graduate college with manageable debt and reasonable expenses. We just don’t hear about them.

  12. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    Interesting how most of the comments to this post focus not on the general topic, but on specifics that Ryan mentions – moving home, joining the Peace Corps, etc.

    Isn’t the whole point of this discussion to talk about how there are CHOICES, which basically comes to meaning that what may be right for you may not be right for me, and vice versa. It also means that what may be right for me this year, may be the complete opposite of what will be right for me next year.

    I was a straight-A (almost) student in HS, I have a 3.9 GPA in college, and I’m on a pretty good track toward finding out what kind of job I want to have when I graduate. Other the other hand, my brother couldn’t care less about school (he gets mostly Bs & Cs), but he could take my car apart and rebuild it into something else without any kind of instructions.

    I think it’s important to remember that we each bring our own bias and personal experiences to this ongoing discussion. And that’s what it should be – a discussion – not an argument, not a “I’m right and you’re wrong” battle.

  13. Cori
    Cori says:

    While Ryan does make generalizations (but what blog doesn’t? You don’t/can’t know everyone’s experience), I can speak on my experience as a Gen-Yer who lives at home. I make 28,000 a year, have been out of college for one year, and have $80,000 in school loans. My alma mater recently proposed going up in price to $47,000 a year starting next year. Life for a college graduate is so different than it was even 10 years ago. Living at home at 22 is not like living at home at 12, at least in my experience.

    I no longer completely live off of my parents but I do live with them. I contribute to the home through chores and even financially. I think the road to maturity and self-reliance is not tied to whether you live at home or not but your life experiences and your relationship with your parents. I know people who don’t live at home and still aren’t “independent” from their parents.

  14. Cori
    Cori says:

    I think Danielle had a really great post. The truth is there are a lot of choices out there. One of my best friends moved to New York and lives in an apartment. The other went to grad school in Philly for two years. I live at home in our hometown. I used to get down, thinking that everyone else was “doing” something until I realized that I was “doing” something too, I just wasn’t doing what they were doing. Living in a paralysis because your afraid to make the “wrong choice” is a horrible way to live but it’s easy to fall into after being in a structured setting for 16 years.

  15. Jaerid
    Jaerid says:

    I am a Gen Y but I think we need to be honest here. We know why people live at home after college – because it is convienent. Most boomer parents won’t charge their kids rent (they should) so it’s cheaper to live at home. So why wouldn’t someone take advantage of that?

    The other aspect to consider is that most of my generation have had very good lives with respectable homes, cars, etc thanks to our boomer parents. Many people I know (and their boomer parents) would rather stay home and save up some money so that they can get a real nice apartment or go right into a condo instead of “roughing it” with Ramen and patio furniture as a dining set.

    Me? I lived at home for 6 months because I wasn’t able to find a job (2002 recession) but as soon as I did find one (making less than 1/4 what I am now) I was in an apartment with donor furniture, no cable TV, and a roommate. It was tough but it was a lot of fun too. Now 5 years later I live in a house that I built and I am certain that I wouldn’t be here if I had stayed home.

    To each their own but their is something to be said about escaping home. Besides, who wants to live with their parents after living on your own at college?

  16. Marcia
    Marcia says:

    OK Alan, I’m stating my age: 52. I didn’t get my first “real” job until I was 40. I didn’t even start college until I was 30…graduated with a degree in engineering 10 years later and got a killer job with a great company. I make well into 6 figures now, thank god, because it’s allowed me to plough $$ into my 401k. My contract ended, so I’ve been doing something different for the last 2 years, which I don’t like, so I’m looking to change jobs again. Before all that? I lived all over the country, traveled, hopped jobs, had 2 kids. You know, typical baby boomer stuff.

    Oh BTW my brother is 56, and he advised his kid to take off and travel between high school and college, so he did. Then my brother said, “Heck, you can go to college anywhere in the world…why not study for a year somewhere besides Canada?” (his home) His kid just got back from spending his first college year in Australia, and he had a blast. More bad parental advice from baby boomers. I’ve advised my own 2 sons to follow their dreams. One of them is the captain of a commercial fishing boat in Alaska and loves it. With his captain’s license and experience, he could go anywhere in the world and captain a ship. My other son just bought and opened a posada (hostel) in Chiapas, Mexico.

    Ryan, I agree with most of your points. I DO NOT believe people should go back to live with their parents. At one point, I ate oatmeal for a month while living with a roommate I couldn’t stand, just trying to scrape by until my situation improved. When I got out of that, I realized that no matter what, I could make it. I didn’t understand how strong and determined and creative I could be until I was forced to come to grips with adversity. If I had run back to mommy and daddy (which I could have), I would have never known that I am truly a survivor. I’ve heard similar stories from others. Don’t let fear of the unknown (or a skipped meal) keep you from hanging in there. If your next choice isn’t clear, get a job doing something (anything) until it IS clear. Going back home is just following the line of least resistance…better to jump in and start swimming (and yes, there may be sharks).

  17. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    For three years I helped people tell business decision makers their experiences and what they learned that would benefit a company. I sat one-on-one, listened to their history through college and their early career choices. Every case was different and (with some work) each produced a compelling story. And after they told their stories, companies hired them.

    I learned that there are many paths to success, not just one. The one thing each had in common was that they kept learning how to provide value. A lot of employers want that.

  18. Hutchie
    Hutchie says:


    I think it may be time to create a separate site for these 20-somethings. It’s depressing. All this go-getting facebooky new-frontierism is making me want to run into traffic. I am a bone idle 30 something late bloomer. When I read all of Ryan’s stuff, I feel like I wasted my 20s and its too late because I’m not part of this generation of super achieving, self confident robots. Help!

  19. Tyson
    Tyson says:


    Rejecting modern workforce standards, self-confidence, embracing choice…tell me where “robots” fits it. I’m lost.


  20. Danielle
    Danielle says:


    There is, in fact, a site. Find it at You can also check out another interesting site at

    And please don’t even start with the fact that you’re 30 and somehow that means you’re past your peak. Are you kidding me? My mom is 45 and she’s looking to shift jobs because she’s found that after 9 years hers is not longer challenging or satisfying anyone. She also pursues several active hobbies on the side, including gardening and hiking. The fact that somehow by you being 30 you’ve ‘missed the boat’ is the biggest cop-out. You don’t have to quit your job and join the peace corps, especially if you’re settled. But no one is stopping you from pursuing hobbies on the side of your regular job. And how knows, maybe you’ll end up changing careers somewhere down the line.

    But, you know, I’m just an overly optimistic 21 year old…

  21. Thirty-something
    Thirty-something says:

    To chirp in on the “living at home” question…I agree with many respondants who question whether this strategy offers the same benefits as making it on your own. I left home at 19 and largely put myself through college and grad school (minor help from parents toward tuition). I often lived off rice, beans and oatmeal — but as many others commented, it gave me a profound sense that I could handle anything.

    Of course, I also had no savings at age 30, and a small student loan (which an inheritance allowed me to pay off, but then I didn’t have the inheritance for a down payment on a home).

    Many twenty-somethings I know now own their own condo or house. Living at home for a couple years at the start of their “careers” / working life made that possible. But I also know many twenty- and thirty-somethings who lived at home because it was easy, allowed them to spend all their income at the bar, or on clothes, “toys,” etc. It also allowed them to avoid making some tough career decisions (ie keep working at the gas bar instead of looking for something more meaningful).

    My conclusion: if you have a clear financial strategy for living at home: to save money to buy a condo, or go travelling, or to finish your degree, then it makes sense.

    To stay at home because it’s easier and as a way to postpone becoming an adult is a waste (and your parents should really kick you out as a long-term favor!)

  22. Alan
    Alan says:

    Yikes, this blog is so negative! I’m done here and moving onto a different blog to read from now on.

  23. John C
    John C says:


    Greetings from a fellow Penn State graduate.

    I am a Gen X’er and I truly enjoy your Blog posts. I agree that it is awesome that we have so many choices in life that we can do anything we want, no matter how old we are. But I do have to admit that my personal experience has been one of “choice overload.” This choice overload seems to have sent me into a state of paralysis. I now want to do so many things and work in so many different jobs that I haven’t made any changes.

    Do you have any advice for someone floundering in the "too many choices" overload state of mind? I love having the ability to make so many different choices in life. Just wish I knew how to manage the choices wisely.

  24. Tae Hyuk
    Tae Hyuk says:

    Hey Ryan,

    Like I said before, i generally like your posts because they demonstrate the fact that you are asking yourself the right questions. But too many of your posts are beginning to sound like “thought experiments” instead of actual real life decisions.

    Consider your situation: You are a recent graduate of Penn State without a job (unless you count putting up a post every now and then a profession) and living at your parent’s. It comes as no surprise to me that you would, therefore, advocate living at home.

    To me, you come dangerously close to sounding like a hopelessly lost graduate trying to justify what few “big” decisions he’s made since leaving college.



    Thanks for the comment.  Just to clear things up, I have a full time job and I do not live with my parents.  Blogging is a hobby.


  25. Pursue the Passion
    Pursue the Passion says:

    I love this topic. It is interesting to see the evolution of career advice.

    Thirty years ago it was wise to take the road everyone travels on. Now it’s not.

    I think the one thing that has remained constant throughout the years is that in order to be happy with your job, you must be passionate about your work.

    And lay off my man Ryan…he’s a young go getter.

  26. Andrey
    Andrey says:


    The article is good. However I would disagree on some points: 1) Many …will never specialize in anything …; 2) If you … enter a new career that doesn't align with your …then simply …make another career change …; 3) As long as you are working towards … figuring out what line of work will be best for you, living at home for a few years is a great option.

    The person seem never to find own place in life – with such an approach – “never specialize”, “simply make another career change”, “working on figuring out what the best work for you is”, – the one will hardly become a professional, can be in endless search or belief of repeatedly bad career decisions and finally – become irresponsible.
    To think of what your passion is and to know exactly, what your career should be after diploma, is necessarily before high school. To succeed is necessarily to think and work hard in the chosen realm, but if to ‘simply make another career change’, there is a possibility to make multiple bad choices and to loose a chance to develop the basic skill – €“ to learn how to achieve your aim, to succeed.

    On the other hand, I believe in chance and accept the notion that a person can make such a ‘steep career plunge’, if using it’s own strong experience, knows exactly what to do, thinking double or triple.

    To be successful and satisfied one should know what he wants and how to achieve it. Lack of professional experience in the chosen realm (at least 3-5 years) and good thinking (at least the same time), and using the advice to ‘simply make another career change’ may be the worst option for the ‘just graduates’.

    I agree with Tae’s comments, at least it seems so,Ryan

  27. CROMMM
    CROMMM says:

    I’m a generation X’er myself. I don’t see anything wrong with living at home the first few yrs after college. Doing that enabled me to save enough money and buy my first house much earlier than most of my friends. Why waste money renting? I don’t think there is anything wrong with living at home as long you are not mooching off your parents, are saving money, and are seeking a responsible career.

    The problem with “all these choices” is that eventually you will be 30 and will still be starting entry level jobs because you really didn’t gain any long term experience in any one field. People your age that have 10 yrs experience in a field will have a higher ranking job than you, more experience, and will be making more money. Sure there is always a chance you will fall into something good, or have a successful start-up biz, but now you are really rolling the dice.

    I used summer jobs and internships while I was in college to determine what I liked to do. My advice is to start working in a field that is something you are good at. You typically will enjoy something you are good at, and most importantly you will succeed. Now maybe you have to jump around and find the right job in that field, but at least you are not throwing experience out the window each time you make a career change.

  28. Pursue the Passion
    Pursue the Passion says:

    These are some narrow minded opinions Audrey. Making a career change at a young age is the best thing you could do, not the worst thing.

    Who says that a young college grad has to get 3-5 years experience in their first job? Is that written in stone?

    Who says that in order to make a “steep career plunge” (aka a career change) that this decision must be based on experience and the knowledge of knowing “exactly” what we want to do with our lives?

    If those two reasons are the basis for making changes in life, then we would have quite a stagnant work force. We never know “exactly” what we want in life, that’s why we make the change to see if there is something out there for us. And I don’t need 3-5 years experience to tell me I’m in the wrong place, we pretty much know that by looking at ourselves.

  29. AK
    AK says:

    I don’t really understand the reservations to moving back home. It must be a cultural thing, because in many (many!) other cultures, people almost never leave home – they generally leave home if there is no more space, or if they are moving to another city/state/country. I have a great number of cousins abroad with and without college degrees that live at home with their parents.

    Do the parents wait on them hand and foot like when they were kids? Of course not! The ‘kids’ now contribute equally to the household (cleaning, cooking, purchases, etc). This situation exists not only because of culture, but also as a by-product of economic factors (i.e. it’s expensive if not impossible to make the rent on your own, and if you are going to have to have room mates, why not stay with your family) This does not mean that you dont have friends or that your growth as a person is not complete.

    Now, as for choice…I have found that the appearance of choice is sometimes an illusion. I am twentysomething, but some of the jobs that appear interesting to me (and that I have the skills to do), I cannot apply for because I do not have the diploma to prove that I can do it. Despite the fact that I have two masters degrees, the jobs that I find most appealing require a specific masters (which I do not have). I’ve been lucky in that my education cost me very little – but I find it disheartening that I can’t try things I like because I dont have that highly specialized degree (No, I am not talking about medicine, law, or something else that puts others in jeopardy if the practicioner does not know what he is doing).

    Choice is relative, and sometimes it’s an illusion. Even though I am only 26, I cannot afford to try other things, in entry level jobs, because I would not be able to make my bills…and moving in with my parents is not an option.

  30. Jason
    Jason says:

    People grow when they are forced to adjust to & overcome difficult situations. Running home to Mom and Dad for free (or cheap) rent and food because it’s easier is hard for me to respect. That’s the problem I have with it.

    I’m also interested by the “controversy” these posts seem to ignite. It’s difficult for a young person to write about career choices for young people because, by nature and lack of experience, 99% of us don’t know what we’re talking about. A lot aren’t willing to admit that.

  31. Tyson
    Tyson says:


    Do you suggest that the young people stay quiet and let the rest of the world yap it up about them? Or do you think it’s a good thing that we’re able to share our opinions, even if some may think we have no idea what we are talking about?


  32. Jason
    Jason says:

    Tyson, I don’t think that at all. However, I do believe that people are much more sensitive to *how* we say things than they are with older, more experienced people. That’s all.

  33. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Ryan says: “Working your tail off from 22 to 25 with nothing to show for it besides a rental apartment, credit card debt and a good resume is not healthy.”

    I disagree. You won’t have “nothing to show for it”, except maybe purely in materialistic terms. Your savings and financial investments may not be as great as if you had stayed home and bludged from your parents but the fact that you didn’t take the path of least resistance is great. I am sure you are a better person for it, whether you know it yet or not.

    Alan, I turned 31 last week. I am not sure how old you are but assuming you are over 21, I am closer to your age than a 40-year-old. I left home when I was 17 to go to university. Apart from a few months when I got back from a short spell of travelling when I was 22, I have never lived at home since.

    My parents assisted with the accommodation in first year only. After that I supported myself. I stayed in in-campus accommodation for the first year and then moved to a house down town with friends.

    I admit that it was easier in Australia because the cost of education was not as high and there was more funding for students from the government than you get in the US. I also did this during the early 1990s recession when youth unemployment was 30% and it was impossible to get a job even in a pizza shop. So I survived on my student grant – we had a cement floor, an outdoor toilet and we ate baked beans. Admittedly, I could have lived in greater comfort if I hadn’t proportioned a good chunk of income to going out and getting drunk (the legal drinking age in Australia is 18). But hey – it’s as much about having fun and making friends as it is about study, right?

    I am definitely not opposed to choices. Nor am I advocating getting a boring, steady job and never trying new things. My own career history doesn’t reflect that in the slightest. After university I did volunteer work in Costa Rica for three months. Then I went back to Sydney, entered the workforce and found a flat to share with other young people. I worked as a receptionist, then I got my first job in journalism. A year or so later I handed in my notice to go to Guyana to do more volunteer work. I did stay with my parents for a couple of months when I got back to Australia from Guyana but I moved out as soon as I could. I moved around, tried different jobs, did a Masters degree part time. I worked at the national newspaper in Australia for four years, then I resigned to move to London and live in Europe where I am now. I now work for myself as a freelance writer.

    Make as many choices as you want, but _own_ your choices and take responsibility for yourself as an adult human being. It’s no longer your parents’ job to house or feed you. Even if they are happy to do it, I believe it hinders you from developing independence and emotional maturity. I’m not saying it makes you a loser, just that it could stop you realising your full potential.

  34. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    PS A lot of people have talked about the excessive university fees and student debt. I can see why such a financial burden would make home a very appealing place. I just think that’s very sad. And if I were an American I would be actively working to change that situation. Education should be accessible to everyone. It should be possible to go to university and not be crippled by debt or forced back into the parental home. If it’s not, then your job as citizens is to fix it.

  35. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I feel I should clarify the above comment. I am talking there not just to new graduates (who clearly have very little power to fix the university fee structure) but to _all_ American citizens (who collectively do have this power).

    Education needs to be accessible to all. Crippling debt is not just a problem for the grads or their parents, it’s a deeper problem for the whole society and economy, especially if it means that some people choose not to go. Everyone will suffer if access to education is severely limited in the way that is described. My understanding is that the situation was bad enough 10 years ago but if it’s significantly worse now then that’s a big problem.

    It is certainly not my intention to blame the grads for the situation with university fees. I’m just trying to encourage them to view moving back home as a measure of last resort as I truly believe that the comfort and firmer financial footing it might provide comes at a personal cost that may only be felt later in life.

  36. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    Fees for the UC and State University system in California are not at all “crippling.” They aren’t free or even cheap (UCs will be about 8 grand for undergraduates, CSU about 3 grand in 2007). And there are many solutions to housing even in SF and LA.

    BTW the son of my client in Melbourne, AU lived at home while getting his degree (he just graduated double major law and econ) and when I saw him last he was quite happy and a pleasure to be around.

  37. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Hi Laurence, you make a good point there. I guess there is a wide variation of fees at American universities and a debt of $80,000 is an extreme scenario.

    I’m glad your son has turned out well! I wasn’t so much talking about living at home whilst you are doing the degree – and I realise that some degrees take longer than others. I moved out but that’s mainly because I chose to study outside Sydney (Bathurst if you’re interested) and that experience doesn’t equate with others.

    My comments were more about people who have graduated and entered the workforce and still live at home. I think they should get a life – and let their parents get one too! I know every situation is different but in general it strikes me as the easy option and not terribly healthy.

    I’ve probably said enough on this – I’m going to try to sit out.

  38. Jeff
    Jeff says:


    You deserve a medal! And a ribbon! Anything else?
    You seem to do a lot of chest pounding and boasting of your “hardships” as if you are deserving of some kind special praise.

  39. Liz
    Liz says:

    Interesting post. But I think the freedom Ryan describes is very much a function of age. It isn’t too late at 21 to just go back and do another bachelor’s degree (if you can possibly afford it), or take a drastically different direction. As you get closer to 30, things change, because you want to have kids (or you already have them), or you have been shifting jobs a lot and start wanting a career path. That’s where I am now. Continuing to have those choices that seem so plentiful at 20 depends a lot on luck at age 29/30, and in having the flexibility on the part of your partner.
    I wouldn’t discard the advice about gaining a technical degree. In fact, I think it is a good idea. Having a specialization that you know very deeply is a great jumping off point. I have done far more administrative type work than I wish I had done. Having a technical degree to begin with, especially for women, helps you get on a good professional track and circumvent the admin stuff. Later it opens up doors if you want to go to grad school.
    You can take a technical degree to a single employer career, or you can take it as a jumping off point. I am a former humanities major now doing a master’s degree in social sciences, with an environmental bent. It has been really difficult trying to be allowed to take technical courses, I was humiliated by one professor who told me I wouldn’t understand anything, it is like Chinese to me. The fact is that some choices open doors and some do actually close doors. It is easy to say that you wouldn’t take a job from someone who didn’t see a priority you had, like building yerts etc., as valuable. But if because of your partner you need to move to a small job market for a few years, you might really wish for that job.
    Also, Penelope has written often about all the people who go to law school. The fact is, with a humanities major, if you see choices begin to dry up, law school opens up a profession to you. If you had an engineering degree, there are a lot of directions you can still pursue.
    Passion, to my mind, is an empty descriptor. It is not possible to be paid for many of the things we enjoy. I say this as someone who may seem like the embodiment of following passion, I mean my master’s degree will be in desert studies. But I see that maybe I have a passion to make the world a better place. If I had studied engineering, instead of my “passion” I could be developing alternative energy technologies. Now I can just write about them, but so can all those engineers, or others like me. Practicality needs to remain in the passion equation, and in the choice equation.
    But I always do enjoy these posts, full of optimism, and I wish Ryan all the best for honestly writing down his thoughts and experience for all of us.

  40. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Thanks, Jeff, medals and ribbons are always nice!

    Seriously though, what hardships? If going to university, becoming a journalist and travelling the world are “hardships” we live on seriously different planets. I think I’ve been extraordinarily blessed.

    The point of the comment was because Alan had asked people’s ages and I thought my experience demonstrated that I was not anti-choice.

    Moving out of home was not a sacrifice, it was brilliant! I just want to encourage people to do it and to do it sooner in life if they can.

  41. Tae Hyuk
    Tae Hyuk says:

    My apologies to Ryan. My post was written assuming that he didn’t have a job and was living at home and I was wrong on both counts.

    Ryan, I look forward to your future posts.

  42. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Most parents don’t want their children to move back in after college, and even if they allow it, it’s bound to be a sore spot simply because you’re claiming the privileges of an adult with the responsibilities of a child. Not to mention that many people’s parents don’t live in cities where the children might actually want to work — unless your dream is to be a coal miner or a construction worker, small towns don’t have much to offer in the way of exciting careers. Not to mention the social stigma of living in your parents’ basement — How are you supposed to bring home dates with your parents there? How are you supposed to have a party with your friends without feeling like a loser who lives in his parents’ basement? In general, I love the optimism of this site — it keeps my spirits up in looking for a great job — but some of the suggestions are just not realistic (and I don’t know who does your fact-checking: 58% of college grads are moving back in? Seriously? Mind linking to your source for that quote? Because the only people I know moving back in with their parents are high-school/college dropouts and others who have made bad decisions in their lives)

  43. Jillian York
    Jillian York says:

    Thank you for confirming that I’m normal! I graduated from university three years ago and since then, I’ve written a book, done some freelance writing, taught English, worked as a grantwriter, and gotten wonderful opportunities from my blog – but I feel careerless and sometimes, even lazy! Half the fun for me is job searching – too bad I can’t make a career out of that!

  44. Qwerty
    Qwerty says:

    It depends on how you live, not where or with whom you live. I’ve lived on my own since starting college. Now I am 26 and not at all self-reliant or independent. Since I don’t have much of a social life and have never made a major decision on my own anyway, I would be happy to move back in with my parents, but they don’t want me to. They wouldn’t want me to help with the chores, either, because they’ve seen what my apartment looks like.

  45. Glenn Snead
    Glenn Snead says:

    Been there, just did that (for the 3rd time!). I started out in television until I met too many people who were 33 and still working two part time jobs. Joined the Air Force, rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant, then was an officer for six years. Got out with a separation bonus and now I work for USNORTHCOM in a network ops center. I own my home, pay my bills, and save for retirement. In short, nothing was like I had planned it.
    My advice is this: Unless you have a passion, don’t go to college immediately. Take classes to keep your study skills, but also try out different jobs to see where your interests lay. THEN pick a major and go to college. It’s not a race and yeah seeing your friends graduate will hurt a bit but watching them doing the same menial jobs that you’ve surpassed (without a degree) will feel better.

  46. William Peregoy
    William Peregoy says:

    I’m two months away from graduating and it’s really mind-boggling because the choices are practically endless!

    I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go in the world, but I’m not really too fond of moving back home, I mean sure the rent and food would be free, but I’m not that cheap – I want to go somewhere and live in a new city I never lived in before.

    I’m still contemplating whether to go to grad school or not. JD or MBA or joint degree? But, one things for sure, I’m definately taking a year or two off and working somewhere – I just have to find that job now.

    So, being broke and having no plans to go anywhere, I’ll be spending my spring break re-working my resume to update it and add my current internships, looking for a new car (another choice – I don’t even know what the hell I want to drive), and looking for jobs. And, if I’m lucky all my roomates will go home for spring break and that will give me and my girlfriend a week of sex in the kitchen and living room – ooh, I can’t wait! Lol.

    But yeah, I enjoy all the choices, even though I never know what choice to make. I eventually just wind up picking something.

  47. Liza
    Liza says:

    The best part about making a decision today versus ’30 years ago’ was that you could leave your job and try another.. wait..thats what my parents did. So I guess thats always been an option in life. You’re first choice doesn’t always have to be your last.

    I know Gen-y wants to be unique and different and thinks they really are (I’m Gen-Y and think I’m special everyday), but really how accurate can that be? How can our generation all of a sudden be different just because of social networking? Really.

  48. Chanelle
    Chanelle says:

    I don’t know how much parents “welcome” their children back home. I think they let them back because they’re decent parents and don’t want their children to suffer in more debt than their student loans created.

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