April 6, 2010

Everyone’s heard about the mid-life crisis. However, its close relative, the quarter-life crisis, seems to hide in the background. I never even knew it existed. Except now it seems a significant number of people I know are having one. It’s quite depressing for me.

According to Wikipedia, the quarter-life crisis is that point when you realize the “real world” isn’t exactly what you imagined when you were 10. It’s a period of adjustment – a kind of growing into your skin, filling out your shoes, whatever way you’d like to put it. Perhaps what makes this so terrible is the fact that adolescence is often spent trying to adjust and accept yourself (remember middle school?). By 25, you feel like you should be past all that crap. Except, you never really get past it (and not in the depressing kind of way).

The mid-life crisis is realizing you’ve spent half your life doing something you dislike, or that you have a whole list of things that you still want to do or some such idea. Ultimately, in my opinion, it’s regret at some sort of decision you made in your life. But if the quarter-life crisis exists, shouldn’t that make the mid-life crisis non-existent? When you realize life can be tough, that you’re in a job you hate, that you’re insecure, that you have relationship trouble – clearly, you learn to deal with it in your 20’s in order to make it to middle life. So how does it happen again? That just seems wrong. But I’m not anywhere near a mid-life crisis, so I guess I can’t speculate too much.

That being said, I am in my 20’s  and I don’t think I’m having a crisis. Google defines crisis for me as “an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty”. That’s the second reason why I’m never going to be in a life crisis. I am absolutely opposed to describing my life as unstable, dangerous or difficult. It may sound corny (or like I’m in denial), but I think as soon as you see a situation in that light, it seems impossible to overcome. It’s like when you feel so busy you can’t start working. You just get stuck. But the first reason I won’t have a crisis is because I don’t make decisions I regret (or at least I haven’t yet). Maybe it’s the denial again – that would be awful. The way I see it, I’m clearly making the best decisions I can at the moment I make them, so what’s the point in having 20/20 vision in hindsight? Beyond not making the same mistakes – none. It’s a waste of energy to think “god, I should have done that” and instead that energy should be spent on thinking “here’s what I’m going to do”.

I realize that’s way easier said than done. I don’t have a clue what that thing I’m going to do is. I’m not one for life planning, but everyone should have some vague goals about what they want in life. For a long time, my goal in life was to have a sweet apartment (one that doesn’t look like IKEA) and a nice car. I have since given up on the nice car (not that I don’t want one but I’ve accepted I dislike driving enough that it would be a waste). But I still want a kick-ass apartment – and I probably should set some new goals too. Beyond that, I know my options and I just have to pick whatever’s going to make me happiest right now.


  1. Only kind of relevant, but to me there’s few things more tragic than seeing someone get out of college, find some job and just take root for the rest of their life with no real intention of improving or progressing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe there’s a time and place to settle down and live out your life, but I just don’t think your early twenties is that time.

    I guess it just doesn’t make sense to me how someone can decide what they want to do for the remaining 3/4th of their life based on their very first experience into the adult world. I feel like I would have all sorts of regrets if I didn’t explore all/most of my options.

    So in that sense, I suppose having a “crisis” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s like a wake up call; reminding you that you should change your life if you’re not happy with it.

    • I only think it’s tragic if they actually don’t improve/progress or if they want to do something else. But just being in one job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re missing out; you could really like what you do. Or you could really not care what you do as long as it doesn’t interfere with an outside work passion, where you are improving. I don’t totally get it, but then again, I don’t get people who end up being pre-med, then spend several years at medical school, to then be a doctor for the majority of their life. All I can think is that they must really want it.

  2. I’m starting to think that the 1/4 life crisis comes from the idea that “if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” and other sayings I was told growing about finding your one true passion in a job and you can be whatever you want, etc… In the past year, adjusting to my job has been weird because I like it, and I’m happy but I hate doing some of my paperwork (which is a big part of my job) and I don’t like all the people and it does feel like work – I have yet to spring out of bed at 6am because I just can’t wait to get there (I have never sprung out of bed, even at 10 am, for anything) but I was told that would happen and I must be doing something wrong if it’s not happening. I must have missed something – my true calling.

    But, I’m starting to think it’s not just because I haven’t found the perfect job, it’s not that I’ve failed to realize my dreams. Most, if not all jobs will have paperwork. Most places will have people I don’t want to work with, and I’m still going to prefer weekends/vacation. I am not a morning person – if Disney World can’t make me look forward to a 6am wake up call, nothing will. And, maybe, my job doesn’t have to be my be all, end all. I love that I show up, put in my hours with little stress, with people I usually like and I leave and work does not enter my thoughts until I go back.

    I totally agree that you should not be deciding what to do with the remaining 3/4th of your life. People change careers all the time. When you’re not happy, move on. But happy does not have to mean perfection. that’s not going to happen.

    • Yes! I think it’s a total lie that you if you love what you do, it’s not work. It’s the same if you have completely unreal expectations about relationships.

      After reading that list on Wikipedia I totally decided that 1/4 life crisis is just a fancy term for life. It’s not a crisis. People just need to get over it.

  3. I’m kinda having one over the last two years in the sense of – “Shit. They lied in college and all my life. I can’t make a difference. Look at all this bullshit going on with the RIAA and with the Iraq War and the Tea Party Movement. Nothing I can do can change any of that. I’ve tried and nothing happened.” A little bit of my optimism of how the world works has been dying to the point that I hate listening to media matters and the constant lack of progress in the face of lobbyists.

  4. I just wrote and deleted a huge response, here is an attempt at a shorter one.

    I think everyone will have a crisis, the problem is when they happen is what they are labeled (midlife, quarter-life). All a crisis is, is a more difficult time in your life. A crisis may be fired from a job (I have to put this first), death of a loved one/close friend, realizing you hate your job and it isn’t going anywhere, realizing you are mortal, etc. These are all crisis or rough patches in your life that you need to cope with.

    The problem is that society makes it seem like the crisis is how you deal with a problem. Everyone deals with life in their own way so I would expect that everyone deals with the more difficult portions of life differently. As long as dealing with your crisis doesn’t intentionally hurt yourself or someone else there is nothing wrong with it, some people cry, some buy things, some going into denial, others jump out of planes.

    Dealing with a crisis is usually a more extreme version of how you deal with everyday life.

    • I guess that’s what I don’t understand. If crisis just refers to a difficult time – when are you ever not in a crisis? If it can encompass graduating college with no job, realizing you dislike your job, realizing your parents are getting older, dealing with bad relationships, getting fired, not having a clue what to do with your life – doesn’t that describe life for the next 10 years after college? In that sense, puberty and all the teenage years are probably a crisis too. And experiencing just one difficult time doesn’t make others any easier (e.g. getting fired won’t make a parent’s any easier) – so the crises just keep coming.

      • I think that the “mid-life crisis” is not the dictionary crisis = period of instability & danger, but instead specifically refers to the way some people handle (or fail to handle) normal life difficulties. You would never say “I had a mid-life crisis” if you suffered grief or doubt but handled it with grace and responsibility. People only say “I had a mid-life crisis” if during the time of doubt they handled it poorly (like quit their job and got a mohawk and a red Harley instead of accepting that aging happens to everyone).

      • Agreed, probably not exactly the same as the dictionary definition. But I don’t agree it necessarily handling it poorly. So if you take the quitting your job example. The crisis could’ve just been the tipping point to get you to finally act on something you probably should’ve done a while ago (e.g. quit a job you don’t like). To me, that’s probably handling it better than giving up and choosing to stay at a sucky job. And it’s not like you’d say you had a crisis every time you quit a job, especially given how often people change jobs in their 20’s. Even though you probably experience similar doubt/anxiety/etc. when realizing you aren’t getting paid enough, or don’t like what you’re doing, or are working too hard or whatever.

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