Op Ed: Gen Y can’t "settle down"? Why should we settle in the first place?

From my title you can already tell that this is not a happy smiling blogpost. My generation, a local newspaper is asserting, is basically a bunch of children who do not have the self-control or faculties to lead a normal balanced lifestyle that the GRAND OL' GOLDEN years have led. This article, found in a local free newspaper, has basically reduced an entire generation of people into a cliche. One that needs a condescending smile and maybe years of group therapy to protect and hopefully, save.

This article engages several professionals to provide possible reasons for not "settling down", vis-a-vis "economic downturn, high youth unemployment, the extended "post-retirement" employment of seniors, the longer time needed for career preparation, the availability of funds for longer periods of education, as well as a greater variety of life options". And as you read through it makes the apparently strong counter point about how individual choice and having a "'me-first' mentality" which thrives on "instant gratification" seems to have caused this problem. I must categorically state that this is completely flawed and must be the wrong conclusion that is to be drawn from the statements made by these academics. I assert that whilst the economic downturn etc. may have caused this problem, we should not make it sound as though some how all these issues have have merely a passing relationship with the issues at hand. They're linked in the important sense that the world has changed, and with it comes changed circumstances, but making it out like Gen Y is choosing to be individualistic is patronising, and ultimately, wrong.

I posit a new paradigm, a more feasible and ultimately less denigrating paradigm. Maybe the new normal is constant movement. And people who don't want to and cannot accept that are unable to accept the new reality of today, one that REQUIRES the ability to rapidly shift from one point to the next, and one where, the ability to think outside of hierarchy, the routine and the norm is highly valued, and required for success. Perhaps we cannot expect a settled life in this 21st century world where, Dubai is 7 hours away, London 12, and a mere 24 hours notice is required before you need to pack a bag for 6 meetings in 4 different locations, across 5 different time zones, with 9 airlines, and you're expected to return in 72 hours ready for a full day of work.

Could it be that our generation's so called inability to settle down is an example of a new settling. That we are no longer bound as our parents were to one position and one spot for the rest of our lives. I can bore you endlessly with examples. But here's one that's personal to me, my parents'. They have had an inability to stay put for years now, because the competitive field at their level of work is highly intense and jobs often require constant movement, and working in different countries in wholly different fields and in wholly different situations is not only desirable but normal. Is it a sign that their lives are unsettled and somehow unplanned, or worse that they are having a period of extended adolescence? Of course not. They're merely doing exactly what it is their situation compels them to. And herein lies the point that makes me most riled up. Every generation will do exactly what it needs to do to advance their own agenda. If the previous generation needed to stay in one job and work their way to the top to succeed, who's to say that this generation needs a new model for success?

What this article presented as news, and as fact, is merely an example of writing for an agenda. The article hides behind it's databut does not deal with the real issue at hand. Singaporean Men are getting married later in their lives, is that because they're immature and don't want to settle down, or maybe it's because Singaporean women are gaining more success in their careers and no longer need to be married off quickly and get settled down. Career restlessness? What about thinking of it along the lines of, the jobs just aren't that satisfying, the work isn't that great, or even turning it around, there's just better opportunity in other jobs, that the person can put himself to greater use and hopefully to greater gain. This article makes no attempt to present the numbers in an unbiased fashion but chooses to be controversial and ultimately one-sided.

Finally, this article is a smorgasbord of cherry picked quotes, particularly in its choice of interviewing the 23 year old graduate. It felt completely shaped and self serving. He is merely one example of a person who personifies the long list of issues plaguing our youth and to somehow single him out as an example of what is ultimately presented as failure, is patently wrong. What if he's waiting for an opportunity? What if he simply doesn't want a job and wants to spend some time relaxing, because he knows he's not going to have an opportunity to do so for the next 20 years. And we do not know that he's doing this as part of a "me-first" mentality, he could be spending more time helping his parents, caring for his siblings, doing social work. The article even uses his quote to contrast against his friends, who are getting married and are getting HDBs, but the question that needs to be asked is what if they're abnormal, what if their marriage ends in chaos because again of those issues highlighted above, the final quote this 23 year old says is the most revealing " Getting a job would give me more certainty in life, but it will not make me feel more settled", even in this we see exactly my point, we can no longer rely on the idealised vision of what we can or should do and ultimately must create our own vision of the future. We do not need to look very far to realise that this person, as uninspired as he may be, is wholly unexceptional, and more importantly, is not presented in a fashion that explains why we should take him as proof positive of our collective generational failings.

I am ultimately disappointed by this article, the fact that it was felt important enough that it deserved front page billing and yet is riddled with holes and incoherence makes me wonder what the editorial process actually is at this local newspaper.


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