Twenty is the new Fifty

“So I’m writing a piece on Quarter Life Crises”

“You?”

“Yeah!”

“You don’t really seem like the right person for that – you’ve really got all your ducks in a row!”

At 23? That’s a bit of a scary thought.

The Quarter Life Crisis (which will hereafter be referred to as the ‘QLC’) is that inherently hyperbolic label given to the feeling that many early twenty-somethings get, typically when they’ve finished university or are faced with their first impending high school reunion. Or they may have simply arrived at that point in their life when they’re asking themselves the all important question:

“So… now what?”

It’s that sinking feeling you get that time is passing you by, that you’re running but getting nowhere. That feeling that everyone has overtaken you, that you have no direction, that you’ve achieved nothing – and perhaps most importantly, that overwhelming fear that you’re never going to.

A friend of mine suggested that the anxiety comes from an increased sense of time ticking past us: we knew how long school was going to last and we knew how long we were going to be studying.  But now, after we leave those structures and institutions behind, and I quote, “there is no road map and that’s pretty terrifying”.

You’d think that we’d know better having grown up in a generation positively bursting with the need to enact their rites of passage publicly. We should know how the game goes having watched, read and grown up with many pop culture artefacts that portray how exhilarating and devastating becoming an adult can be. From Catcher in the Rye and many a John Marsden classic, to Harry Potter and the demise of Britney Spears – we’ve seen it all and should take comfort in the fact that legends suggest that despite how we feel now, everything is going to be okay.

But for reasons which can only be described as human nature, we continue to ignore this logic and the inconsolable panic remains. And in most cases, we try desperately to suck it up and hide our concerns to outsiders, when in fact, we’re most definitely not alone.

As Discover Magazine reports, research continues to be conducted in an attempt to understand more about the QLC with the British Psychological Society identifying its five key stages. These include the overwhelming feeling of being trapped, feeling the need to rebuild your life or simply seeking to find hobbies or work which are more in line with your interests (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2011/05/05/scientists-describe-five-phases-of-quarter-life-crisis-recommend-the-experience/). Similarly, Guardian suggests the defining attributes of the QLC are rooted in anxieties about “jobs, unemployment, debt and relationships” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/05/quarterlife-crisis-young-insecure-depressed). Sound familiar?

However, interestingly, one of the key findings that has emerged from this research is that experiencing a QLC is actually a positive thing: it turns out, we’re being instinctively pro-active. Rather than getting to our 50s or 60s and thinking, “What have I done with my life?”, we’re asking ourselves this question earlier.  As a result, we’re making changes and taking control of where we’re heading, creating our own definitions of ‘success’ and working out what having our metaphorical ducks in a row actually looks like for us.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed or trapped, take comfort in the fact that we’re not supposed to have everything figured out just yet – but a little bit of first world melodrama may just help point us in the right direction.

Elizabeth Calwell is a 23 year old Media and Communications graduate who after lusting after a career in magazines, found herself working within the digital advertising industry as a result of a happy accident and couldn’t feel more at home. She is now nearing completion of her Masters in Advertising. 

Photo sourced from here.

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