The ‘Quarter- life crisis.” Abby Wilner coined the phrase in 1997 and expanded upon it in the book she co-authored with Alexandra Robbins in 2001, “Quarter-life Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties.” As a preface, I’m sure mid-level professionals will have a hard time sympathizing with a group of Generation Y-ers that they feel has had everything served to them on a silver spoon since they were coating their gums with Gerber’s in the early ‘80s.
Regardless, all you need to do is walk into the ground floor of a midsized corporation to see the reality of the “crisis” unfold before your eyes: swarms of young, wide-eyed and ambitious 20-somethings. However, lurking just beneath the surface are misguided souls with student debt greater than their income, yet paradoxically equipped with hopes and dreams of loving relationships, six-figure incomes, luxurious cars and big homes. Few of them have even the slightest clue as to how they’ll attain these things. And I am one of them.
Here’s my story: I have what my peers and I would consider a “good job,” great roommates and a loving family; but I still feel like I’m only treading water. It’s a precarious situation that pits me with the mindset of a college student who is forced to be a professional. Either way, I don’t feel like I fit the mold for either of those right now. As a result, I’m lost in a limbo that causes me to dress in the “business casual costume” from Monday through Friday, just so I can return to my flip-flops and t-shirts on Saturdays and Sundays and drink like a frat boy all over again. Welcome to the life of a 20-something.
It’s amazing how quickly it hits you. Four years of intense preparation in college underscored by loads of coursework, tests and studying are quickly capped with a walk off the plank into the abyss of so-called “reality.” Sure, college was tough. Personally, I spent plenty of sleepless nights in front of math books, wondering how in the world it was necessary to know the apportionment method when ultimately I just wanted to be a public relations professional. But in the end, none of it was as difficult as the decisions I faced when I closed my books for good and dove into the real world. And I think I speak for many of my contemporaries when I say this: The real world sucks.
We see what many blind-eyed mid-level professionals can no longer see: rooms filled with people in their 40’s and 50’s who have sold away 20 to 30 years of their life in godless and gutless corporations. Now not all of them are like that, but the odds seem too favorable for us ending up like one of these soul-sapped individuals who sits at a desk like a zombie just to go to the water cooler every few hours and call it a day. That scares us.
So what is a 20-something to do? Well, I obviously wouldn’t be discussing the struggles of this phase of life if I had figured them out. But I’m pretty confident that we won’t find purpose and joy in our lives by working menial jobs for 40-50 hours a week and sitting on the couch watching re-runs of Seinfeld in the evenings.
Our purpose is driven by our passions. Joy comes from our pursuit of them. In short, take a nostalgic walk into your recent past and look at the things you did for fun, and would’ve done more frequently had you not been balancing equations and lighting Bunsen burners. And start doing them.
20-somethings can fire off a list of these things with ease, but very few of us are actually doing many of the things on our list.
Which brings me to my final point. I believe that the quarter-life crisis is ultimately little more than our first introduction to the harsh realities of the “real world.” Unfortunately, the real world that we see is saturated and polluted with individuals who live mediocre lives and whose pursuits of passion are little more than fleeting memories. My call to the rest of the 20-somethings of this world is to take a long, hard look at these individuals. Then do everything you can to be nothing like them.