Is a quarter life crisis really a “thing”?

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sadnessIt’s the hump day of the week before a holiday (read: super short) week. I got a ton of shizzle done and I’m generally being awesome so woot for me!

A week or so ago, I met up with a former coworker who despite having made a few substantial changes in his life, admitted that he was still struggling. Sometimes changes can be disappointing: you hope that that next thing– be it a job, a relationship, a home– will be way, way better than your last thing and when it doesn’t live up to that heightened expectation, it’s a big bummer. I couldn’t begin to diagnose the true cause of this person’s ennui but it dawned on me much after the fact that perhaps he was just having his quarter life crisis.

The quarter life crisis is based on the midlife crisis. But whereas in your midlife crisis you wonder: “did I make the right decisions in my life?” and then you run off to buy a luxury vehicle to assuage that sense of inner angst, with your quarter life crisis you don’t have the money to self-medicate in such an over-the-top way. The best you can do is buy yourself a really big cheap burrito and really that’s only satisfying for a few hours at most. Then you finish off that bottle of Two Buck Chuck and you cry yourself to sleep.

The quarter life crisis is really that transition period between all the bounties of college and the harsh realizations of real, adult life (or something somewhat resembling it). From personal experience, I feel like it starts when you have that panicked moment, when you simultaneously look at your career, your lifestyle, the money you have in the bank, your relationships and you scream (perhaps in your head, perhaps out loud), “What the fuck?! Did my bold ambitions and idyllic upbringing really groom me for this shitbag of a life?!”

I can’t really pinpoint the moment I descended into my quarter life crisis. I graduated from college right as the Silicon Valley tech bubble burst so my quarter life crisis might as well have started the minute I entered the workforce. I jumped from mediocre job to mediocre job. Having moved back home, I was forced to take on the awkward challenge of managing friendships: rekindling old friendships, salvaging ones from college, trying to make new ones. I felt like I had done all the *right* things and yet found myself in a suffocating maelstrom and I didn’t know how to pull myself out. In fact, I remember my life anthem for a period being Linkin Park’s “In the End“:

I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

And then when I was hitting the full stride of my quarter life crisis, I scored a job at Google. I won’t say that Google was the white knight that saved this fair maiden. But it did give me sufficient distraction in the way of job stuff and life stuff and friend stuff to feel like I was making progress in my life.

I asked around to my network to get insight on the quarter life crisis. Is it real or is it an excuse? Does it go away? Does it get better? Does everyone go through it? One friend answered that she went through a quarter life crisis every two years of her 20s. Which is true because her life was ridiculous yet amazing. I knew her at Google and when we parted ways, I headed to bschool while she went on to serve as VP for a now defunct startup. Then she got her teaching credential and was a teacher in the Midwest. Then recently, she up and moved to Alaska. So if I had to guess, her quarter life crises were just moments of intense self-scrutiny where she decided, “nope, this ain’t right!” and proceeded on to the next thing her heart desired. And for that, I salute her.

Another friend mentioned that yes, it was totally a real thing in life and that it doesn’t quite feel like it’s ended yet. For those of us not groomed into a particular career or who didn’t find our calling early in life, I think life can feel like a slow side-step away from the quarter life crisis. It strikes and you deal with it and then slowly but surely it gets better. But that sense of uncertainty, that lack of complete confidence that you are absolutely where you ought to be, doing that thing you were put on this earth to do– it’s… well, it’s uncomfortable.

But if I was to ask my network, I do think we would all agree that the quarter life crisis was the nadir of our adult lives thus far– the moment where we all acknowledged that things weren’t what we wanted them to be. And in that sense, it was good because when you hit a bottom, you can only go up. The quarter life crisis, I suspect, for most of us was that “come to Jesus” moment where we decided not to passively hope for things in our lives and where we woke up from the nostalgia that had been holding us captive. We snapped out of our Two Buck Chuck stupors and decreed: my life is going to be better than this and I’m going to make that happen!

And then: we worked our asses off to make it all come true.

And maybe we didn’t quite hit what we hoped we would and progress is still, I would guess, for all of us a daily struggle. But I think we would all agree when we look back in the period after our quarter life crises that it was full of good times, hearty challenges, wins and losses, life lessons, course corrections and a whole lotta cheap wine– both celebratory and rueful.

I didn’t really have a point to this post but it’s one that I have been wanting to write. Maybe it’s just a wink and a smile to those going through quarter life crises that it gets better and I raise my glass of cheap wine to your… to our continued efforts.

Cheers, my friends!

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