Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties

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9781585421060: Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties

While the midlife crisis has been thoroughly explored by experts, there is another landmine period in our adult development, called the quarterlife crisis, which can be just as devastating. When young adults emerge at graduation from almost two decades of schooling, during which each step to take is clearly marked, they encounter an overwhelming number of choices regarding their careers, finances, homes, and social networks. Confronted by an often shattering whirlwind of new responsibilities, new liberties, and new options, they feel helpless, panicked, indecisive, and apprehensive.

Quarterlife Crisis is the first book to document this phenomenon and offer insightful advice on smoothly navigating the challenging transition from childhood to adulthood, from school to the world beyond. It includes the personal stories of more than one hundred twentysomethings who describe their struggles to carve out personal identities; to cope with their fears of failure; to face making choices rather than avoiding them; and to balance all the demanding aspects of personal and professional life. From "What do all my doubts mean?" to "How do I know if the decisions I'm making are right?" this book compellingly addresses the hardest questions facing young adults today.

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About the Author:

Alexandra Robbins, a contributing editor at Mademoiselle, is a journalist who has written for such publications as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, Salon, and Time Digital.
Abby Wilner works in the information technology field as a website administrator and lives in Washington, D.C.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


What Is the Quarterlife Crisis?

Jim, the neighbor who lives in the three-story colonial down the block, has recently turned 50. You know this because Jim's wife threw him a surprise party about a month ago. You also know this because, since then, Jim has dyed his hair blond, purchased a leather bomber jacket, traded in his Chevy Suburban for a sleek Miata, and ditched the wife for a girlfriend half her size and age.

Yet, aside from the local ladies' group's sympathetic clucks for the scorned wife, few neighbors are surprised at Jim's instant lifestyle change. Instead, they nod their heads understandingly. "Oh, Jim," they say. "He's just going through a midlife crisis. Everyone goes through it." Friends, colleagues, and family members excuse his weird behavior as an inevitable effect of reaching this particular stage of life. Like millions of other middle-aged people, Jim has reached a period during which he believes he must ponder the direction of his lifeand then alter it.

Chances are, if you're reading this book, you're not Jim. You know this because you can't afford a leather bomber jacket, you drive your parents' Volvo (if you drive a car at all), and, regardless of your gender, you would happily marry Jim's wife if she gets to keep the house. But Jim's midlife crisis is relevant to you nonetheless, because it is currently the only age-related crisis that is widely recognized as a common, inevitable part of life. This is pertinent because, despite all of the attention lavished on the midlife crisis, despite the hundreds of books, movies, and magazine articles dedicated to explaining the sometimes traumatic transition through middle age and the ways to cope with it, the midlife crisis is not the only age-related crisis that we experience. As Yoda whispered to Luke Skywalker, "There is another."

This other crisis can be just as, if not more, devastating than the midlife crisis. It can throw someone's life into chaotic disarray or paralyze it completely. It may be the single most concentrated period during which individuals relentlessly question their future and how it will follow the events of their past. It covers the interval that encompasses the transition from the academic world to the "real" worldan age group that can range from late adolescence to the mid-thirties but is usually most intense in twentysomethings. It is what we call the quarterlife crisis, and it is a real phenomenon.

The quarterlife crisis and the midlife crisis stem from the same basic problem, but the resulting panic couldn't be more opposite. At their cores, both the quarterlife crisis and the midlife crisis are about a major life change. Often, for people experiencing a midlife crisis, a sense of stagnancy sparks the need for change. During this period, a middle-aged person tends to reflect on his past, in part to see if his life to date measures up to the life he had envisioned as a child (or as a twentysomething). The midlife crisis also impels a middle-aged person to look forward, sometimes with an increasing sense of desperation, at the time he feels he has left.

In contrast, the quarterlife crisis occurs precisely because there is none of that predictable stability that drives middle-aged people to do unpredictable things. After about twenty years in a sheltered school settingor more if a person has gone on to graduate or professional schoolmany graduates undergo some sort of culture shock. In the academic environment, goals were clear-cut and the ways to achieve them were mapped out distinctly. To get into a good college or graduate school, it helped if you graduated with honors; to graduate with honors, you needed to get good grades; to get good grades, you had to study hard. If your goals were athletic, you worked your way up from junior varsity or walk-on to varsity by practicing skills, working out in the weight room, and gelling with teammates and coaches. The better you were, the more playing time you got, the more impressive your statistics could become.

But after graduation, the pathways blur. In that crazy, wild nexus that people like to call the "real world," there is no definitive way to get from point A to point B, regardless of whether the points are related to a career, financial situation, home, or social life (though we have found through several unscientific studies that offering to pay for the next round of drinks can usually improve three out of the four). The extreme uncertainty that twentysomethings experience after graduation occurs because what was once a solid line that they could follow throughout their series of educational institutions has now disintegrated into millions of different options. The sheer number of possibilities can certainly inspire hopethat is why people say that twentysomethings have their whole lives ahead of them. But the endless array of decisions can also make a recent graduate feel utterly lost.

So while the midlife crisis revolves around a doomed sense of stagnancy, of a life set on pause while the rest of the world rattles on, the quarterlife crisis is a response to overwhelming instability, constant change, too many choices, and a panicked sense of helplessness. Just as the monotony of a lifestyle stuck in idle can drive a person to question himself intently, so, too, can the uncertainty of a life thrust into chaos. The transition from childhood to adulthoodfrom school to the world beyondcomes as a jolt for which many of today's twentysomethings simply are not prepared. The resulting overwhelming senses of helplessness and cluelessness, of indecision and apprehension, make up the real and common experience we call the quarterlife crisis. Individuals who are approaching middle age at least know what is coming. Because the midlife crisis is so widely acknowledged, people who undergo it are at the very least aware that there are places where they can go for help, such as support groups, books, movies, or Internet sites. Twentysomethings, by contrast, face a crisis that hits them with a far more powerful force than they ever expected. The slam is particularly painful because today's twentysomethings believe that they are alone and that they are having a much more difficult transition period than their peersbecause the twenties are supposed to be "easy," because no one talks about these problems, and because the difficulties are therefore so unexpected. And at the fragile, doubt-ridden age during which the quarterlife crisis occurs, the ramifications can be extremely dangerous.

Why Worry About a Quarterlife Crisis?

The whirlwind of new responsibilities, new liberties, and new choices can be entirely overwhelming for someone who has just emerged from the shelter of twenty years of schooling. We don't mean to make graduates sound as if they have been hibernating since they emerged from the womb; certainly it is not as if they have been slumbering throughout adolescence (though some probably tried). They have in a sense, however, been encased in a bit of a cocoon, where someone or somethingparents or school, for examplehas protected them from a lot of the scariness of their surroundings. As a result, when graduates are let loose into the world, their dreams and desires can be tinged with trepidation. They are hopeful, but at the same time they are also, to put it simply, scared silly.

Some might say that because people have had to deal with the rite of passage from youth to adulthood since the beginning of time, this crisis is not really a "crisis" at all, given that historically this transitional period has, at various times, been marked with ceremonial rituals involving things like spears and buffalo dung. Indeed, it may not always have been a crisis.

But it has become one.

Maybe it is because the career and financial opportunities for college graduates have skyrocketed in the past decade and, therefore, so has the pressure to succeed. Maybe it is because the crazy people out there who amuse themselves by going on shooting rampages seem to have proliferated in recent years, leaving young adults more fearful of entering into relationships with new friends, lovers, and roommates. Or maybe increasing competition from the rising millions of fellow students has left twentysomethings feeling like they have to work harder than ever to stand out from their peers. Whatever the reason, the quarterlife crisis poses enough of a threat to the well-being of many graduateshowever well-adjusted they may be-that it has to be taken seriously. Here's why.

Although hope is a common emotion for twentysomethings, hopelessness has become just as widespread. The revelation that life simply isn't easya given for some twentysomethings, a mild inconvenience for others, but a shattering blow for severalis one of the most distressing aspects of the quarterlife crisis, particularly for individuals who do not have large support networks or who doubt themselves often. It is in these situations that the quarterlife crisis becomes not just a common stageit can become hazardous. Not everyone at the age of the quarterlife encounters some sort of depression, which is why we relegate doubts and depression to only one chapter. But we are addressing depression as one common result of the quarterlife crisis here so that we can illustrate why it is so important to acknowledge this transition period.

After interviewing dozens of twentysomethings who said they were depressed because of the transition, we ran our conclusions by Robert DuPont, a Georgetown Medical School professor of psychology who wrote The Anxiety Cure. "Based on my experience," DuPont said, "I have found that there is a high rate of all forms of disorder in this age group, including addiction, anxiety, depression, and many other kinds of problems because of the high stress associated with the transition from being a child to being an adult. And that has gotten more stressful as the road map has become less used. The old way of doing this was to get out and get it done right away. There was an economic imperative to doing it. It's not like that anymore. And as the road map has disappeared, the stress has gone up. People have to invent their own road map. It used to be that it came with the college graduation. Now you have to go out and figure it out yourself."

These high rates of disorders, however, have gone virtually unacknowledged. That's why we can't bog you down with statistics on this age group. They don't exist. Psychological research on twentysomethings, including statistics on depression and suicide, has not been performed. We asked major national mental health associations such as the National Institutes of Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association for any information they had on people in their twenties. They didn't have any. As one psychologist told us, associations don't cut the data to incorporate this age group. "It's not a subject that's interesting to them. They just lump everybody together," he said.

We can only speculate as to why there are no psychological studies on our age group:

The public and the media largely ignore 21- to 35-year-olds as a generation.
Because many twentysomethings cannot afford therapy, professionals do not have accurate and representative records of graduates' depression.
Twentysomethings tend to attach a stigma to therapyso they do not talk about it.

So we can't tell you the percentage of people who experience depression at some point during their twentysomething years. We can't tell you the likelihood that the transition from college to the real world will create such a jolt that a twentysomething will experience something more than the normal anxiety. And we can't tell you how many twentysomethings see therapists. All we can do in this book is provide you with our interview-based conclusions (lots, high, and many more than you think) and the stories of more than one hundred of the twentysomethings with whom we spoke.

How Do You Recognize a Quarterlife Crisis?

While at its heart the quarterlife crisis is an identity crisis, it causes twentysomethings' conflicting emotions to show up in different ways. Sometimes they reach a state of panic sparked by a feeling of loss and uncertainty. When the carefree euphoria that accompanies graduation wanes, many twentysomethings realize that things seem to be missing from their lives. The friends who were just around the corner in college have scattered, the social life that had been as easy as meeting someone in the bathroom down the hall has dissipated, and the mandatory assignments that provided structure and purpose have (however thankfully) been completed. Whether they immediately begin a frantic online job search or collapse into a vegetative state in front of Comedy Central, it eventually sets in that things have changed. The world is suddenly unfamiliar as graduates come to realize that four or more years of higher education have hardly prepared them for the decisions they will have to make and the ways in which they will have to learn to support themselves. Twentysomethings often feel that the only means they have for navigating the seemingly endless choices looming ahead of them is trial and error, which is really just a productive-sounding euphemism for guesswork. Welcome to the casino: the confusion and helplessness that strike millions of twentysomethings soon after graduation is frequently the result of the feeling that they are about to gamble. Often. On their lives.

For some people the quarterlife crisis is both a cause and an effect of procrastination and denial. Building on the image of that guy who is vegging in front of the television, a big part of twentysomethings' attempts to adjust to their new lives involves stalling like they have never stalled before. Granted, many ambitious students line up jobs while they are still in school. But by the same token, many do not. And even the ones who do still find their transition is far from seamless. Some of this difficulty may have to do with the fact that the once-reliable support network of parents and relatives is not quite sufficient anymore. The economic landscape, which is even now constantly changing for twentysomethings, differs greatly from the landscape of their parents' generation. Dot coms did not exist. The technology sector was piddling compared to what it is now. Aspiring doctors went to medical school, lawyers went to law school, and teachers attained degrees in education. Job and life patterns were more clear-cut, and there was less emphasis on "love what you do" in favor of "support the family." People married and had children at a much younger age. Things were different. What this means for today's graduates is that, because job opportunities have changed so drastically in the past generation, they must place much more accountability on themselves. Frequently that is something they are not yet ready to accept.

Another way the quarterlife crisis can show up, particularly in the mid- to late twenties, is in a feeling of disappointment, of "This is all there is?" Maybe the job turns out to be ...

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Robbins, Alexandra; Wilner, Abby
Verlag: TarcherPerigee
ISBN 10: 1585421065 ISBN 13: 9781585421060
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Buchbeschreibung TarcherPerigee. PAPERBACK. Buchzustand: Fine. 1585421065 4th printing. Near fine. Quality, Value, Experience. Media Shipped in New Boxes. Artikel-Nr. BING38502

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