The Quarter-Life Crisis and Other Generational Cop-Outs

Feeling down about your lack of job prospects?  Can’t decide which of your handful of on-again off-again boyfriends/girlfriends you’re currently sleeping with you actually want a real relationship with?  Have a sense that “everyone is, somehow, doing better than you?”

If you have any of the above symptoms, not to fear, you’re not suffering from the H1N1 virus.

No, you’re suffering from a far, far worse fate: the quarter-life crisis.

In case you haven’t heard, the “quarter-life crisis” is all the rage.  I first heard it used by a lacklustre acquaintance of mine; subsequently I did more research and stumbled upon an entire body of work devoted to explaining and exploring this phenomenon, including the New York Times bestseller Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties.  Around this time I read an article entitled “Welcome to your Quarterlife Crisis,” an explanatory manifesto.  Throughout this whole process, I got progressively more incredulous.

For me as a twenty-five year old, this whole notion of a ‘quarter-life crisis’ twenty-five year old has all of the characteristics of an elaborately manufactured cop-out.   I simply refuse to accept that the defining generational trait of young adults of my vintage is that we’re aimless, shifty louses who can’t make decisions.  Blaming the parenting decisions and the relative luxury of our generation’s upbringing for one’s own ability to make decisions about one’s own life doesn’t cut it in my view.  After a certain point in life, blaming your upbringing (especially when those circumstances were, relatively speaking, some of the most comfortable in modern history) for the course of one’s life is unseemly.

Nevertheless, according to the ‘quarter-life crisis’ characterization my generation has been effectively reduced to a snivelling, overeducated, whining group of windbags with zero sense of their own purpose or direction.  Although I felt fine this morning, according to this worldview, I am apparently smack dab in the middle of an existential crisis.

What bothers me the most is the fact that the whole “quarter-life crisis” diagnosis seems to exist in the popular narrative primarily as a means to make it socially acceptable to act and feel that it’s alright to blame some externality for the fact that despite what teachers and society told you growing up, you’re not particularly special, smart or important.

I don’t deny that there are tremendous challenges in one’s early twenties, and that facing up to the particular challenges of one’s life bring about feelings.  The years between 20 and 30 are probably some of the most formative in life, and it’s an important time to figure out what quintessentially drives and defines us.  But does this merit a diagnosis?  Isn’t that just life?  Is it no longer possible to have feelings or face challenges without creating a disorder to justify wallowing in it?

Now, on the off chance I’m terribly mistaken, and my generation is afflicted with this terrible disease, I offer the following prescriptive medicine: Guess what?!  There is no grand narrative or logic to life!  Surprise!  In the real world, there are no participant ribbons and not everyone gets what they want.  Thomas Hobbes was right when he said that “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  Now get over it and live your life.

Given the terrible state of the world, particularly those 99% of other people on the planet who aren’t fortunate enough to have the luxury of spending their 20s and 30s feeling sorry for themselves and actually have to live with real adversity and tragedy (and generally, I would point out, don’t bitch about it), it’s really sad that the most fortunate and privileged generation who grew up in a time without major wars or adversity or other generational challenges in a collective sense, can’t even manage to get out of bed in the morning or narrow their list of sex partners down to a number less than the number of fingers on their hand.

I sure hope that the quarter-life crisis is just a terrible stereotype with a catchy name…I hope.

1 Comment

Filed under Opinion

One response to “The Quarter-Life Crisis and Other Generational Cop-Outs

  1. Liz

    Hi Steven!

    After a very difficult day, I accidentally found your interesting comment on the quarterlife-crisis.
    Your critical view on this cop-out phenomenon is very well observed. However, there are some points where I’d like to contradict. Your focus on blaming one’s upbringing for everything is a bit too one-sided for my liking. It’s not like the quarterlife-crisis is an easy excuse for everyone. After some “research” (friends & colleagues) most people I know rather blame themselves. The questions I hear most are: “Where did I make the wrong decision?”, “Why am I doing this?” and “What should I do to get out of this situation?” The impression I get is that the quarterlife crisis is rather a situation where you critically reflect on your life, your decisions and where you actually want to “go”. No one I know blames anyone for anything but themselves.
    That’s the other side of the quarterlife-crisis…

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