Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Premature Peaking

Recently I was listening to Episode 6 of YMM Podcast. One of the topics that came up during their far-ranging conversation was the concept that young adults who grow up in Fort McMurray "peak" too soon, meaning that they achieve life success and security far earlier than in many places. Being from a slightly older generation, and a person who grew up elsewhere, I must say I suspect this is true. I think it's significant enough that parents raising children here should be wary of it, too.

I can't speak for anyone else but my twenties were a struggle. I was never quite sure if I'd be able to pay rent and utilities, buy food, and still pay for transportation. I was living in one of Canada's largest cities at the time, and, while survival was a daily challenge, opportunity was also ever present. I was always on the prowl for improvement - a better job, a better apartment, or even a move to another city if it represented personal progress. I see a troubling difference with those who spend their early adult years in Fort Mac.

I see many twenty-something year olds in this city who already own homes. They are earning wages I couldn't have even dreamed of in my twenties. Many of them have already started families, and often they have one failed marriage already behind them - before they even hit thirty. I am not saying this is wrong, but one thing I know about personal financial struggle is that it builds fortitude and character. It forces resourcefulness and teaches you to rise to new challenges. Having things too easy too young is not always beneficial, and I suspect it also gives rise to complacency. If you are earning this kind of pay cheque here why would you ever consider moving to another city? Why would you ever think about how to improve your life with further education or a different job opportunity? It's not that the young adults here are lazy, because I don't think that's it at all - I simply think that this early "peaking" may well be detrimental to their long term happiness. Lack of struggle and lack of challenge means there is no motivation to seek opportunity - and part of what makes us humans happy is the strive to better our lot in life. Someone pointed out to me that this is likely the way it was for most people a couple of hundred years ago, but our life spans were also much shorter. When your life expectancy hovers around age 50 then you need to pack a lot in a early. When your life expectancy is around 75 you have much more time to accomplish the same goals - and accomplishing them too early leaves many years to develop boredom or dissatisfaction.

I look around at these twenty-something year olds with young children, and often this is the only city they have ever lived in. They have not ever taken the leap as I did at nineteen to move across the country to another place and start fresh. They have not struggled in a financial sense, and I suspect if the industry collapsed tomorrow would be in dire straights. I also look at them and wonder how many will suffer from severe mid-life crises, that time when one looks back and wonders if they could and should have done things differently when they were young. Will they wish they had the opportunity to struggle and to fight to survive, knowing that their success relied solely on them? Owning a home, having a spouse, and having children in your early twenties also seems like a tremendous amount of responsibility - is it a responsibility that over time some will come to resent?

I am certainly not saying these young adults are not happy. I imagine I would have been blissfully happy at that age to have no financial worries and to feel set for life. As I have matured, though, I also see that in time I might have seen that security as a cage that trapped me instead of providing the freedom I thought it did. I hope I am wrong, as if I am right there are a significant number of young people in this city who are headed for tough times when they hit their forties. What worries me is that some young adults, like the ones from YMM Podcast, seem to confirm my fears in that they recognize this dilemma as well. The allure of early success seems overwhelming - but just maybe that premature peaking is not what we want for our children at all. Maybe we want them to struggle and fight to survive just as we may have done because in the long run perhaps it's what leads to true life-long satisfaction. I think it's an issue worth thinking about, especially as it relates to our community and the people in it.

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