Owensboro native Rainesford Stauffer has been published in national media outlets such as the New York Times, Teen Vogue and The Atlantic. But now, her most important writing is about to hit stands Tuesday.
An Ordinary Age is Stauffer’s first book and “examines young adult’s obsessive need to live and post our #bestlife, and the culture that has defined that life on narrow, and often unattainable, terms,” according to the Harper Collins Publishing website.
“So many parts of this book were written in Owensboro, in the house I grew up in, at my mom’s kitchen table,” Stauffer said.
As a freelance writer, Stauffer said she is drawn to reporting on issues impacting young adults, and their ideas surrounding them — everything from activism, to relationships, to pressure to move to certain cities.
“I started noticing a common thread in interviews I was doing with young adults on all different topics, for all different kinds of stories — there was enormous pressure to live their ‘best lives’ during this age, which looked like having big adventures or chasing dreams to financial security and a sense of home,” Stauffer said. “People described never feeling like they were good enough, no matter what they did — if they were more likeable, they’d naturally have friends and wouldn’t be lonely. If they worked harder, work wouldn’t feel so impossible. If they were perfect, this would all feel easier.”
Stauffer said in reality, young adulthood as a developmental stage is hard. She said people’s brains don’t have their last big growth spurt until the mid-20s, “smack in the middle of when we’re supposed to be making all kinds of significant life decisions.”
While previous markers of adulthood have shifted ± finishing school, getting married, entering the workforce and having children — Stauffer said it’s still easy to feel like if you don’t have your life figured out by 25, you’ve somehow failed.
“Especially right now, amid a pandemic, milestones associated with young adulthood have shifted,” she said. “So, it feels like the perfect time to start looking closer at how many moments that change our lives are ordinary ones, and that our ordinary selves are enough as is.”
Stauffer was writing the book while working her day job and doing freelance writing for different publications, which she said was a challenge.
“I think I did just over 100 interviews for it over the span of roughly two years,” she said. “So many of those conversations aren’t quoted in the book because of space, but spending time talking to so many people about their experiences, lives, pressures, and hopes has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.”
But, she said hands-down her favorite part of reporting is listening to people and getting the privilege of hearing about their lives.
“Honestly, my biggest pitch is that I hope this book makes people feel less alone in figuring it all out — and encourages them to feel that they’re enough as is in a world that’s constantly demanding more of us,” she said. “If you’re exhausted with perfectionism, trying to live your ‘best life’ amid structural and systemic crises, if you’re tired of achievement or success being the focus of your self-worth, I think this book could resonate with you.”
Stauffer is hoping that students and those in their 20s see themselves in this book and it makes them feel less alone. She is also hoping parents and teachers who might be interested in what’s changed about young adulthood would be interested in picking it up.
Right now, the book is available online via Target, Amazon and Walmart, and can be ordered from local bookstores.
Stauffer said holding the book for the first time was “utterly surreal.”
“It felt so far beyond my wildest dreams, I don’t think I’d even let myself imagine it,” she said. “It was wild to see this material become something you can hold, rather than a project that exists in about 10 different Google Docs and a million pages of notes. I still can’t believe it, honestly. I think I’ll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. There’s a ton of nervousness, but also just complete, overwhelming gratitude that I got to take on a project like this.”