ANNA PRICE OLSON
This past summer, a stack of ten or so books would appear on my desk every few weeks. When the stack appeared, it meant my editor had stayed late the night before, tackled the pile in her office and decided the books were not going to be “must-reads” for our readers.
We did not have room in the office for extras, and Lauren really did not have the time. But she also did not let the covers collect dust. Instead, each was handed to a reader with a little more time or donated to that bookstore on Crosby Street.
With the last batch of unwanted books, Lauren gave me a second paperback just days before I left New York City. This time, it was Kelly Williams Brown’sAdulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. With a quick glance at the title, I stuffed the book into my bag, choosing not to laugh with my friends as we had done with the book she had given me weeks before.
This time, I was sure I didn’t need the book. I had been an “adult” all summer. Sure, I was the intern with an expiration date on my stay but I often disregarded that minor detail. So why did Lauren give me a self-help book? Instead of offering me my dream job at the end of the summer, she handed me a lesson on how to become a grown-up. I just knew this was some kind of joke, a wicked slap in the face we would one day laugh about together.
I told myself I didn’t care, but I really did. In a way, Lauren was a sort-of celebrity to me. She had traveled to Africa to interview Hillary Clinton for Glamour (“If she wins in 2016, wouldn’t it be neat to say that I spent 20 minutes with the president?” she said to me, without the slightest hint of bragging.) She had talked with Matt Damon about their shared love of the Boston Red Sox, and when she referred to Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, she simply called her “Anna.” So, Lauren was comfortable with A-list stars, but what I really envied was Lauren, the brilliant magazine editor.
I respected Lauren. Yet, when she handed me that book and disappeared into her corner office, I did not know what to say. I only knew that I did not need the book. I could go without the 468 steps to becoming an adult because I was, without a doubt, already there.
For some reason, though, I did not leave the book in the city. The book came with me—and, now, two months later, I have a few guesses as to why. For one, I know that Lauren did not mean to hurt my feelings. She wasn’t giving me a firm pat on the back, and saying, “Hey, Anna Price, it’s really time to think about growing up.” And I also know that she did not hand me the book hoping to single-handedly save my generation of lost “millennials,” the so-called mass of self-absorbed, narcissistic kids lucky enough to be born in the 80s and 90s, either. I am guessing that thought did not even cross her mind.
I really wish it would have, though. As a member of Generation Y, I know we need a little saving. True, we are not all the stereotypical, future-obsessed alcoholics millennial trend pieces are making us out to be, but, when Lauren gifted me a simple guide to adulthood, I became just that, the cartoon painted as the “The Me Me Me Generation” on the June 2013 cover of TIME. You know, the caricature of the almost adult taking a selfie, lost somewhere between her iPhone and overwhelming sense of entitlement? That was me: fame-obsessed, selfish, convinced of my own greatness.
I wasn’t naïve this summer, though. I know New York can be a tough place. Yet, I told myself, over and over, that I was an adult and I turned my nose up at Lauren and that book with barely so much as a smile, polite “thank you” or second thought. Instead of opening the book or asking for some sort of map through this confusing, unpredictable place we call the real world, I (along with a large majority of my peers) decided to pretend and know the way.
“The point of this book is that even though things seem—and are—complicated and difficult, we have control over ourselves,” Williams Brown says. “Someone is a grown-up by virtue of acting like one. And no matter who you are, you can be a grown-up.”
True, I might not have needed all 468 steps, but when I finally looked past the book’s cover, I couldn’t help but listen. Step 100: “Listen more than you talk.” Step 123: “Do not engage with crazy.”
Two months after leaving New York, Adulting did not feel like a self-help book, and it also did not give me the magic key to a successful life. Instead, Williams Brown made me feel OK. It was as if I was listening to a friend who knew me very well, a 28-year-old who, like me, slips up and drinks Diet Coke for breakfast but is really, truly trying to be a better, more mature person. I know this is why Williams Brown wrote the book, and I like to believe it is also why Lauren handed it for me.
Like the rest of my generation, I have a collection of trophies from YMCA soccer stuffed somewhere in the attic at my parents’ house, but that is not the root of my entitlement issues or for my generation’s perceived belief that “life is easy.” No, I can not blame these shiny plastic trophies as Susanne Goldstein does in her 2012 article for Business Insider titled “Here’s How to Deal With Millennials Who Aren’t Ready to Face Real Challenges.” I wish I could, but I know it is not true. Maybe I should blame the economy, my helicopter mom or the two sisters I have competed with my whole life, but I am not going to do that, either. Instead, I choose to listen to the 28-year-old girl who’s got my back, who says, No. 1: “Accept that you are not that special,” No. 134: “Let go of your pride” and No. 3: “Accept that right now, you are small-time.”
Maybe I am one of the “average” millennials seasoned writers are talking about, but I have never been comfortable blending in—and, yes, I do think we can thank our generation’s obsession with resume-building activities like community service, involvement and gilded trophies for that. These writers say we Gen Y’ers think, “life is easy” and that we are lazy as a result, but I believe the opposite to be true. We are leaving college, entering the real world, trying to support ourselves and the facts are ugly. Unpaid internships are few and paid jobs even fewer, and I think we have adjusted to the times. Yeah, maybe we lean on the narcissistic side and obsessively plan what our lives are going to look like in the future, but I do know that I am not above running to Starbucks for a superior—and you really can’t blame that sort of ignorance on a generational flaw.