Sam Adams, colorful mayor of Portland,Ore., is recorded as saying of his city, “This is where young people come to retire.”
Likely, he was addressing the rampant youth homeless challenges that confront his city and others in the Pacific Northwest. Still, he does point to an interesting sociological theme. At the turn of the most recent century, the phenomena was routinely called a failure to launch. Now, much more accepted in the general population, it has morphed into a panoply of forms. This is not to say that some gap years, world tours and periods of self-discovery are not entirely warranted, but they are assuredly more common, in some cases expected, among a growing number of young adults.
Metal-detecting seniors strolling along the beach in South Florida might be seen in a T-shirt declaring that youth is wasted on the young. In many ways, it makes sense. As we age, we become more self-assured and confident in our own skin. Would our lives be better if we simply gave up on our drive and aspirations early on? Do we really need jobs? Do we really need stuff? The elderly are routinely measured as markedly happier and more content, even as they divest themselves of their many ambitions as unattainable due to an understanding of their own limitations or simply a chronological lack of runway. Is it possible that happiness correlates with low stress, which correlates with low self-expectations?
Likewise, could we claim that retirement is wasted on the elderly? Could we match the retirement-provided spirit of freedom to an ambulatory and youthful body? One wonders, are these constraints societal or necessary in the evolution of humankind? If we give up early, can we still find satisfaction in a life well spent? Is permanent vacation or productive labor the key to fulfillment?