The Quarterlife What?

– Contributed by Wee C

About 10 years ago, during my first degree (hush, all you youngin’s, I don’t want to hear it), I remember first hearing the term “Quarterlife Crisis”. It was used as a novelty. As if that guy in my world politics class had made it up himself. He used it in reference to himself in an effort to explain his lack of personal hygiene, his equal lack of personal direction, and his inability to complete his assignments. He was in despair and unable to focus. And, predictably, he was preoccupied with running away to Greece.

At the time, I remember being annoyed by the term. I saw it as an excuse for a lack of discipline, as a way to give yourself a free pass to just piss off and excuse yourself from life’s endless responsibilities. I readily passed judgment on those who subsequently used the term in my presence, wondering why they needed to label their inability to “show up” and just do what needed to get done. Couldn’t they just call themselves lazy and be done with it? Why did we need a trend, a movement, or worse, a new psychological term that would inevitably make its way into Psych 101 courses 10 years from then (I haven’t checked, but I have a sneaking suspicion)? It all felt a little self-indulgent, and frankly, a little too easy.

And today, it seems that guy from class was onto something. Oh, he’s probably still living it up on the beaches in Greece, wearing togas and barely grooming his mile-long beard, so he may not know the trend he started. But it seems pervasive. Overwhelming, even. I rarely engage in a conversation with a 20- or 30-something who doesn’t share sentiments of the Quarterlife Crisis. All desperate to do something more. See more, experience more, live more.

My disgust with the term had long-since caused me to reject its application in my own life. You see, the notion that I would accept anything less than President and CEO was not even an option. A Quarterlife Crisis would only hinder my rocket-like climb to the top.

But in the midst of this rapid ascent, hints of doubt have consistently crept in. Voices telling me to quit my job and run away to Europe. Consistent thoughts of selling homemade Italian pasta and sauces from the back of an old delivery truck. Multiple mornings where the idea of getting out of bed was so paralyzing that even thinking about it simply perpetuated the problem. And still, I refused to embrace the term; like a character from Harry Potter, afraid to utter the name that cannot be spoken.

Having experienced these sentiments, there is, now, no doubt in my mind that for my generation and the next, this time in life is the one that both enables and demands the greatest amount of self-reflection. We are constantly challenging ourselves to question our level of fulfillment and to make changes as required. We are quitting our jobs and moving to other continents to pursue our dreams. We’re abandoning convention and changing the rules. We’re opening yoga studios. We’re pushing ourselves and others to reject the status quo, to view it as a poison that must be banished. We’re taking on local and global issues, dismissing corporate jobs for those that can legitimately change the world. We are changing everything. We are making our own rules.

And so, with that context in mind, I go back to my original sentiment around the notion of a Quarterlife Crisis to see whether anything has change. I’ve shared in the sentiments that seem to define the term, surely I can now embrace it? And yet, somehow, surprisingly, I still feel the same disgust and annoyance for the term. It makes me want to swat it like a house fly and knock it on its behind.

After much reflection, I’ve concluded that I loathe the term because WE ARE NOT IN A CRISIS. We’re simply being overly dramatic, looking for attention. There are no babies bleeding here, people. We are in the most opportunistic period of both our lives and, in my opinion, history. The sense of being overwhelmed, of not knowing what we want to do, of wanting to do everything and nothing within the same day…that’s not a crisis. It barely even qualifies as an issue on the Crisis Management scale. It’s the fear of making the wrong choice with all these options that incites a sense of crisis. But why, if we all want to be so damn free, are we choosing to label this period in our life in a way that applies hypothetical handcuffs? This is freedom at its finest, and yet we need to be all melodramatic about it. Really? Really? Can we all just pull ourselves together?

For those of you who have embraced the term, please don’t feel insulted. Fundamentally, I agree with you. Our 20s and 30s are confusing. We have so many options. And perhaps worse than that is the knowledge that with every option we accept, many other options (perhaps equally desirable) are completely eliminated from our lives. It’s no wonder that we’re skitzy and fearful. But surely we can better-articulate this? Surely we can reposition this phenomenon as a positive, thereby reframing the conversation and potentially the outcome? Surely to heavens we’re not all in such dire states that it warrants a term reserved for only the most desperate situations?

Frankly, I don’t much care its new name is, as long as it articulates possibility and hope, and that the way we think about it changes. Wouldn’t you rather be in the midst of embracing your Quarterlife Freedom (for example) than dealing with a crisis? And if it’s the latter, pack your bags and get your ass to any Third World country. You can have your crisis there.


5 responses to “The Quarterlife What?

  1. Hmmm, yes. Crisis suggests there’s a problem. Words like journey, quest or treasure hunt suggest there are answers or rewards if the right path is chosen. Why can’t it just being a state of being, rather than of going or fixing? We need a word for that. A word that says we’re in a unique and amazing time in our lives and we’re going to ROCK IT, rather than fret about it.

  2. Opening yoga studios? Who in the world would do such a risky, wacky thing? I’m somewhat disgusted.

    Wow! This is a brilliant post Wee C. I agree with your stance on the term “quarterlife crisis.” A tad dramatic, but let’s be honest, we all have a flair for the dramatic 😉 I do prefer the new term you’ve coined, however. “Quarterlife freedom.” It has a nice ring to it…

  3. Big L,

    I SO totally agree with you, and especially love your comment “Why can’t it just be a state of being?” How about we just call it what it is — Quarter life? The characteristics of which include confusion, excitement, exploration, discovery, standing, falling, risking, failing, choice, freedom and freakin’ so much more awesomeness. 🙂

    Seems to me, quarter life only becomes a crisis when we don’t know who the hell we are — and don’t take time to figure it out — and so we start chasing somebody else’s dream, just doing “it” the way it has always been done and never thinking to ask “why” or “what else” or “what if…”. Or when we think the decisions we make today are somehow etched in stone for the rest of our lives.

    Maybe the thing to do is to stop focusing on the entire quarter life and just start focusing on today, focusing on the “what is.” My coach, Cassi, said to me once, “If every decision you make every day is authentic and true to you, then do you really have to worry about tomorrow? Won’t it just work itself out?” Wow. I think she’s onto something!

    I’ll be back to check you out for sure. In the meantime, keep on keepin’ it real!


  4. Nice to hear from you, Shannon! And you’re right, it’s just quarter life. It’s LIVING! I definitely hope you pop by again….keepin’ it real is how we roll! 🙂

  5. DITTO. Well-put, sister. 🙂

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