Mon, 25 Dec 2000

Young, rich and lost in the high rise jungle

By Joyce Djaelani Gordon

JAKARTA (JP): To be young, affluent and living life in the fast lane. Who would not want to be in the shoes of the young and rich? Most certainly, there are many wanna-bes. Many rural youths would surely love to be in these shoes. Yet, they can only dream about that kind of lifestyle, that they usually only see on sinetron (Indonesian soap operas).

Of course, the wanna-bes pick up and copy the walk and the talk from these ready-made images -- flung out by the mass media, often reeking of consumerism and yuppie lifestyle.

But are the lives of young and rich urbanites as wonderful as they appear? What is the cost of being a young and affluent urbanite?

Time takes on a different meaning for the exuberant and dynamic young urbanites. They experience time differently than their counterparts in rural settings, where people continue to be part of a way of life that is older and slower, and families are still very tightly knit.

The expression "time is money" underlines what time means in an urban or business setting today, as compared to the rural expression of "we have nothing but time". People who live in cities today rarely have time for anything but business, in one form or another. Not that they want to, but they are usually swept into this fast-paced life, as everyone gets more and more involved in work. Even a social life often means socializing with colleagues and business partners.

Although family and friends are still important to these young professionals, it is difficult to "escape and steal time" in the city just to visit family and friends, who often live throughout the city, making visiting them a time-consuming affair.

This is so different from the past, when families often lived close together. Now, with visiting family and friends being a full-days work, some young people say they would rather opt out whenever they can. Their main reason being that visiting family can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting, especially if communication has never been all that great between family members. Many prefer to spend Saturdays and Sundays resting and relaxing, keeping stress at a minimal level.

"I work hard all week. Of course I want to spend Saturdays and Sundays resting rather than getting into fights with my family, who pester me about marriage. I can live without that, thanks," says Rani, a young, single professional.

Urbanites do need time to relax and keep stress at a minimum, since their whole week is filled with stress.

Picture this, living in the city usually means leaving home early in the morning, being stuck in traffic for hours and working all day, and often into the night, to meet the daily deadlines. Late in the afternoon, or night, these urbanites head home. This often means, again, being stuck in traffic and getting home very late. It gets to be such a routine that one can actually become a zombie. To relax, and sometimes to avoid traffic, some of these young urbanites choose to go out and play among the lights of the city, hanging out at cafes, malls and galleries, checking out the scene their circle of friends. Or they go out to the most-happening discotheques and bars to chill out and relax. Many spend their weekends in much the same way. They end up exhausted and stressed out, and most dread Mondays.


More and more of these young urbanites are beginning to acutely feel that something is very wrong; that something is missing in their lives. Some have work-related health problems, some complain about constant headaches and migraines, and many are stressed-out by their workloads and constant deadlines. Many also feel anxiety because of the nagging desire to be "successful", and the ever-present need for more and more money.

"I just want to be happy, but I don't know how to be happy," sighs Felicia. "I have a good job as a manager, I have all that I might need or want. Yet I feel so empty inside, and I don't know what I want anymore."

This has become a common plague for many young urbanites, and even more so among those over 30 and the rich. Many rich individuals are finding that outward success and money alone never add up to happiness. Besides, happiness is like an elusive butterfly that flies further away the more someone tries to catch it. Happiness is not about "having or doing", as much as it is about "being and becoming".

Relationships are another stressful problem. Many young and successful people today feel empty and acutely alone, even in the middle of a crowd (some try to get rid of this loneliness through the use of drugs). Finding a good relationship or a long-lasting trustworthy friendship can be difficult in an urban and/or business setting. The higher you are, the more difficult it becomes to find the right people to be friends with. Most relationships are often made at work. Time, money and position can be obstacles when trying to develop sincere and honest friendships. Complaints that "money makes a friend -- while poverty sends them away" are quite abundant.

Many individuals get tired and bored with "urban conversations" that lack quality and depth. Conversations that are superficial, yet part of our daily communications, make the feelings of loneliness and meaninglessness more acute for more and more of these young people. Some turn to New Age ideas, meditation and other spiritual matters to gain perspective on those age-old questions of "Who Am I" and "Why Am I Here"? But again, to delve into any of these things in-depth, one needs to spend quality time with oneself. And time is still a very costly commodity in urban settings.


Being a young professional today, one has to face many challenges. Like maintaining a quality of life that nurtures the soul. Finding one's own sense of worth, value and uniqueness among millions of people is often a difficult task, yet this is the challenge. Many feel that to find a sense of real self-worth, they must do something important, something special that helps other people. Something that provides inner rewards and a personal sense of satisfaction. If not, they feel they will just end up bored, at a loss about what life is truly about and turn into zombies -- living the life of the living dead: apathetic, with monotonous and routine lives, like a hamster on a wheel or a wind-up doll.

The writer is a psychologist