Balancing values, relationships and careers in the modern age

“The topic of this lecture is you,” began UConn Professor Annamaria Csizmadia in her presentation, “Me, Myself, and My Selfie: Understanding Millennials (Your) Identity Development.” Csizmadia spoke Monday about the places of technology, higher education, diversity and the economy in shaping the worldviews of people coming of age in the early 2000s.

“You guys are digital natives,” she said, “You were born with technology, with email and computers.” She related how removed this environment is from her own childhood in communist Hungary and education in Germany, when webpages “took hours to load” and the introduction of the arcade game “Pac-Man” entranced young people.

“You are the selfie-generation,” she said, and continued that “selfie” was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2013. She summarized the defining traits of the Millennial generation as high education, technological literacy, general optimism about the future, social skepticism, student debt, racial diversity and the general disinclination to “subscribe to any particular religion or political party.”

Csizmadia asked the small but enthusiastic audience to quickly take Pew Research’s online “Just how Millennial are you?” quiz, and unsurprising for Millennials, every student was able to do so on their tablet or smartphone.

She discussed the wider relationship between historical developments and how the Millennial generation views itself. She connected the general social distrust of the generation to its greater diversity, saying, “This generation, being racially diverse, includes a large number of individuals who have experienced discrimination. It’s like a stove, if you touch it once, you won’t next time.”

Unemployment was about six percent for the Silent Generation (those born around the Great Depression and coming of age around the Korean War), she said, but is closer to 10 percent for Millennials despite their higher education rate. “You are the generation that has just gone through the greatest recession since the 1930s,” she said, and continued that we now live “in a knowledge based economy so if you don’t have education and training you have a harder time finding a job.”

She explained further that most Millennials are now in what psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett has described as “emerging adulthood,” the ages of 18 to 29. Arnett’s research holds that this is a period of identity exploration, instability, self-focus and possibilities.

Our generation has continued to “push adulthood and childhood apart,” she said, and that this “emerged as part of a larger number of young people entering college and putting off certain adult responsibilities.” She then asked the audience of college students if they personally identified as adults.

“When you live at home you’re still the kid in the house,” offered one student, “I feel like I’m in a state of constantly moving, my boxes are either packed to go home for the weekend or stored for the summer.”

“Even when you experience that first job,” said another, “I feel it’s still part of a period of instability.”

Following this discussion, Csizmadia commented, “None of you mentioned relationships in your talk of identity, mostly you talked about careers, which is unique for a generation.”

She presented a Venn diagram showing overlaps between values, relationships and careers, and discussed the socialization of Millennials in the adult world. “You could end up in a situation where you hardly ever interact with anyone outside the Millennial generation for four years,” she said, “This is highly important in shaping your world views.”

As the presentation drew to a close, she shifted focus to general life advice she considers important during the Millennial era. She cited psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory that a lasting, fulfilling relationship is based on passion, intimacy and commitment. “Not simply the ability to get them in the sack,” she said lightheartedly, “but to share and communicate.”

She discussed stress, which she noted is especially important to college students. “Stress is a reaction to danger,” she said, and then explained that danger has different meanings today now that “bears aren’t roaming around us all the time.” Stress now surrounds the way that we deal with modern problems and interpersonal relationships.

“The most important thing,” she said, “is to know your limit, know yourself and your stress level… Understanding who you are is part of understanding who you want to be with.”

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