A View Through Glass

Rants and ravings of a curmudgeon of Generation Y

Month: September 2013

A Review of “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay, PhD

Recently I finished reading The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD and found it to be an interesting, if short read. As you might be able to guess from the title, the book is targeted as those in their twenties and attempts to address things specifically to Millennials which means for those outside the target demographic might find it to be a bit thin. The book is divided in to three sections: “Work”, “Love”, and “The Brain and the Body.”

“Work” focuses on, well, work and it largely focused on encouraging readers to start building their career as opposed to working jobs that are either not challenging or outside of what they wish to do. For those in their early to mid-twenties this could be very useful as it gives a counter balance to the general trend in the media to call Millennials lazy or entitled. One of the later chapters in the “Brain and the body” section actually crosses over nicely into “Work” since it covers what many Millennials struggle with: dealing with the first job and building on the job confidence. Sadly, the section on work was largely a miss for me, but then considering I’m at the point where my career is “established” I’m not in the target audience.

The next section is “Love” which focuses more on anecdotes relating to dating, cohabitation, and avoiding “being in like.” All of it was largely sound advice, although barring issues related to not waiting too long to get married, I’m skeptical that there is really any new ground being broken here. In other-words, some of the advice seems like it has been around for awhile, although some of the stories do provide some good examples of what not to do and what can go wrong.

The last section is “The Brain and the Body” which I actually found to be one of the more interesting sections. The section includes lay explanations of brain development in twenty-somethings, which is still an area of active research (i.e. MIT Young Adult Development Project.) The science is a bit thin, but given the nature of the book, this is to be expected. I actually found the “Calm Yourself” chapter to be especially interesting since it was easy to see how explanations about brain development having a stabilizing effect on moods in revelation to the workplace applied since I was able to recognize the same patterns in myself. The author made some references to The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel by Lauren Weisberger (I only ever saw the movie, it wasn’t bad) and the “first boss from hell” seems to be a common motif that pops up every now and then regardless of the era, so it makes sense that brain development has some to do with the first boss being that bad and learning to deal with them.

“The Brain and the Body” section also included a signification reminder about biological development and the proverbial “biological clock” that puts an upper limit on when having kids is a viable options. As you might suspect the chapter includes the request cautionary tale couple with some information as to the odds of getting pregnant at various ages. Given that people are having children later these days due to careers, the economy, and so forth it is easy to see why it was included.

So as a whole, this book is definitively targeted more at early to middle twenties as opposed to late twenties or older. I joke when I started reading it that the book was more likely to be a review of what I screwed up in my twenties as opposed to viable advice given my being in the late twenties demographic. On the same token, there is some useful information that could be relevant to anyone in relation careers and supervisors might find those same sections useful for reviewing to see if they can give any insight into dealing with younger employees.

As I previously noted, I found this to be a very quick read. The book as a whole only weights in at 240 pages and of that, the actual content only runs 201 pages. The rest is taken up by the notes and acknowledgements. The notes do provide enough information to be a decent jumping off point if you want to do some more reading on some of the items that are mentioned in the text, but they do seem to be padding out the book a bit, although even the formatting of the actual content also likely pads out the page count a bit as well.

Still, it is an interesting enough read that if you were to see it at the library or discounted at a bookseller it might be worth picking up. The ideal target for this book is likely someone that is getting ready to move out, either from home or college in which case it might make a good gift idea.

Can you run a half-marathon without dedicated training?

At the beginning of the year I decided to try and run a half-marathon  in 2013 coming off a base in 2012 of having run a 10k and and having went and purchased the relevant books (e.g. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons) in preparation. Then I proceeded to the very common habit of not following the training plan, although I did managed to actually read the book. The biggest issue is that while training for a half-marathon isn’t nearly as intense as training for a full marathon, you are still investing a considerable amount of time in “getting the millage in” which isn’t always something that can be juggled with a busy schedule so inventively I put the training off in favor of my usual running to stay in shape.

Towards the end of the summer, having come off a 10k race and with the Wicked Half-Marathon coming up, I decided to see what the internet said about running a half-marathon without training:

and those are just the links that I had handy around, quite a bit of reading was done on the topic which lead me to the general conclusion that in all likelihood I could pull off at least finishing the half-marathon and wouldn’t be too worse for wear afterwards.

Going into the half-marathon I had a base of about 12 to 15 miles of running a week broken up over two to three 5k runs and a six mile run every weekend. Plus having finished a couple 10k races (including one that had two major hills to climb) I knew that I could do six mile run in right around 60 minutes and figured that if I tired to stick to around an 11:00/mile pace that I should be able finish in about 2:24:12 which isn’t very impressive by any means, but if the goal is to just finish the half-marathon then it is a number to keep in mind during the race and a firm target of under 2:30:00 to aim.

So the day of the race came and while the weather started out iffy (57.4F and 95% humidity with fog) once the fog lifted and took some of the humidity with it, the day proved to be a very good one for running in general. In deference of the fact that I wasn’t planning on running any sort of fast pace, I started at the back of the pack at the starting line and after about the second mile I could barely even see the pack in the distance. After that, it was largely a lot of scenic running through neighborhoods and along the ocean for the next six miles before the distance started to catch up with me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, at this point I didn’t feel like I was physically hurting and pushing myself, but rather the mental side of things was starting to catch up with me. Since the course is an out and back, mile eight marks the point in which you are passing by scenery that you have already seen before and the miles seemed to feel a lot longer than the previous eight that I had ran. So for me, getting from mile eight to 11 was much more mental than it was physical since by that point I was pushing about two hours and I knew that most of the starting pack had already finished the race when I still had several miles left to go. Boredom also played a huge role to an extent as well since, let’s face it, running can be quite boring and I have a hard time pushing myself past one hour when working out. That is also a large part of the reason why I didn’t engage in any training specific to the half-marathon.

Mile 11 on the other hand, is when the pain showed up and it showed in my mile splits. The pain was nothing unbearable that would have forced me to stop, but I did have to alter my gait and getting from mile 11 to mile 12 was very, very rough. After that though, once I was able to get to mile 12, you aren’t that far from the finish and the mental desire to push through and actually finish goes a long way. Once you can see that finish line in the distance you tend to push to get there.

 

2013 Wicked Half-Marathon shirt and medal

2013 Wicked Half-Marathon shirt and medal

 

So how did I actually do in quantifiable terms? Well, personally I would say not too bad given the standards by which I judgment myself, but with proper training I likely could have done a lot better.  I should put a bit of context around these numbers since I have a fully torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and since the injury my fastest mile is around 8:45-ish and most of my runs tend to be paced at around 9:30 to 10:30 per mile depending upon the distance. For the half-marathon itself, I only slowed down to walk at the aid stations to grab some water, the only time I walked was during mile 13 when going up the last hill momentarily winded me. So over the course of the entire race, I likely only walked for about a minute.

 

Splits for the 2013 Wicked Half-Marathon

Splits for the 2013 Wicked Half-Marathon

 

The final time is missing from the splits but it was under 2:28 which was under the 2:30 target. Looking over the times, I’m not sure if if I could have ran the last two miles faster given the fact that I hadn’t trained for the half-marathon, but I think that if I keep trying to push my long runs out, I can likely get to the point the next time I try to run a half-marathon that my times can be much better. Also, the day after the race I didn’t feel completely wiped, just a bit sore, leads me to understand why people generally do half-marathons a lot more than full marathons.

So where does everything stand with regards to if you can run a half-marathon without dedicated training? Well, based upon my own experience, I was able to accomplish it and I did find quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that shows it can be done; however, there are some considerations to keep in mine:

  • Age plays a role in that there more stories of people having run a half-marathon, or a full marathon, in their early twenties than not.
  • Physical fitness prior to the race seems to play a major role since in a lot of cases the stories are from people who are quite active and work out a lot, but generally don’t run a lot.
  • Technique plays a role in that in a lot of cases people use a run/walk style and it could be argued that using such techniques aren’t quite the same as actually running the distance.

Now I suppose that some would argue that running a half-marathon off of the base of running 10k’s is not the same as not having trained at all, but that’s also not the question that I was asking myself prior to the race. When I was doing my original searches I found that advice that was given was all of the place and in some cases seemed completely off-base for the goal of just finishing the half-marathon – one person even stated that you should have three hour training runs as part of your perpetration for the half-marathon(!) which I suspect applies more to those that are trying to place as opposed to just finish.

Which, at the end of the day is the key to this whole question, there is a huge difference between just being able to finish the race and someone that is actually trying to compete to place or to beat their own personal record. For those that are just trying to finish, a good portion of the race is mental and what they say about everyone running their own race is true. Regardless of if you approach the half-marathon having followed a training program (which personally I would recommend, my own outcome not withstanding) or not, there are times where you will feel like quitting for any number of reasons and you need to be able to push yourself through. After all, all of the training in the world will not help you finish if you hold yourself back.

 

DISCLAIMER: Trying to run a half-marathon or marathon without training will likely result you not finishing, limping across the line in a lot of pain, or worse. Most people that attempt such things usually have a solid base of fitness that they are building off of and even then reports of injury are not uncommon.

A Response to “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy”

Today, an article on wait but why came to “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” came to my attention and as things tend to go, a lot of the gross generalizations that it makes about Generation Y are inaccurate, condescending, and well, just not funny which is what I think the author was originally going for. I’ll allow the internet to address the question as to if Generation Y is quantifiable unhappier than other generations, although thus far there isn’t much evidence for that, and keep the more interesting points to be addressed here.

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

This equation summarizes the first major point that the article was trying to made; however, consider the following diagram:

Generation Y vs Great RecessionFigure One, Generation Y and the Great Recession

Here I’ve loosely organized the Generation Y by expected current life milestone, birth year, age, and I’ve highlighted those affected by the Great Recession on the left. The years that are highlighted in blue are those generally accepted to be part of Generation Y and the ages highlighted in green also correspond to those that are in the workforce, regardless of if they went to college or not. You will note that effectively all of Generation Y in the workforce has been affected by the Great Recession and likely are still being impacted by it.

Now, one of the career milestones that I’ve always heard of is that even if you start out at a junior level position, you can usually expect to get your first promotion between three and five years. This is quite variable based upon the company, career field, and so forth, but the concept of “Up or out” is nothing new and I find it quite surprising that people are saying that employees that are approaching the beginning of their mid-career are acting “entitled” when they bring up promotions. The fact of the matter is that children do listen to their parents and many of the expectations that Generation Y bring to the workforce are reflections of what they heard from their parents when they were growing up.

So needless to say that there are expectations in place, but in many ways they are being tempered by the fact that the expectations are based upon those that have come before. If someone grows up hearing that that you go to college, get a job, and get your first promotion a couple years latter, then that expectation will be used to take stock of your current life circumstances. Don’t forget that the article was also targeted at Yuppies who might even have been given information by companies during their on-boarding that discussed career milestones and set some of these targets for them from day one.

This brings us to the whole idea that Generation Y is delusional and everyone thinks they are special, eh, no more than anyone else. If anything, Generation Y may be more pragmatic about it considering that the 2012 “You Are Not Special” commencement speech at Wellesley High School was a huge hit while an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Vladimir Putin was met with shock due to him insinuating the same thing. So really, what more can I say then that?

Freedom is not a vacuum in the driveway

Recently NPR did a very interesting special series on “Millennials and The Changing Car Culture” and I would encourage anyone to go through and read or listen to the pieces and specifically the following two:

Both of which give some very keen insight into how Generation Y is approaching car ownership as well as what I believe is likely to be a longer term trend of the younger generations altering the way the view cars. Arguably this also applies to the older generations as well and I believe that the trends the past couple years for the annual vehicle miles driven showing a downturn supports this argument. In fact, the Frontier Group released a report in 2012 that noted,

The trend toward reduced driving, however, has occurred even among young people who are employed and/or are doing well financially.

and that,

Policy-makers and the public need to be aware that America’s current transportation policy – dominated by road building – is fundamentally out-of-step with the transportation patterns and expressed preferences of growing numbers of Americans.

Which in some ways is bad for those whose livelihoods depend upon the jobs generated by road building and maintenance, but I digress. When reading through the comments on the NPR series I noticed that a very curious line of reasoning appeared that is best summarized by the following quote,

so freedom means being dependent on public transportation? Freedom to you means being dependent on others?

Which is a comment that was made in response to the following,

Part of Freedom is defined for me by in having a good public transportation system and bike paths. I haven’t owned a car in ten years, but I have travelled to more than twenty countries. I’m glad to here US Millennials are deciding that their worth is not defined by what they own.

Which is another very interesting line of thought that I have observed tends to occur more with people that I know that live in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. To return to the original quote though, the commenter who made it also makes a number of other comments, that are echoed by others, that effectively equates car ownership with personal freedom. While this is an interesting line of thought, as you might conclude from the title, it is a line of thought that I disagree with.

Now, I should start by saying that there is something to be said for the ability to just get in a car and go where ever you need to, when you need to. However, I commuted to work by train for a number of years before having to return to taking the car to work and quite frankly, as annoying as having to keep an eye on the train schedule should be at times, sitting in rush hour traffic going 10 miles per hour is even more so! Plus, for people that live in urban areas, programs such as zipcar mean that you can rent a car on a short term basis for chores that require a car for hauling goods or if you want to do a shorter road trip.

So what do I mean when I say that a car is a “vacuum in the driveway?” Quite simply, it’s about the cost of ownership involved with owning a car and it is not light by any means. AAA released a brochure that discusses how to calculate your driving costs per mile and they summarize their averages as follows:

AAA Average Costs Per MileThese numbers seem fairly reasonable but they take their own assumptions into account and I’m not entirely sure that I agree with them. But since these are in the context of cost per mile, we need to look at things from the standpoint of the pure cost of ownership. In other-words, what would you save by not owning the car in the first place? Some costs that come to mind are vehicle excise taxes, inspections, and auto insurance.

With regards to vehicle excise taxes, they tend to be all of the place and are state specific, but the local excise tax of $25 per $1,000 of assessed value seems to at least be a reasonable metric given the limited estimation I did of the tax in other states. Thus, if your car has an assessed value of $10,000 you can expect to pay $250 a year just to continue to own it1. Factor in an annual state inspection if you live someplace that requires them, in some places the costs are fixed by law, but in others they can be variable. Still figure, somewhere between $25 and $75 for an annual inspection and we will disregards the gas associated with driving to the inspection facility.

Car insurance is one of the big ones and as near as I can tell, you need to carry insurance even if you don’t plan on actually driving the car  and Massachusetts actually provides a very interesting little spreadsheet for comparing the insurance costs. For some very basic assumptions I was told to expect to pay between $379 and $1,321.34 with the average being $698.39. So there you are looking at another $379 at a minimum and since the amount you drive plays a role, the costs can go up if you drive more each year.

That brings us to a very, very rough estimate of $654 on the low end of things just to have a car sitting in your driveway and not even driving. Once you start driving it you need gas and since driving also causes wear and tear, you are going to need maintenance at some point. You can use tools such as the edmunds.com True Cost to Own calculator to give you a rough estimate2 but it appears that anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 a year gets thrown around on a fairly regular basis. My own costs appear to be somewhere around $5,000 a year once I take into account the cost of parking and maintenance and I keep the costs down by trying to avoid driving a lot and getting decent fuel economy.

So the question we must ask ourselves, and the one that I’m seeing members of Generation Y asking a lot, is if spending upwards of around $9,000 a year to own a car is really worth it? For those living in urban areas with decent to good public transport you might be able to avoid needing a car in order to commute too and from work which just leaves chores and pleasure driving. In those cases a number of people have told me that they use the aforementioned zipcars and find ways to minimize the time they actually need a car. Plus, in urban areas, walking or biking to various places can be a viable option. The biking option being especially popular with some bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache.

In some ways, a bike might actually represent more freedom than a vacuum in the driveway since bike generally have a fairly low initial fixed cost up front (say $100 to $500) followed by the occasional need for repairs which you can learn to do yourself by picking up a book and learning the relevant skills. I’ve heard many people from the Baby Boomer generation decry the fact that most people can’t or wouldn’t work on modern cars and just take them to the mechanic.

So bringing things around, a car may represent freedom to some, but at the end of the day it is also a money vacuum that is sitting in the driveway and the more you use it the more it is going to cost. Also, since just owning it requires a certain amount of money, it ensures that you are paying money out of your monthly budget to its up keep that can be significantly above and beyond the costs of using alternatives such as public transportation, bikes, and just walking where you need to go if it is close enough. Cultural attitudes are changing with regards to cars and they are being seen as less of a representation of personal freedom and more of a monthly expense to be minimized or done away with if possible.

 


  1. As an aside, I tried to find the average value of car but turned up short, although apparently a new car is going to cost on average $30,000. Ouch.
  2. Amusingly, my car is so “old” that it doesn’t even appear as an option.