Young people all over the world are waiting longer for jobs, steady incomes, home ownership and even marriage. Is there any way to lessen the anxiety of waithood?
I have had to wait for a lot of things and opportunities in the past few years and I do not believe I am getting any better at waiting. When I speak to friends and family born in the 40s and 50s, I realise that many of them are pretty good at waiting and patience in general. They are very systematic in their expectations and paths to progress. Their advice is go to school, learn a professional trade, focus on attaining success in one favourable work place, get married then stick it out. It’s a path of steady and predictable progress.
However, as a millennial with very high and sometimes instant expectations, this steady path is a trying one. A lot has been written about the ‘instant coffee’ generation that I belong to. It is often argued that our desire for instant gratification and success has led to discontentment and poor work ethic as we move around looking for environments that award us instantly and abundantly. This is largely true but there are always exceptions. One particular exception is those who are stuck in ‘waithood’ unintentionally.
Waithood is described by social scientists as the period between childhood and adulthood. It is a term that is predominantly used with reference to African youth who delay adulthood due to severe job and income insecurity. The youth stuck in waithood or delayed adolescence are unable to gather enough resources to move out of their parents homes, live independently and get married. Many of the studies on waithood focus on lower income youth drawn from ‘slum’ communities or poor rural areas. However, it is a phase of life that even the middle class from relatively affluent backgrounds find themselves in.
When I wrote my first blog article on Affluenza, I explored consumerism and the desire for instant wealth as drivers for ‘sugar daddy’ relationships. I received feedback from people of diverse ages but it was particularly interesting to receive an E-mail from a young woman in her early twenties who observed that the struggle to acquire a job after graduating from university had led her and her friend to contemplate sugar daddy relationships for financial assistance. The fresh university graduate described her life as one of ‘brokeness’ compared to that of young ‘moneyed’ Range Rover driving sugar babies. Later in the same week, I met up with some young friends drawn from one of the lower income communities in Nairobi. They too complained of ‘brokeness’ and economic insecurity. However, they had more serious complaints such as lack of school fees.
Waithood is an interesting phenomena because youth drawn from all backgrounds may find themselves delaying certain stages of life development for diverse reasons. For some, it is basics like school fees and a secure home. Whilst for others, it is the desire for a senior job, a well-furnished home and top of the range car ownership. The young people feel it is necessary to have all those things before they can consider settling down into marriage or committed relationships. In Kenya, many jobs are acquired through social networks rather than purely academic or professional qualifications. The young people in social networks that are somewhat marginalised do not easily get access to jobs and opportunities. Therefore, they have to wait even longer for the full transition to adulthood.
Is there a way to wait well and make the best of the situation? This article is some form of therapy for me and may as well be for other young people out there. I have had to wait pretty long before I could finish my PhD, I am eagerly waiting to get married and have children, I am eagerly waiting to start teaching and researching and I am eagerly waiting for that Range Rover too . The sum total of all the motivational material I have read and watched over the years (see source below) argues that the only way to wait well is to actively visualise that you already have what you want. I used to be huge consumer of the self-help movement and all through my undergraduate years, almost every self-help tip I tried worked seamlessly. It wasn’t until I turned 29 during the last year of my PhD that I just felt lost. I would visualise myself successful and happy but would not want to wake up and type my thesis or send it to my supervisor. The thought of constant critique and rejection was debilitating but I resolved that I would constantly be positive and visualise the PhD as complete. Visualisation (and painstaking revision of thesis) eventually worked. I realised I had to visualise but I also had to keep accompanying visualisation with action.
So visualise success but act…
Another key tip is persistence. Not everything will work out the first time. Rarely will you get the job the first time you apply, but you should keep trying. This isn’t a very good quality of mine but I have watched people with very limited education and life chances emerge as successful because they were very persistent and borderline pushy. They simply do not take ‘no’ for an answer. For some people, the more educated they get, the less risk they are willing to take and the less doors they want to knock. The predictable structure of schooling can create the desire to chart out a very linear life path but sometimes you may need to leave comfort zones and knock on several doors, nag several people and wear others out for any opportunities.
So persist and never give up…
It helps to make social connections that are helpful. When I researched young people from Kibera, I discovered that social networks were very instrumental in assisting the youth to get jobs and varied opportunities. Those with foreign social ties had more opportunities than those without such ties. However, the youth struggled locally because Kibera is largely stigmatized by people drawn from higher income areas [thesis]. The youth generally have the same (sometimes even better) academic and professional qualifications than people from the affluent suburbs of Nairobi. However, their social networks are not as powerful as those from the affluent suburbs. After the discovery, one key thing I read about over and over was social networks. I spent many hours discussing the power of networks with my ICT ecosystem research mate and fiancée (Brian) and we concluded that social networks are crucial in the Kenyan context. As young people, we must sometimes engage with men and women who are older and more connected with useful networks than are. And no, this does not include ‘sugar daddy’ men or women who promise to connect you with jobs. The problem with a connection largely based on sexuality or ‘survival’ sex is that when the sexuality wanes (especially as one ages), the network is destroyed. Additionally, if you build a reputation as a sex toy rather than as an excellent worker, it can take years to transition to a professional brand worth taking seriously. It is dangerous and it is much wiser to connect from a level of respectability where the other person is very interested in helping to advance and apply your professional skill sets. Eventually, we shall all get someone who opens a door or even a small window of opportunity that changes our lives for the better, a destiny connector.
So, social networks are powerful…
Lastly, some gratitude goes a long way. Even when life is almost unbearable, surely something must be working out. For the young people in Kibera, they focus on their relationships with each other. They are very cohesive and their unity helps in the conception of ideas that sometimes generate profits. For the middle to upper class young person, it could be the realisation that over-focusing on what you don’t have at this time can ultimately lead to more discontentment. Focusing on what you already have (which is very much) compared to very many youth who must struggle to provide even the basics, is useful. Gratitude journals are very useful tools for a daily documentation of things to be grateful for. Dr Kamen recommends:
“Recording positive experiences boosts levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy, especially when compared to those who recorded or focused on negative events. Our days rarely go according to plan or without unexpected challenges. Some of us can naturally appreciate the sweet moments as they happen throughout the day, while many of us need to cultivate this sense of appreciation.”
So, a little bit of gratitude goes a long way…
On final analysis, we cannot despair and we have to learn to wait well. It is not easy but it can surely be done.
Canfield, J. (2007). How to Get from where You are to where You Want to be: The 25 Principles of Success. HarperCollins UK.
Honwana, A. (2014). Waithood: Youth Transitions and Social Change. Development and Equity: An Interdisciplinary Exploration by Ten Scholars from Africa, Asia and Latin America, 28-40.
Kamen, R. (2015, January 4). The transformative power of gratitude (Blog Post). Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-kamen-gredinger/the-transformative-power-_2_b_6982152.html
Kibere, F. N. (2016). The Capability of Mobility in Kibera ‘Slum’, Kenya: An Ethnographic Study of How Young People Use and Appropriate New Media and ICTs (Doctoral dissertation, Department of Media and Communication).
Korb, A. (2015). The upward spiral: Using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression, one small change at a time. New Harbinger Publications.
Sommers, M. (2012). Stuck: Rwandan youth and the struggle for adulthood. University of Georgia Press.