By now Marisa thought she’d have a dream house, high-powered career, perhaps a polished new car and designer wardrobe to boot. The reality? Not so much. Here she reveals how being part of the ‘lost generation’ has forced her to confront the future
Yes, 2020 chimed in a new year and a new decade. For me, though, it also delivers a new box to tick. This year, I say goodbye to the reassuring ‘18-34’ category on random forms – a category I have spent so long nesting in; hiding behind being ‘young’ as an excuse for, well, just about anything. This year, I will turn 35.
This is momentous, and not just because I will now tick a different box (hello,‘35 -55’). It is momentous because, in my head, 35 was the Age Of Achievement. At 35, you’d got shit done. While in the 18-34 category, I’ve assumed 35-year-olds have stopped dreaming and have started doing. They own houses, have successful careers, expensive cars, children, pets, responsibility. They splurge on expensive evening wear, attend conferences, publish books, and visit friends in the country. By 35, we’ve leapt from the panicked scramble of early adulthood – like a cat scratching at the door – and have slinked through to perch on a window sill, surveying their territory with pride, right?
Wrong. Or, at least, wrong about me. As I approach 35, I can’t help but think about how different things actually are in comparison to my lofty assumptions. Here’s a few examples:
Assumption: I’d be Monica Geller | Reality: hello, a lifetime of renting
For a long time, like many millennials, I thought I would live in an apartment like Monica Geller’s. And it wasn’t just because of Monica. When I was in my early twenties, a friend 10 years older than me bought a small flat in Islington because, at that wild point in time, you still could. Yes, single, young professionals could access the housing market and get a mortgage before the financial crash. To me, a woman owning her own space – however small and however far from the tube – was the greatest symbol of independence and achievement. It was a little bit of the world that you could stick a flag in, call home and use however you please.
Realising that, in reality, I will never achieve this has been a source of heartache. If you too are 35 this year, you are part of an elite club hardest hit by the 2008 crash. Our generation has taken the longest to recover to pre-crash earnings (actually, it still doesn’t really feel like we have). As a result of the broken housing market, savings, pensions, and crucially for me, owning a property, all now remain a pipe dream. The think tank Resolution Foundation has called us ‘a lost generation’, and we’re fleeing the city in our droves. In June, 2019 The Telegraph reported that, ‘Londoners are leaving the capital in record numbers as property prices . Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) [have] revealed that 340,498 residents quit London to live in other parts of the UK. It marks the highest rate of people fleeing the capital since the ONS began collecting data in 2012.’ Could 2020 – the year I turn 35 – also be the year I leave London? Quite possibly.
Assumption: I’d be living in New York | Reality: hello, south east London
Probably tangled up with the dream of owning Monica’s apartment was the notion that I would end up working and living in New York City, or maybe Paris, or somewhere else abroad oozing with glamour and film references. In my early twenties I moved to Amsterdam for a couple of years and that only heightened by ambition to start life somewhere further away. Yet, here I am, in south east London, a couple of hours from where I was born. I sometimes chastise myself for not making that dream happen. Should I have been bolder, braver, saved more money and made a leap into the unknown? Quite possibly. But what you don’t realise when you’re 21 is that life has a hand in your plans too. I found jobs I loved, made friends I fell in love with, felt alive and thriving in London. Why would I give that up? Perhaps sometimes the dreams we have at 21 aren’t the same as the ones we have when we’re 35; perhaps we just need to be a bit better at appreciating what’s right in front of us.
Assumption: I’d be financially secure | Reality: hello, zero savings
When I was a kid, growing up with my baby-boomer parents, I witnessed that slow and steady increase of wealth that once came with age. The older you got, the more experience you would have, and the more experience you have, the more money you got. In my line of work, however, the media industry has taken a big blow. Thanks to the internet, advertising has moved to Facebook and Google and now there’s less money than ever. I’m not alone: a study in 2018 found that people in their thirties are now earning less than the generations before them – a trend not experienced since the 1930s.
I have always associated turning 35 with financial security. But it’s something I still lack and it makes me aware of how my priorities have changed. When I was younger, I thought the money would arrive like grey hair – an inevitably earned with age. Now I am here, though, I realise there’s no such thing. I’m still glad I pursued the career that I have – even if I don’t have the corner office and floor-to-ceiling windows. But I do wish I’d been more practical about money, too. I thought responsibility and security would arrive, well, just because. But guess what: you have to create it, earn it, save it.
So, what do I know at 35? It’s right to follow your heart – just ensure you have savings in the bank, too.