5.8.09

1/4 Time Crisis?


Someone sent me an article in the mail recently. It came (gasp) in an envelope, which had a stamp attached and my name written on it. The article was photocopied, and with it was a note that said something like this...

"My daughter, in her twenties, sent this to me, and told me that this is pretty much exactly how she and her friends feel..." The article is, "welcome to your quarterlife crisis". I'm not sure how I feel about the article, because I'm not sure how I feel about the now popular notion that people in their mid-twenties are facing a crisis, as if twentyfive is the new fifty when it comes to emotional health, in the same way that our new discoveries of olive oil, meditation, and exercise, are supposed to have turned fifty into the new thirty when it comes to physical health.

The author spells out the crisis at several levels; it's a career crisis because these people don't yet have a firm sense of direction; it's a relationship crisis because these people are marrying later; it's a money crisis because these people are amassing debt due to school loans, lust for travel, and a general void that's filled by spending. Here are the author's anecdotal illustrations of the angst:

He bikes to work at an advertising agency, where he uses his master’s in English to proofread ad copy, and spends several hours reading music blogs and watching movie trailers, periodically Twittering updates about his workday to his 74 followers. He doesn’t really hate his job, but feels as if his skin is crawling with vermin most of the time that he’s there, so he has a plan to move to Thailand, or to maybe write a book. Or go to law school.

At her government job, she instant messages her friends and mostly ignores the report she’s drafting because she’s planning on quitting anyway — and has been planning to quit for about a year now. She spends her lunch hour buying boots that cost slightly more than her rent, then immediately regrets it.

The article goes on to talk about the multi-faceted nature of the crisis, concluding by offering support resources ranging from credit counseling, to social networking, to career counseling. I finished reading the article, and immediately wanted to share several musings for your feedback and reaction.

1. Does the fact that things have changed mean that this is a crisis? Maybe, but I'm not sure. OK, so people are marrying later now than they were when I was in college. When I was in college, my generation was marrying later than when our parents did. And the generation before that was even earlier. Debt? It's the same story. We carried more than our parents, and now our kids carry more than us. Part of me thinks this crisis is the product of baby-boomer's self-obsession. We're so self-referential that we think generations who don't do it like we did are somehow missing the mark. Narcissus would be proud of us, but I'm not sure this pathology even exists. Many, many of my friends in their twenties, though they've rejected the boomer's obsessions with upward mobility, and are often ambivalent about 'settling down', have a commitment to serving this broken world and making a difference that was decidely lacking in we, their parents. So perhaps we who are older need to lighten up and celebrate a new generation of adults who want to live meaningful, creative lives, and whose commitments to that make them marry a little later, change jobs a bit more often, and have a few more adventures. Personally, I admire and respect this new generation. Their energy, creativity, and authenticity inspire me.

2. On the other hand, it's possible that I'm idealizing this new generation and completely missing the mark. Maybe they are, in fact, self-absorbed, commitment phobic, and lacking any kind of ethical north star to ground them in commitments. It's even possible that both observations are true; there's greatness and new challenges.

3. If the artcile has any measure of accuracy, I'd want to offer the following bits of advice to this emerging generation:

A. I don't blame you for being a bit commitment shy, considering what we, your parents did to the notion of marriage, not to mention our propensity to put 'cash first', with the result that we sometimes remained stuck in soul sucking careers as means of paying homage to our pursuit of the "good life" (mortgage, vacations, blah blah blah). However, the truth remains that it's there are some elements of our souls that will only ripen in the context of profound commitments like buying a house (commitment to place), getting married (commitment to intimacy), and commitment to your faith community (commitment to Jesus' mission). Don't just DO any of these things because of social pressures, but don't run from any of these things either. There's a need, at some point, to jump in the water.

B. A rich storehouse of intimacy with Christ, and an ordering of life according the time honored practices of the faith, provide a rich center, out from which direction and guidance will come. Become a traveler of these ancient paths and you're more likely to be Gandalf at the end of your story than Gollum.

There's more that could be said, but I wrote primarily to hear from you, so please help me by responding:

1. Is this quarter life crisis real?
2. How does it show up?
3. What can we who are older offer?

11 comments:

  1. Richard,
    I first read this on your rain city blog but decided I would comment on it here.
    I feel as though the concept of a quarter life "crisis," as it relates to a mid life crisis, is a bit inaccurate. As a twenty-six year old, unmarried, relatively unemployed, soon to be student again I would say it is not that twenty somethings feel as if they are somehow in a position they are stuck in for the rest of their life and therefore act out against it. More so, my generation has decided to take the time to decide what it is we want, as a way to prevent the future mid-life crisis. We see the lives of our parents, the divorce, the unhappy marriages, the mind-numbing dissatisfaction in their careers, the discontent that hangs around despite the comfort of wealth, and have decided against it.
    We will settle. We want nothing more than to settle, to invest, but we want to do it well, we want to do it right, and we're hoping and praying that we will know ourselves well enough that when the right commitment comes, we'll make it.
    Maybe some are in crisis, but as for me, I'm just taking the long way around.

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  2. yeah, i think becca pretty much nailed it. for me personally, the "crisis" part comes in when i start to wonder when, or even if, i'll find that career that i'll be happy with for the rest of my life. but i do like her theory that the quarter life crisis help fend off the mid life crisis.

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  3. I wonder if ever generation since the advent of "the extended adolescence" feels this. This crisis might be the final push into adulthood, such as is it.

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  4. i think that's definitely part of it. also, i think that our generation grew up being told that we can do whatever we want with our life. going in with that expectation, adulthood kinda sucks.

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  5. Well written my friend. Thanks for your understanding.

    1. Crisis might be the wrong word. It sounds like something our parents would call it. But it is definitely real. I think it is our refusal to accept the script….and debt doesn’t help. We don’t want to work 60 hours a week so we can have the house/car we’ve always wanted when we can work 30 and a drive a 95’ Buick and rent so that we can join a writers group, meet friends for coffee, read a good book, play music, visit the museum, go hiking, go to the beach for a picnic etc. To most of us twenty something’s I think the first option sounds depressing. I don’t think we go to school to learn a trait, skill, vocation so we can pay for what we want in the end. No, I think we go to school to learn wisdom, to discover who we are. As my friend put it, we are not made for 5AM wakeup call so that we can rush down stairs and eat a power breakfast. My heart doesn’t beat in my chest so I can load up on Red Bull and/or Starbucks so I can stay awake and finish the project. There is nothing appealing in that for me. And I think the “crisis” occurs when the world tells you that that’s script. So some of us adventure out and make our own script.

    2. Example: I moved to China a while back to teach English for a year. And most every adult gave me a pat on the back before I left and said something like, “Do this why you are young…do this before you settle down . . . I wish I would have done something like that when I was your age.” And to be honest that rhetoric scared the hell out of me. It depressed me. Not because I don’t want to get married and have kids. No, in my mind I heard them telling me that life was boring and that this “trip” was my last chance at fun…basically that this trip would make life sweeter when I turned into them. I didn’t want to turn into them. Where did my options go?

    3. Helping us: Just remember that there is no script. We need an adventure. And please tell adults everywhere that our adventures are not child’s-play. Tell them that we think they are silly when they think our adventures are silly. We need your wisdom, help and guidance . . . not a sympathetic -some-day-you’ll-understand-pat-on-the-back. Heck, join us in this.

    And for the record I think your heart and understanding are apart of the solution.

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  6. @aaron, Barney kind of messed everyone up with that message. We can't do whatever we want to do. We can do whatever it is we were designed by God to excel at. We're just not gifted nor trained to figure that last one out.

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  7. The "He bikes to work at an advertising agency..." scenario sounded eerily familiar.

    Yet I agree with most of the comments on the blog, we (/I) want to make it right. I suppose the crisis enters when we wonder if we'll ever be able to be sure enough of our decisions to actually make one. We'll jump in, we just want more time to think it over.

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  8. 1. it exists! I am 30 and coming out of a 4 year quarter century existential crisis (why am I here? what does it mean? what happens next? will chasing this boy or drinking this beer help me?) Our generation is charter unfamiliar waters with the freedom we have allotted ourselves and we question it daily. Our parents married out of college and quickly had babies b/c that was the status quo, they didn't have time to ponder the path less traveled the way we do every night in the sickly glow of our laptop staring back at us in our dark living room.

    we want it all but are sometimes too busy staring at everyone elses "all" to figure out that we don't need it all and who put that idea in our head to begin with (I blame advertising and low self-esteem).

    2. We usually don't know when it shows up until it's too late. Something profound happens and you realize you've been depressed for 6 months and lying to yourself the entire time. After coming to terms with my life on this earth, I immediately radiated happiness and heard my mom tell someone "I've never seen her so happy". This might not be everyone's telltale sign, but I was a fan of melancholy for those rough and tumble crisis years.

    3. I have no idea. I'm still trying to figure out how to make the most of my life post-crisis. But I did so with therapy, exercise, and a healthier attempt at life. Listening without judging, asking questions, and providing healthy stimulation may help. There are no easy answers, but nothing worth it in life seldom is.

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  9. I suppose the "quarter life crisis'" credibility might be somewhat shot in my mind because John Mayer was among the first official public figures to bring awareness to this phenomena.

    Regardless, as a 22 year old who is engaged, freshly graduated from college, and getting ready to settle into a full time job in a matter of months, I'm happily heading toward being settled at warp speed. And I can't help but think this "crisis concept" might have an ounce or two of truth to it.

    It's an interesting mix, because my full time job is in college ministry, and a ministry dependent on support-raising at that. I can't tell you how many older adults have asked me, "Are you sure about this?"

    Like I'd have a more stable job and paycheck working for a company in today's economy then trusting in God to provide, thank you very much.

    I think many in my generation are settling down - just in a different way. Some are just going the "long way around," like Becca, but I think the main difference the older generation misses is that we're not nearly as independent as they were.

    I could feel my dad's stress level palpably rise when I told him my future husband and I would be dependent on others' support for our salaries.

    Look at Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, etc. We love to know what's going on with others. We find people fascinating and we want to get to know them. Whether it's our neighbor or someone in Eastern Europe or Asia. We're a very dependent generation.

    I think we're figuring out the pros and cons of this as we go - but look at the Acts 2 church. I think our generation is much more comfortable with the idea of fellowshipping, breaking bread, and sharing communally then our parents and certainly more then our grandparents were.

    So I'd agree with Eric - we need advice, we need practicality, we need those who have gone ahead to channel our passion and ideas but certainly not pound them out of us with the idea that the American Dream is necessary for a full life.

    Because the good Lord only knows what our kids are going to come up with.

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  10. These days, most people have something like 7 different careers – not jobs, careers – and, as evidenced by everyone’s responses here, more people are blazing their own path, for example by taking a day job they don’t care about so they can spend time at their more fulfilling life goal (music, writing, etc.). So, at least for those who have responded so far, I’m not convinced the quarter-life crisis is the same as the midlife crisis, which hits more when one has been doing the same thing day-in and day-out for thirty-odd years and now is now searching for meaning and youth (think of the balding man in the convertible).

    I think the characters in the examples used in the article seem to point more to the ADHD, MTV, Me Generation of those of us who grew up with constant stimulation and the idea that we were Trophy Children. Twitter and Facebook are just more tools for us to keep boredom at bay by telling others how interesting our lives are because we just ate some locally grown, organic food from some trendy restaurant in some trendy city that pretends it’s not trendy but really is.

    I’ve worked for the same company ever since I graduated college eight years ago, and I love what I do very much. I’m by no means in crisis, but I do sometimes envy those who took off and lived in Europe for a year or who aren’t afraid not to have a Real Job (ie Career) and who instead call themselves Actor or Writer or Musician (but make little to no money at it). I work ‘round the clock and wonder what I have to show for it (health insurance? A good resume?) in comparison to those my age who haven’t “settled down.”

    My questions: How do we find balance?? How does one work full-time, find time for their creative outlets, attend church and Bible studies, spend time with family and good friends, take care of oneself (pay bills, grocery shop, clean, etc.), volunteer/charity work, and, while I’m at it, find like-minded individuals who aren’t afraid of commitment and/or too busy themselves for friendship (I generally have to schedule hanging out with friends three weeks in advance b/c we’re all so busy with personal/religious/professional commitments) and/or marriage (b/c we’re taught work and church comes with complications)? Besides placing God first, how should we prioritize our commitments?

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  11. 1. I really don’t know if I would call it a crisis. That term sounds both attention-hungry and overly-dramatic. And yet it’s interesting to hear that I’m not alone in this, lol. I’m 26 years old and when I read this article, it sounded so familiar that all I could do was smile as I related to most of it. It made me realize that I am not alone in feeling this way. I definitely feel like I should be having more fun and that the years are slipping away. I went to Chico state and stopped a few units short of a degree due to financial problems and the possibility of fixing those problems with a new job (still planning on returning). I can’t get back into school until I pay more of my school loans (default) and I can’t get a better/ better paying job because I haven’t finished school (Catch 22). I definitely feel lonely and isolated as most of my friends are getting married or just shacking up. I am totally terrified of marriage and yet my girlfriend is pressuring me into it. I have enough debt accrued to last me well into my mid 30’s. I have no idea what I’m gonna do with my life in the near future so that sort of nails me to a job that I like/loathe depending on the day because I have to pay bills and the job I have does just that. I don’t know f it is a crisis but whatever that article was about… I have it!

    2. I guess it shows up when spoiled children with too many options fear growing up and moving on therefore settling in a place of comfort as they study all options, opportunity costs and failed opportunities while they whine and whimper about the entire process. (Even though I am going through it I realize it is just a matter of growing up and handling one’s responsibilities while pausing only briefly to actually enjoy life)

    3. An ear to listen, a heart to relate, words to encourage, a mindset to help us get through our times of complaint, and a boot to give us a swift kick in the butt when our complaints turn into whining.

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