Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adulthood 101. (Oh, grow up.)

Last week, while heading out to dinner with my sisters, we passed a place that my sister Kath – whose town we were in – was hoping was a new restaurant.  But Society of Grownups? As my sister Kath wrote on her blog:

What the hell kind of tragically hip name for a restaurant is "Society of Grownups?" And who would want to eat there anyway? (Source: My Rolled Trousers)

When we got back to Kath’s after dinner, we – natch – took to The Google to suss out SOG, and found that it’s an insurance company (Mass Mutual) operation aimed at wooing twenty-somethings interested in planning their financial futures.

It will surprise no one who knows my sister Kath that she has a funny and trenchant take on this:

Good idea, to provide financial education to recent college graduates and young adults, and probably a smart marketing initiative from a stodgy old insurance company who probably took a look at the demographic of their current clients and found they were all Trouserville cohorts, circling the drain with paid up life insurance policies grasped in their ancient claws. And who is going to start a storefront center for finding your inner geezer?  No future in that.

While it’s difficult to improve on Kath, I will point out that there actually is a storefront center for finding your inner geezer: Fidelity’s spot on 155 Congress Street in downtown Boston, which seems to be something of a hangout for the gray brigade.  Nothing hipster about it, unless you consider a printed-on-paper copy of the day’s Wall Street Journal hipster. The  only personal touch is a fishbowl full of miniature Hershey bars on the counter, in case one of us geezers waiting to talk about our IRAs starts feeling a bit peckish or faint.

While the SOG website has many links to sensible financial tools and advice, the overall gestalt of the enterprise seems to be cloying cutesy-ness, which may go down well with the Instagram generation but seems downright patronizing to an old codger.

If you think that “cloying cutesy-ness” is anything approaching an exaggeration, take a look at the Society of Grownups for yourself. And compare and contrast the SOG approach to the look and feel of Mass Mutual when they’re talking to the rest of us. While Mass Mutual has the standard boring fin-serv picks (products and solutions, planning tools and resources, business needs):

Society of Grownups believes you can pursue adult goals like starting a family, opening a business, or saving for retirement without losing your sense of adventure. Come to a few of our classes and events and you’ll see what we mean.Welcome to the Society of Grownups. Helping you find your inner adult.

Can’t disagree with trying to make young adults more knowledgeable about things financial. With so many of them coming out of school with a ton o’ debt, I’m sure that plenty of them could use a bit of advice. And given how many Boomer knuckleheads are nearing retirement age with near-zippo in terms of savings, getting focused on saving up for the years leading up to The Great Beyond is a good thing.

But “helping you find your inner adult”? Isn’t this what life does to you? Do you really need to sign up for a course named “When Money Buys Happiness: Spending on The Things You Care About” or “Beyond the Hostel: Planning Grownup Trips”? Aren’t these things you can figure out for yourself?

I’m such a crank…

You’d think I’d be happy that there’s a place that encourages “the kids” to crawl out of their online caves and actually meet people face to face, a place that provides an alternative “scene” to a drunken groping bar.

But it does, as Kath says, seem patronizing, as if any appeal to the common sense (and self-interest) of a generation has to be couched in “fun”, tongue and cheek terms.

And isn’t “finding your inner adult” something that actually is part of the “adventure”, not something that’s antithetical to it? Isn’t “finding  your inner adult” something that sort of comes naturally along the way?

You get a job and realize that, now that it’s your money, not theirs,  so you can spend it on whatever you damn well please, including a Bob Dylan album or mini-skirt that they might disapprove of.

You get your license and drive a little too fast on that curve and find yourself up over the curve, two inches from the telephone poll (fortunately) and no cop in sight (double fortunately). So the next time you’ve got the car, you slow the hell down on that curve.

You help your friends through their crises - loss of boyfriend, loss of faith, loss of parent, bad trips, hangovers – and, along the way, figure out how you’re going to cope when those crises come your way.

You get an apartment. You wear down your landlord into replacing the crappy fridge. You take yourself to small claims course – and win – if the landlord wearing-down doesn’t happen fast enough.

You go away, far away, and figure out how to cope when it’s pouring rain, you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s late, and the hostel is full. (Note to Society of Grownups: if you’ve actually done the hosteling routine, you really don’t need a travel course to figure out hotels.)

And then you get a real job. You negotiate a raise. You hire someone. You coach someone. You fire someone.

You find “the one”, and end up getting married. Or not, and end up staying single. Living with someone, living on your own: both very good ways to find your inner adult.

You have kids – the ultimate ‘oh, grow up’ experience. Or not, but end up being part of someone else’s village. No, it’s not the same, but whether it’s their kid or yours, you figure out how to clean up a baby covered in crap up to his neck. Try to comfort a child who seems inconsolable. Show someone the joys of kite-flying. Stop them from doing something dumb (or maybe just something annoying). Answer a scary big question. Realize that, as much as you want to do it, sometimes there’s no way you can take the heartbreak and pain away. Help kids understand that things mostly do get better. Explain to them that, yes indeed, life is sometimes sucky and unfair. And, let’s hope, convey to the children you know and love that life is always an adventure, and that there are a lot of good and fun things about being a grownup.

And that there are a lot of not so good and fun things about being an adult, but that this is okay, too. Things like coping with the illness, the death of those you love. All part of life, all part of what we’re here for.

According to the Society of Grownups:

Every generation has its own dreams. And its own ideas about success. But the only path to happiness is the one built on your individual goals and values.

True, all. (Although I might argue that every generation’s dreams and ideas about success pretty much end up the same. We all want to find love, companionship, meaningful work…)

And, yes, that “path to happiness” is yours and yours alone.

But do you really need the Society of Grownups to realize this?

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