Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Talkin Bout My Generation

I heard about this on someone else's blog recently, but apparently there are bunch of people my age out there that appear to be having what experts call a "Quarter Life Crisis."

Said quarter life crisis is characterized by the following attributes or feelings:
  • confusion of identity
  • insecurity regarding the near future
  • insecurity regarding present accomplishments
  • re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
  • disappointment with one's job
  • nostalgia for college life
  • tendency to hold stronger opinions
  • boredom with social interactions
  • financially-rooted stress
  • loneliness
The entry then goes to say:

After the initial excitement of adult life and its responsibilities wears off, some individuals find themselves in a world of career stagnation and extreme insecurity.

As the emotional ups-and-downs of adolesence and college life subside, many in the quarter-life crisis experience a "graying" of emotion. While emotional interactions may be intense in a high school or college environment – where everyone is roughly the same age and hormones are highly active – these interactions become subtler and more private in adult life.

Furthermore, a contributing factor to this crisis may be the difficulty in adapting to a workplace environment. In college, professors' expectations are clearly given and students receive frequent feedback on their performance in their courses. By contrast, in a workplace environment, a person may be, for some time, completely unaware of a boss's displeasure with his performance, or of his colleagues' dislike for his personality. Office politics require interpersonal skills that are largely unnecessary for success in an educational setting. Emerging adults eventually learn these social skills, but this process – sometimes compared to learning another language – is often highly stressful.

A primary cause of the stress associated with the "quarter-life crisis" is financial in nature. Real wages for most people have been dropping since the 1970s, and most professions have become highly competitive. Positions of relative security – such as tenured positions at universities and "partner" status at law firms – have dwindled in number. This, combined with excessive downsizing, means that many people will never experience occupational security in their lives, and this is doubly unlikely in young adulthood. Generation X was the first generation to meet this uncertain "New Economy" en masse.

The era when a professional career meant a life of occupational security – thus allowing an individual to proceed to establish an "inner life" – is coming to a crashing end. Financial professionals are often expected to spend at least 80 hours per week in the office, and people in the legal, medical, educational, and managerial professions may average more than 60. In most cases, these long hours are de facto involuntary, reflecting economic and social insecurity. While these ills plague adults at all ages, their worst victims are ambitious, unestablished young adults.

In The Cheating Culture, David Callahan illustrates that these ills of excessive competition and insecurity do not always end once one becomes established – by being awarded tenure or "partner" status – and therefore the "quarter-life crisis" may actually extend beyond young adulthood. Some measure of financial security – which usually requires occupational security – is necessary for psychological development. Some have theorized that insecurity in the "New Economy" will place many in a state of, effectively, perpetual adolescence, and that the rampant and competitive consumerism of the 1990s and 2000s indicates that this is already taking place.

So why do I post all of this? I'm at the age where I've already experienced or am currently experiencing many of the above mentioned characteristics of a quarter life crisis. Apparently a lot of other people my age are too.

There are two things that I find interesting about all this.

One, until yesterday I believed that the so called "quarter life crisis" that seems to plague so many people my age was just called "life." Growing up, I was always taught that change was a natural part of life and that with change, sometimes came difficult adjustments. Life is full of transitions... do we need to name them all? When a five year old starts kindergarten and is faced with all the emotions and struggles that accompany a new life away from Mommy and Daddy, should we call that a "One Twentieth Life Crisis?" Is it really necessary to attach a name and scientific study to everything? I won't even get into the fact that most people don't live to be 100.

The second thing I find interesting about this phenomenon is that (as much as I dislike the name of it) up until yesterday (having experienced many of these same emotions myself) I thought I was in the minority of people. At work, church, and other activities I'm involved in, I see people my age who always seem to have it all together. Come to think of it, I probably seem to have it all together to most of the people I know. What's interesting to me is that we're all a lot more complicated underneath than we ever let people see. We're all a little bit like a cake that's been taken out of the oven too soon. It looks good and done on the outside, but if you poke it with a toothpick, you end up getting a bunch of gooey cake mess all over the toothpick because the inside's still not done yet. Even more interesting is the fact that the gooey cake-covered toothpick phenonemon is the same with every cake no matter what kind of cake it is and no matter who made it. The same applies to people at any age... not just to those in their mid-twenties.

Anywhooo... if you think you're having a "Quarter Life Crisis" don't sweat it. If the above mentioned characteristics are indicators of a "Quarter Life Crisis" then you, me, and the rest of the people on this planet are probally all suffering from one. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't always think it's necessary to attach a name to something to give it validation. From now on, let's all make a concerted effort to refer to the characteristics above as they were meant to be called - life.

One more thing, let's all try to show a little more of our gooey undone inside a little more often... adult life does not have to be characterized by it's "private nature" and "graying emotions." Just because most of our parents and grandparents did it that way, doesn't mean we have to too. At the same time, let's not turn into a bunch of over emotional way too in touch with our inner-self over-the-top flaming pansies either. That would just be too much to stomach.

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