What is a Quarter-Life Crisis?

When I started writing my novel, I was in the middle of coming out of a quarter-life crisis. The themes throughout my novel, Three Questions follow this path. This quarter-life crisis could be described as the moment I left college, left a great job (casting) to start working in a pointless, menial job (aka personal assisting), and began questioning everything that my childhood and teenage life had set up for my adult life to take on. I was promised a world of, well, just that…promises, happiness – adulthood was supposed to be knowing who I was, what I wanted to do, and how to make anything happen. I was unprepared. I didn’t know this “moment” or “crisis” even existed at this point in a person’s life.

But, then again, I should’ve just googled it – apparently, I wasn’t the only one – although it felt like it at the time. Wikipedia has a brief page on having a quarter life crisis that says

“The quarterlife crisis is a period of life following the major changes of adolescence, usually ranging from the late teens to the early thirties, in which a person begins to feel doubtful about their own lives, brought on by the stress of becoming an adult.”

Jesus – I should have written that post. Why didn’t you tell us that becoming an adult was so difficult?!

 

quarter life crisis

Del (the main protagonist in Three Questions) addresses it in a scene with her best friend, Samantha. They are both actresses in Hollywood, and have been since they were eight years old. For the first time, they are questioning this path:

“But our parents told us all along, everyone did, they said that if we believe something enough, we can make it happen; that if we will ourselves to be actors, then we can become them. That’s the American way. They filled us with this intense self-belief that we are special and unique and if we believe it and set out to do it, we can. Then our mid-twenties strike,” I said.

“Out of nowhere,” she added.

“Completely out of the blue,” I agreed. “I swear we were 18 just yesterday. Mid-twenties means we’re almost too old. ‘Almost’ is just as bad as being too old. But then, oh but then, they do something even worse which is to tell us the unlikely tales of the actors in their forties who all of a sudden make it big. But that’s the question – what do you do in the meantime? Wait around for a career that may never happen? Spend most of your life miserable on the off chance that you’ll be discovered? I can’t do that.”

“Neither can I,” she admitted.

“So, what do we do?” I asked. My phone made a noise. I had a text message.

“No idea.”

 

quarter life crisis quote

A BBC article from 2002 also stated that this was becoming more prevalent by the rise in student debt – they weren’t even in the middle of the unemployment crisis yet. I research further, and find a Guardian article from just May of last year titled “The quarterlife crisis: young, insecure and depressed”. They say it better than I would:

“It is supposed to be the time of opportunity and adventure, before mortgages and marriage have taken their toll. But struggling to cope with anxieties about jobs, unemployment, debt and relationships, many young adults are experiencing a “quarterlife crisis”, according to new research by British psychologists.”

But it makes sense – I graduated from college in 2006, and I felt it. I can only imagine what students now a days feel.

Quarter-Life Crisis Vs. Mid-Life Crisis

I’m not sure when it started – there wasn’t a definitive day. It was definitely a slow build up, and I don’t really even know when I got out of it. All I know is that it happened, it sucked, and I don’t look forward to the mid-life crisis. Although, to be honest, now that I have analyzed, been through and written a book about this crisis, I’m hoping I’ll recognize the next one and be able to by-pass it.

I know where a quarter life crisis comes from – you’ve spent your entire life with your parents, with a structure of some sort – and all of a sudden, you’re shot out of school’s digestion tract and expected to compose yourself, but the tract has given you all sorts of skills, ideas & nourishment, but no real way to deal with it in “real” life. You’re left like a big pile of poo – all this tract has done is left you slightly smelly, feeling like shit, and mushed up in a pile of confusion. (Bad analogy…really bad – but I know I felt like a big pile of poo at that point in my life!)

So, does the mid-life crisis come from realizing you’re more than half way through your life, and are closer to death than your birth for the first time ever? That kind of mortality reality would hit me hard.

Because, that, I think is scary. But, if it’s similar to a quarter life crisis, where you’ve gone the last twenty years taking care of children and other people, and working, and all of a sudden have all this free time, and no idea what to do with it….well, that, I could deal with. After all, I’ve written a book about just that.

All I know is that I plan on enjoying the next twenty five years…until the next crisis.

If you’re going through a quarter life crisis, you might, just might – get some solace from this novel, Three Questions.

8 Comments

  1. Del and Samantha’s conversation is the root of I recurring parenting debate I have with my wife (regarding our not-yet-conceived children). Namely, the point that the women’s parents filled them “with this intense self-belief that we are special and unique and if we believe it and set out to do it, we can.”

    The missus believes that’s the appropriate way to parent…and she’s probably right. But I disagree anyway. I don’t believe in telling my children they can be anything. I mean, some children can grow up to be anything, but many other need a few realistic boundaries. My quarter life crisis came from the belief that since I could be *anything*, I never had to settle…I never had to adapt to tough situations…I never had to push through uncomfortable to find something better. Why should I? I could be anything, right? Now, more than a decade after this adolescent foolishness, I’m learning the lessons I should have picked up when I was 22. And you know what? It sucks.

    I think you’re spot-on linking the “I can be anything” belief to a quarter life crisis. The logical follow up is, of course, should we teach our kids something more realistic or should we encourage them to dream? After all, in the immortal words of Judge Smails, “the world needs ditch diggers too.”

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    1. Matthew, I completely agree. Actually, I was just reading this really interesting article about self-esteem that proves that you need a bit of reality plugged into your world. For so many years – especially in the 80’s and 90’s – we were so concerned about children’s low self esteem, but it appears that having TOO high of a self esteem can be just as damaging as the person with low self esteem. They’ve found that having too high self esteem can lead to feeling superior to others, abuse in relationships and having no self-control (impulse buying, criminal acts, etc).

      They tout the British as “getting” this, and realizing that a bit of a dose of reality is good for you – like “You’re great at dance, but maybe not the best at soccer.” I mean, we can’t all be GREAT at everything!

      Here’s the link : http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201112/the-boom-and-bust-ego

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    2. Matthew, I completely agree. Actually, I was just reading this really interesting article about self-esteem that proves that you need a bit of reality plugged into your world. For so many years – especially in the 80’s and 90’s – we were so concerned about children’s low self esteem, but it appears that having TOO high of a self esteem can be just as damaging as the person with low self esteem. They’ve found that having too high self esteem can lead to feeling superior to others, abuse in relationships and having no self-control (impulse buying, criminal acts, etc). 

      They tout the British as “getting” this, and realizing that a bit of a dose of reality is good for you – like “You’re great at dance, but maybe not the best at soccer.” I mean, we can’t all be GREAT at everything!

      Here’s the link : http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201112/the-boom-and-bust-ego

      Like

  2. My quarter life crisis was all about not settling – down, for a boring job, for having kids, and getting married. In essence, after a childhood when I had been forced to grow up too fast, my quarter life crisis was about refusing to take on adult responsibilities. Of course, ten years later I realized that I had inadvertently taken on at least some of the things I thought I wanted avoid forever – but that was a whole OTHER crisis.

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