Here’s Everything That’s Right With 30 Under 30 Lists

Here’s Everything That’s Right With ’30 Under 30’ Lists
Some awesome Brooklynites from our 2011 ’25 Under 25′ list.

This morning, Huff Post ran an article entitled, “Here’s Everything That’s Wrong With Our ‘Under 30’ Obsession,” and as annual compilers of the L Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, we took this piece quite personally. Just kidding. Sort of. But we really do think that celebrating the achievements of young people deserves a defense.

But first, a note on the merits of criticism: there is no question about whether or not Americans are obsessed with youth. We expend far too much of our cultural energy dissecting and watching the lives of 20-somethings, because—for the most part—those lives are just not all that interesting. Partially this is because, as a society, we’re deathly afraid of getting older. Even at the age of twenty-one, I watch my friends fret over their “aging” skin (most of them still have cheeks full of baby fat and not a single wrinkle) and dread their birthdays more with each passing year, as though their worth is being chipped away by the minute. This, as you can imagine, is strange and frightening to witness, even for someone experiencing the same anxiety.

Then there’s the other argument: most of life’s successes (and happiness, for that matter) occur in your thirties, forties and beyond, and ’30 Under 30′ lists construct false expectations that few actually realize. The article also cites the 75-year Harvard Grant study, which found that late-in-life satisfaction had little to do with career achievements and instead was measured by love and human connections.

And this is why the subjects of ’30 Under 30′ lists shouldn’t be taken for anything more than they actually are: young, successful professionals who are doing cool things that you might want to know about—not always-super-happy wunderkinds who are ensured eternal love and satisfaction. Here are some more reasons why celebrating awesome young people is still a worthwhile endeavor:

They have truly amazing stories
Journalism is about sharing stories that resonate with people, and quite often, people who achieve early success aren’t spoiled brats who schmoozed their way to the top using Mommy and Daddy’s $$$ (and if they are, journalists shouldn’t include them in celebratory lists). They’re real people with just a tidbit more ambition (or talent, or luck, or what have you) than the rest of us, which makes their stories straight-up fascinating.

Maybe people will finally shut up about how terrible Millennials are
I won’t pretend I feel personally offended whatsoever when some asshat writes a scathing article about how *~*my generation*~* demands eight trophies for simply getting up in the morning, because pretty much everyone I know proves that stereotype devastatingly false. The problem is that this attitude—when accepted by virtually everyone over the age of 40—distorts our actual reality, which is that older generations have basically ruined all our chances to rise up the (metaphor formerly known as) “the ladder,” get a decent retirement plan and enjoy the job security that they did. Maybe that has something to do with why young people feel the teensiest bit screwed out of the system and are therefore asking for something different out of their early-adult years. And whether that “something different” means finding creative fulfillment at the expense of job security (because even people who take the “safe” route by say, getting a law degree, are still finding it difficult to build a stable career), or starting their own businesses that defy previously accepted logic, its everyone’s right to figure out the best path for themselves in this tumultuous economic landscape. Young people finding innovative ways to find success and happiness isn’t the same thing as being an ingrate or a hipster or any of the other labels that get thrown our way—it’s a necessity.

The ECONOMY, dammit!
College students who are about to graduate or have graduated in the past seven years are enduring the worst job crisis in generations, and so naturally, it’s even harder on people who didn’t even go to college. Everyone currently in their 20s has a unique tale to tell about how they’re dealing with worsening career prospects at the same time as, you know, actually having to survive their 20s. But what’s even more fascinating is listening to people who aren’t just overcoming economic troubles, but who are actually changing industries, creating new ones—making waves that will affect the rest of us little fishes, and—to mix oceanic metaphors—contribute to a rising tide that will lift all of us ships.

If you can’t read about someone else’s success without flying into a jealous rage, that’s your problem
U mad, bro? Perhaps it’s because you’ve been reading too many scary articles entitled “5 Reasons You’ll Never Be As Happy As These Corgi Puppies” or “877 Things You’re Currently Doing That Disappoint Your Father” or, say, this one.

Okay, yeah, maybe looking at a whole bunch of shiny, happy 24-year-olds who are realizing your lifelong dreams can be a little discouraging (we like to think of it as motivating, but no matter), but to declare the recognition of successful young people as a universally wrong “obsession” because “it makes people feel bad,” is a far more cynical and ultimately self-defeating approach. You can choose to read about your peers who are changing the world and say, “I’m inadequate,” or “these mean magazine editors are trying to make me feel bad about myself,” or you could say, “Wow, that’s interesting. I want to change the world, too.” That seems like a more productive way to think about youth, wouldn’t you say?


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