Saturday, August 04, 2007

Quarter Life Crisis

The quarterlife crisis is a term applied to the period of life immediately following the major changes of adolescence, usually ranging from ages 21 - 29. The term is named by analogy with mid-life crisis. It is now recognised by many therapists and professionals in the mental health field.
Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner coined the phrase with the first book to identify this phenomenon: Quarterlife Crisis, the Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties. The phenomenon has been identified in Japan as "freeter".

Emotional aspects
Characteristics of quarter-life crisis include:
feeling "not good enough" because one can't find a job that is at one's academic/intellectual level
frustration with relationships, the working world, and finding a suitable job or career
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 university, college, or high school life
tendency to hold stronger opinions
boredom with social interactions
financially-rooted stress
desire to have children
a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you
These emotions and insecurities are not uncommon at this age, nor at any age in adult life. In the context of the quarter-life crisis, however, they occur shortly after a young person – usually an educated professional, in this context – enters the "real world". After entering adult life and coming to terms with its responsibilities, some individuals find themselves experiencing career stagnation or extreme insecurity. The individual often realizes the real world is tougher, more competitive and less forgiving than they imagined. Furthermore, the qualifications they have spent so much time and money earning are not likely to prepare them for this disillusionment.
A related problem is simply that many college graduates do not achieve a desirable standard of living after graduation. They often end up living in low-income apartments with roommates instead of having an income high enough to support themselves. High underemployment for college graduates contributed to this problem.[citation needed] Substandard living conditions, combined with menial or repetitive work at their jobs create a great amount of frustration, anxiety and anger.Nobody wants to admit to feeling like a 'loser'; this secrecy may intensify the problem.
As the emotional ups-and-downs of adolescence and college life subside, many affected by 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 quarter-life 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. One progresses from year to year in the education system. In contrast, within a workplace environment, one may be, for some time, completely unaware of a boss's displeasure with one's performance, or of one's colleagues' dislike of one's personality. One does not automatically make progress. 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.

[edit] Financial and professional aspects
A primary cause of the stress associated with the "quarter-life crisis" is financial in nature; most professions have become highly competitive in recent years. 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. There is also the problem of crippling student loans.
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 an 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.
As mentioned above, severe underemployment exists in today’s economy. College graduates are physically and mentally capable of performing many jobs, but lack the "1-2 years of experience" required to get hired and consequently end up doing simple tedious boring jobs for which they are far too overqualified. In college, students spend all their time working hard to receive good grades and graduate on time but then they do not have any "real world" experience with which to get a job.
This catch-22 is tough for college students: one must have a degree to get hired, but cannot get hired without 1-2 years of practical experience. This cycle is infuriating for recent graduates. The few graduates that do get decent jobs after graduation usually have to work 15-20 hours a week at a job during college and because of this they end up missing the majority of social events that university life has to offer. These students frequently desire romantic relationships but simply do not have the time in college to gain or sustain them. Thus, they may end up with a job after college but long for a romantic partner and feel as unfulfilled as the graduates who have a partner and no job.
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.

[edit] Other theories
Erik H. Erikson, who proposed eight crises that humans face during development, also proposed the existence of a life crisis occurring at this age. In his developmental theory, he proposed that human life is divided into eight stages, each with its own conflict that humans must resolve. The conflict he associated with young adulthood is the Intimacy vs. Isolation crisis. According to him, after establishing a personal identity in adolescence, young adults seek to form intense, usually romantic relationships with other people.
The version of the "quarter-life crisis" proposed by Erikson, then, is very different from the one that occurs in popular culture. Indeed, the pop-culture version of the "quarter-life crisis" contains more elements of the crisis Erikson associated with adolescence, Identity vs. Role-confusion, giving credence to the theory that late-20th century life, with its bizarre mix of extreme comfort and insecurity, is then causing people to mature at a slower rate.

[edit] Popular culture
The film "The Graduate" (1967) depicts a young man, fresh out of university, who cannot center his emotions and professional life. He is bombarded by all sides by pressures from his elders and becomes very confused.
The Broadway musical, Avenue Q, is centered largely around a variety of New Yorkers experiencing their own quarter-life crises. The show presents the characters issues in a cynical, yet comedic light with songs such as "I Wish I Could Go Back to College," "It Sucks to be Me," "(I'm Gonna Find My) Purpose," and "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?"
In 1985's St. Elmo's Fire (film), the seven main characters are new college graduates and going through their own quarter-life crises.
In the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, author Douglas Coupland defines "mid-twenties breakdown" as
A period of mental collapse occurring in one's twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments, coupled with a realisation of one's essential aloneness in the world. Often marks induction into the ritual of pharmaceutical usage.
Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming (1995) follows a group of college buddies who are trying to make the transition from college to post-collegiate world.
In the novel Twenty Something by Iain Hollingshead, Flatmate Fred says that a quarter-life crisis is twice as bad as a midlife crisis: "It's twenty years premature. No one gives you any sympathy and you're too young and insignificant to buy a sports car and run off with your secretary."
In the song about discontent with life entitled "Why Georgia," musical artist John Mayer muses:
Might be a quarter-life crisis / Or just a stirrin' in my soul / Either way / I wonder sometimes / About the outcome / Of a still verdictless life / Am I living it right
The online magazine, Quarter Pitch is a literary publication featuring regular columns and an open-submission policy, focusing on all aspects of the twenty-something experience.
In spring 2007, Generation What? was published by Speck Press, the first book of essays on the quarter-life crisis.
The 2005 feature film "The Rest of Your Life" specifically addresses a group of friends in Charlotte, NC experiencing the quarter-life crisis.
The film The Last Kiss, starring Zach Braff, deals with a young man enduring a quarter-life crisis.
The television series Scrubs, also starring Zach Braff, often has episodes dealing with the quarter-life crisis of his character, J.D. and his friends, Elliot and Turk.
Up and coming writers/directors Philip M. Magcalas and Lucy Harrison have produced a short film titled "The Quarter-Life Crisis" that also illustrates the phenomenon.

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