An Ordinary Age: Finding Your Way in a World That Expects Exceptional (Paperback)
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Esquire's Book Club Pick
"A meticulous cartography of how outer forces shape young people’s inner lives." —Esquire, Best Books of Spring 2021
In conversation with young adults and experts alike, journalist Rainesford Stauffer explores how the incessant pursuit of a “best life” has put extraordinary pressure on young adults today, across our personal and professional lives—and how ordinary, meaningful experiences may instead be the foundation of a fulfilled and contented life.
Young adulthood: the time of our lives when, theoretically, anything can happen, and the pressure is on to make sure everything does. Social media has long been the scapegoat for a generation of unhappy young people, but perhaps the forces working beneath us—wage stagnation, student debt, perfectionism, and inflated costs of living—have a larger, more detrimental impact on the world we post to our feeds.
An Ordinary Age puts young adults at the center as Rainesford Stauffer examines our obsessive need to live and post our #bestlife, and the culture that has defined that life on narrow, and often unattainable, terms. From the now required slate of (often unpaid) internships, to the loneliness epidemic, to the stress of "finding yourself" through school, work, and hobbies—the world is demanding more of young people these days than ever before. And worse, it’s leaving little room for our generation to ask the big questions about who they want to be, and what makes a life feel meaningful.
Perhaps we’re losing sight of the things that fulfill us: strong relationships, real roots in a community, and the ability to question how we want our lives to look and feel, even when that’s different from what we see on the ‘Gram. Stauffer makes the case that many of our most formative young adult moments are the ordinary ones: finding our people and sticking with them, learning to care for ourselves on our own terms, and figuring out who we are when the other stuff—the GPAs, job titles, the filters—fall away.
About the Author
Rainesford Stauffer has written and reported for the New York Times, New York magazine’s The Cut, WSJ Magazine, Teen Vogue, Vox, and The Atlantic, among other outlets. She has appeared on CNN Newsroom, NPR’s On Point and Weekend Edition, and podcasts such as ABC News’ Start Here, the Guardian’s Chips with Everything, and Foreign Policy’s Don’t Touch Your Face. She is a journalist, speaker, and Kentuckian.
"Stauffer explores the diminishing returns of young adulthood in this soulful book, providing a meticulous cartography of how outer forces shape young people’s inner lives. From chronic burnout to the loneliness epidemic to the strictures of social media, An Ordinary Age leads with empathy in exploring the myriad challenges facing young adults, while also advocating for a better path forward: one where young people can live authentic lives filled with love, community, and self-knowledge."
"Stauffer's book isn't a polemic about The Youth of Today, but rather, a dialogue with young adults as they reflect on their emerging adulthoods, and experts in various fields who help place those reflections in a wider context....some sections landed so well I was tempted to chuck the book across the room."
— Boston Globe
"An Ordinary Age is an antidote for young people everywhere who are sick and tired of being sick and tired that the lives they wake up to everyday don't match the ones they see on Instagram. It is a book for those who deserve to know that their lives and their efforts aren't just good enough: They are well and truly good."
— Meg Jay PhD, author of The Defining Decade and Supernormal
"Rainesford Stauffer is a brave writer who takes us to places that we haven't been yet, and gives us companionship when we're there. I'd love to hand out thousands of copies of this book. You will find comfort and empowerment in every chapter. An Ordinary Age is a gentle but urgent call to embrace the fullness of life, and that's a reminder we can use at any stage of life."
— Mari Andrew, author of Am I There Yet?
"Rainesford Stauffer asks all the important questions in An Ordinary Age, which is in many ways a coming-of-age manifesto about how it feels, and what it means, to grow into adulthood in the digital age when we're all told we should be living our quote-unquote best lives."
— Kate Fagan, author of What Made Maddy Run
"The quest for perfection and excellence has left us exhausted, pissed off, and bewildered. If you want to turn away, at whatever point in your life, from the endless cycle of burnout, this beautifully written, endlessly empathetic book is for you."
— Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
"Reading this book made me feel a lot less alone -- it captures what it is to be young in America with so much empathy and intelligence. Stauffer centers the voices and experiences of young adults while also investigating the systemic forces that define this life stage with clarity."
— Masuma Ahuja, author of GIRLHOOD