A Flurry of Snowflakes: Life Then and Now of a Twenty-Something

Snowflake Generation

noun

informal, derogatory

The generation of people who became adults in the 2010s viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations.

(https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/snowflake-generation)

Twenty-somethings. We get a lot of stick in 2017. Naive, lazy and delicate and dubbed by older voices in the media as Generation Snowflake. Add easily offended to the list and you’re left with some sort of “Kidult”. As a self-identifiable twenty-something, I don’t believe my current life can be encapsulated into that of a fragile, meltable ice crystal. But hey, who’s taking this seriously anyways?

When generations grow older, there is a temptation to be critical of our younger counterparts. “They don’t want to work” or “they don’t know how to interact outside of their phones”. I think that generation snowflake is simply an easy label to slap onto a neat package of hopeless twenty-somethings. Older generations now have a window into our life that wasn’t afforded to their parents when their children were growing up.

What the journalists who affix this label onto our foreheads seem to forget however is the diversity of human nature. Just as there may be snowflakes amongst the permafrost, it is easy for the older generations to forget the range of ambition, experience and financial health separating them and their peers. Journalists look for the wolf among the sheep. A soundbite to define us all.

In 2017 we are entangled in an internet of things, whereby we are unwittingly plugged into our surroundings, our world, and the viral videos of cute puppies on Instagram. Do we display a greater level of care or concern because of our exposure to events in outside our local environment? It is hard to ignore an Earthquake in Taiwan, as it flashes across social media. There is an increasing decline of a “them” and “us” culture. Long before this phenomenon, previous generations at our age could simply switch off the television, unplug the radio, or close the newspaper. Even if you yourself “disconnect”, or take a technology “detox”, you are surrounded by connected friends, family and colleagues that will unwittingly break your fast.

We should scratch beneath the surface a little and put this term “snowflake generation” into the context of today’s politics and economy. What exactly are and were the differences in the struggles and successes of us twenty-somethings today in 2017 compared to our parents, or our grandparents for example? I reached out to my gran as well as two of my friends and their mothers to gauge their reactions.

How different are we to our family in our twenties? (Josh Felise)

 

Born in Halifax, UK, I am 25 and have lived in Amsterdam for over two years. I work for a great company helping our customers make the most out of our application. My childhood dream job fundamentally was to be some sort of writer. I posted my first manuscript aged six to a publisher (complete with wobbly crayon drawings) and was excited to receive a response, even if it wasn’t the one I was hoping for. I still rent, and with the expense of housing in Amsterdam I am lucky to have my own place, however small it may be. The thought of buying is still a long way from my mind with more pressing concerns to deal with. I do feel that in comparison to previous generations, we drew a slightly short straw. However, we live in a world of affordable travel, that brings opportunities our parents could only dream of, and we’ve never had to worry about heating the house or buying the groceries before the shops close for the evening. These privileges are a double edged sword, though, the age of the internet and technology has created new jobs whilst making others obsolete. Interest rates are non-existent, tuition fees lumber you in several years of debt, and cuts are made by those who enjoyed a more financially stable youth.

 

Name: Mary Morris
Born: Glasgow
Lives: Neilston, UK
Current Occupation:  Retired
Year at 25: 1966

My Gran is an incredible woman. She has a wicked sense of humour and despite being exactly fifty years apart in age, we have a lot in common …

“I am 76 years of age and have been living in the same house since 1973. My husband passed away 5 years ago and I live on my own. We were happily married for 49 years. My motto is ‘Seize the Day’ and I try to make every day count.”

My Gran had never heard of the term “Snowflake Generation”. She believes that in 1960s life, in general, was much easier for young people. “Most young people left school at 15 as work was plentiful,” she says,

“[In] 1956 I left school and attended a commercial college for 1 year. [Then I] worked in an office only leaving when I got married [as] my employer did not believe in retaining married women. [We began] married life [..] living with my parents for one year to save for a deposit on a small flat.  At that time, only the husband’s basic pay counted for a mortgage. You could not include overtime or wife’s earnings. We stayed in the flat until 1965 when my son was born.”

The remainder of my Gran’s twenties were perhaps different from her friends. At 24 my grandparents made a decision to leave Scotland in pursuit of better opportunities. “[In 1965] my husband was offered work for two years in Kenya, East Africa. We moved there as this was an opportunity to save for a bigger house, [and] we stayed there for eight years during which time I had my second son.

Did she feel she had achieved her expectations at that age?

“Most girls’ expectations at that time were to find a husband, get married and start a family. It was a great shame for the family if you had a baby out of wedlock, very different from now.”

What was she positive about and what concerns did she have?

“Living abroad was good in many ways, but my concerns were about returning to Scotland and all of us settling down to a different lifestyle – finding a job, house, schools, etc.”

Name: Lucy Broomfield
Born: Irvine, UK
Lives: Barcelona
Current Occupation:  Events Manager
Age: 24

I have known Lucy for several years. We met during university and bonded over our love of cheap wine and travelling. Whilst our paths have lead us to lives in different countries, we regularly keep in touch and muse on the curiosities of twenty-something life …

Does where you are in your life at the moment match your expectations when you were younger?

I’m turning 25 in a month. In my childhood and teens, the thought of a 25-year-old was someone very adult with a capital ‘A’. I hadn’t put much thought into how my adult life would be, but I did assume that by 25, I or the average 25-year-old I imagined would be living in (and owning) their first house or flat in the UK. I think the image comes from movies watched when younger. Bridget Jones springs to mind for some reason. Those over 25 would have a full-time job, be slowly but surely climbing up the career ladder, have a partner or spouse, be decorating their first apartment with their gals pals, getting pissed Friday and Saturday then back to work on Monday. Maybe a little boring, money would probably be tight but ultimately safe, secure and on your way to being a proper 40-year-old Mum and Dad owning a semi-detached and holidaying in France twice a year.

Looking at my life now, I have a small but good group of friends who have helped me carry suitcases to my new bedrooms. I get pissed more than two nights a week. I have a job, and I might be slowly climbing up the career ladder – it’s hard to tell. Nothing is too secure. I enjoy it because it has given me a lot of interesting experiences, but is unstable financially and it doesn’t provide me with a safety net of a pension. Ultimately I’m happy but I feel I’m living an extended teenage or student life.

Currently, I’m looking at being able to rent my own studio or one-bedroom flat. And with strategic Air BnB-ing a few nights a month I may just manage it – if the landlord doesn’t find out. Partly, this is down to my [own] choice. Had I stayed in Scotland I’m sure I would have been able to afford to rent a one-bed flat on the outskirts of Glasgow.

To an extent my 25-year-old life matches my expectations, the paragraph above would be the only real surprise to a younger me. As someone who has always been good with money and savings, has been described by teachers as sensible, has a degree, full-time job and comes from a middle-class family I would never have thought [that] after university I’d still be eyeing up the cheapest room rentals on facebook.

Are you renting, have you bought your own home, or are you still living at home?

I am currently renting a room in shared accommodation. [I] dream of renting my own flat and living alone, although anything bigger than a studio with one window seems unlikely.

What are you most positive about and vice versa what worries you the most?

Currently, I’m young and I don’t mind “making do”, but I do worry about my finances in the far future. Will I have enough to retire on? Could I end up being one of those pensioners who can’t afford to heat in the winter? Will I have the security of my own home come old age? What if I end up needing care – could I afford to pay for quality care in a comfortable home? Already my family and other families we know have had to deal with the emotional stress of having an elderly relative who needs assistance and care they can’t afford. I am most positive [however] that through compromise, determination, and some wily ways I will experience all the things I want to in my adult life – travel, adventure, a career, good friends and eventually the security of owning a home.

What is your opinion of being labelled a part of the “snowflake” generation?

On first glance, a little irked at having a patronising title given to our generation. But then again, all older generations end up criticising the generation below them. There are worse – and less amusing – things to be called other than a snowflake.

To some extent, with the age of social media, I can understand the image that our generation seems to whine and complain about the smallest thing as it’s now easier to do so and to a large audience. But I think on a whole, we’re probably just as offended or as whiney as previous generations, but now we have the power to share it with 1000 followers.

In regards to resilience, I think we’re just as resilient as previous generations. Each generation has its own struggle, which may seem unrelatable to other generations, but ultimately because we have to, we make do and we persevere with what we have. I [personally] don’t see myself as a snowflake.

Do you feel life is harder for you in your mid-twenties today or for your mum (Elizabeth) then?

In terms of job security and financial security, I think life was easier for my parents. When you got a job it was for life, pension and all. Usually, jobs would have a clear career path, and it was pretty much expected to buy a small first home. Now, that area has become much harder. Economic uncertainty has created unpaid internships, short-term contracts. It has become more accepted by my peers that unless you’re in a traditionally vocational job, such as a lawyer [or] teacher, no job is really for life, or can’t be expected to be for life. Home ownership seems like a far off dream, like owning a designer handbag. Maybe for a few, but not for the many.

I think the only area where we have it easier is when it comes to entertainment. We have more options when it comes to amusing ourselves, such as Netflix and Tinder. [We can] meet similar-minded friends in forums, and [have] more open-minded attitudes to sex and sexuality. [We are spoilt with] cheap EU flights (although that may go come Brexit…) [as well as] fast and cheap high street fashion.

Elizabeth Cottingham
Born: London, UK
Lives: Troon, UK
Occupation: Self-Employed – Artist, Art Tutor and Invigilator
Year at 25: 1982

Elizabeth, mother to Lucy, feels that there were less opportunities as a twenty-something in the early 80s than for those today …

Do you feel life was harder for you in your twenties then, than for twenty-something-year-olds today in general?

Then: [It] wasn’t particularly hard as [we] followed a fairly traditional route regarding getting work [and having a] family, and one didn’t expect too much else. But we didn’t have as much freedom to ‘play’ which didn’t seem an issue at the time but looking back seems a shame.

Now: 20-[somethings] have more freedom to ‘play’ and travel and the culture is to be flexible regarding jobs but they have it harder inasmuch as jobs can be harder to find and financial stability seems harder to achieve.

Elizabeth on life in her twenties:

“It was challenging and full of possibilities. I was working then returned to post-graduate studies to change [my] career direction. I was renting until 28 when I bought a very small flat in Edinburgh. [I] didn’t feel that I had particularly achieved my ambitions – there still seemed a lot of things to do – but then again there still are. [I was] most positive about feeling independent and having money to do things. [On the other hand I was], most worried about whether [I] would find a partner,  that was a very important part of the traditional upbringing, that one would have a partner and maybe a family. Now [in today’s society, it is] not so much.”

Name: Luisa Seguin
Born: Aosta, Italy
Lives: Amsterdam

Occupation: Research MA in Linguistics
Age: 25

I met co-founder of Talktothepen Luisa during our Master’s course. She is highly driven, loves to travel and always looking for ways to step outside her comfort zone …

Does where you are in your life at the moment match your expectations when you were younger?

Yes, more or less I knew I’d be studying. In Amsterdam [however]? No, I wanted to study in Paris since I was 13.

Are you renting, have you bought your own home, or are you still living at home?

I am renting.

What are you most positive about and vice versa what worries you the most?

I am positive about my short-term plans: [my] thesis, graduation, blog plans, chances of having a dog, [and] that my life is all in front of me.

What worries me a lot [is] the long term plan aka the future. Where will I be? What job will I be doing? [I’m] very concerned about me not liking the job but having to do it anyway to survive. Will my [current] partner […] ever leave the Netherlands and, or, if I could ever be happy there? [I worry about] not being close to my parents as they grow old.

What is your opinion of being labelled a part of the “snowflake” generation?

I think it partly true, in the sense that previous generations respected older people more. They never even questioned this “rule” they were told at home. They venerated them and at the same time [were] very afraid of them. I was told this by every family member of mine. Therefore they did not take much offence when told they were doing it all wrong, that they were layabouts or what to do in general, which happened every day. Religion might have influenced it as well, as it teaches you to be humble and not to react violently to anything and anyone basically. To sum it up, I think people back then were too afraid, too subjugated and respectful towards older family and society members.

Our generation, on the other hand, has started to think with their own head more. Which can be good as well as bad for an individual, as this depends too much on the individual’s head (to put it simply). Sometimes this can lead to unwillingness to listen to others for advice. I realise we very often forget that older people have way more experience than us.

As far as being resilient is concerned, I think this could also be true. Back when my parents were young in an isolated village in the mountains life was hard, there was not much time for tenderness and attention from the parents. They had to be more independent and strong, to help their parents with the housekeeping, the fields, the cows and the other brothers and sisters. There was no money, therefore children went to work as soon as they could, […] at the age of 13-15 to support the family.

Our generation, on the other hand, had everything we could ever wish for, toys, nice food, loving parents etc. We did not have to go to work at the age of 15 and forget about our dream to become an astronaut. This [has] made us wealthy children but not very strong and ready to face what’s out there. Life has changed and so [have] we.

Do you feel life is harder for you in your mid-twenties today or for your mum (Ivana) then?

I think it is different, as they had different problems than those we have today. However, as I said above I think our life is a tiny bit easier as far as basic needs are concerned, as we do not have to worry about basic needs such as warm clothes and shoes, food and education as much as them. On the other hand for us it is difficult with the social pressure and this need to “find happiness” and the dream job. It’s almost becoming an obsession.

Name: Ivana Blanc
Born: Aosta, Italy
Lives: Morgex, Italy
Occupation: Nurse support in a nursing home for elderly
Year at 25: 1984

Luisa’s mother, Ivana believes that the change in society has brought its own new challenges to the twenty-something of today …

(As translated from Italian into English by Luisa Seguin)

Have you heard of the term “snowflake generation”?

No

Do you feel life was harder for you in your twenties then, than for twenty-something-year-olds today in general?

I feel [that] life is harder [for today’s youth], as society has changed and there are way more temptations nowadays, [such as] prostitution, and drugs. [These] were not [readily] available here where I grew up. Back then there was a bigger gap between rich and less rich, therefore these temptations were only available to rich people. Besides, today’s generations aim more at becoming rich, they are more obsessed with it. Back then people lived in a simpler way, there was no need for a status symbol. We grew up in a somewhat poor environment, therefore we were happy with much less, we settled for simpler things, a car, a house, a normal job [for example]. Plus we were not spoiled at all, we had to work for everything, [and] toil for it (even the dentist!), so we were used to it. If you wanted something, you had to buy it with your own money. If anything your parents would lend you money and then you would have to pay it back.

Ivana on life in her twenties:

“[Life in my twenties was ] Beautiful and cheerful (with no worries). [However, it wasn’t] just me, almost everybody around me was like that. I was happy, we were happy. I was working and still lived with my parents. I [wasn’t] really looking forward to moving out that much, while today’s [youth can’t wait].

Did you feel that you had achieved your expectations at that age?

Yes, as I had a job I liked and studied for. And I had also met at 25 the man I then married.

What were you most positive about and vice versa what worried you the most at that age?

[I was positive] about life, I was very satisfied and the future (with my then fiancé).

[I was worried] about nothing, my parents were healthy, I liked my job etc. There were no big worries.

– Sarah Maclean-Morris

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *