There’s this idea that few of us feel truly grown up, that inside the typical 60 year old is a 16 year old going, “What the hell is happening to me?”
Charlie wrote a wise article about this (comments are also worth reading). In a nutshell:
We can never measure up to the apparently godlike adults we observed when we were kids because: (1) they only looked godlike to a child, and (2) each generation is different. It follows we all finds ourselves wanting compared to the our elders! You don’t wear a suit and act serious. Dad didn’t work down the mines. Granddad wasn’t a farmer. Great Granddad never wore a redcoat in India. Great Great Granddad never shot a Frenchman. (And of course, the older generation can derive status by reminding us of this.)
That has to be true. However, I think the corollary is also important:
The previous generations are really no longer a valid source of validation because our lives are so different from theirs.
Once upon a time, your granddad could say, “I see your potato field is doing well,” and that meant something because he was a farmer or agricultural worker before you.
Now the best he can manage probably translates as, “I can see you’re teching the tech in some remunerative way because you don’t appear to be broke. What was your job title again?”
Once he could say, “I see your daughter is doing well in the [quaint rural pastime here] competition.” Now it’s, “So explain to me again what a Goth is?”
That would be fine if we could get meaningful validation from other hierarchies.
However, even at work, as soon as you occupy any sort of professional role, you probably know your particular job better than your boss does. They may compliment you on delivering on time and under budget, but they’ve got neither the time nor, probably, the knowledge to understand your elegant code well enough to praise it. (And you couldn’t do their job either, much as you might bitch about non-technical managers.)
So, one curse of modernity is that, outside a small number of professions — e.g. military and medical — and a handful of pastimes — e.g. martial arts –, we don’t tend to have anybody older and wiser to look up to who is also informed enough about what we do to truly validate our efforts and make us feel like a grown up.
It follows that we must either be self validating, or go looking for it in the right places… but where?