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Quarter Life Crisis

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brynn Pennington

Hi, my name is Brynn Pennington. I have a bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion and Behavior and a Masters in Health and Physical Education.  I am a waitress, a nanny, an umpire, and a writer. I do not own a house, I am not married, I have no children, and the only debt I have are my student loans. I am almost 30.

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If this were 1980, my profile might read: I have been teaching for nearly 10 years at the local middle school. I have been happily married for 7 years with 2 children and another one on the way. My husband and I own a house, 2 cars, and currently have no debt. My 30th birthday is next month!!!!!

Alas, this is 2013. Gone are the days of immediate employment after college.  According to the Associated Press, recent graduates are now facing some of the highest rates of unemployment or underemployment to date, making it very difficult to pay off the ever increasing student loan debt.  Although social customs have changed, unemployment is the main reason so many young adults are not taking on other responsibilities associated with graduation such as marriage, children, and home ownership.

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Unemployment is hindering this generation’s ability to become adults. The lack of available career opportunity has created a “quarter life crisis”. Similar to the mid-life crisis, the quarter life crisis can be defined by the 3 following characteristics:

1.  Desire and Intent to NOT act your age:

The “Mid-Life Crisis” is famous for making people buy luxury cars, jump out of planes, and undergo expensive body altering plastic surgery. They fear the inevitability of getting older and believe that the activities mentioned above will make them feel young again, thus forgetting their issues with getting older. From what I have witnessed in movies and books, is that a loyal spouse or wise son will make them realize how special their life is and how lucky they are. The sports car gets traded in for the trusty outback, the Botox gets removed and they find themselves aging gracefully. HA HA HA.
I look forward to my Mid Life Crisis. The “quarter-life crisis” puts you in the purgatory of adulthood. Some days you find yourself aching to go back to college, where responsibility was sometimes as simple as taking a cab home from downtown and it was acceptable to crack open a beer at 2 p.m. on a Friday because “you had nothing else to do”. So, you get hammered on a Tuesday night, order “jaeger bombs” because they used to be cool, and then spend the next 2 days in bed because hangovers are deadly. Other days, you know you want more. You want to slide gracefully into the real world where days begin at 9 am and end at 5 pm, paychecks come regularly, and a beer at any time is unacceptable because your Cross Fit instructor told you so. (Side note, I think cross fit is a cult but some of my real adult friends in some way have said this to me). So, you apply to every job you can find on Craig’s list, you devise a savings and spending plan, and then you buy a Groupon for some cross fit classes. What you learn: you can’t drink like you did in college, finding a job that will one day allow to have the money to buy a sports car for your mid-life crisis is hard, and deciding the direction that you want your life to go in is even harder.

The concept is the same though: in both “crisis”, you fear the future and try to regress to the past. The difference is the person in “mid-life crisis” often will begin to embrace the future they saw before that gray hair sent them into a brief tailspin. A person in a “quarter life crisis” can see many futures but doesn’t know which one to embrace.

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2. Changing Relationships

Based solely on fictionalized characteristics from numerous movies and books, I have observed that for at least a short period of time, people in their “Mid-Life Crisis” become unhappy within their lifelong devoted relationships and seek out younger companions that allow them to frolic on the beach or cruise around town on their motorcycle. Eventually, they realize that frolicking is no longer a term recognized by their knee joints and their younger companion finds a younger companion. Affair over. The hurt but understanding spouse takes them back, nurses their joints, and the happy aging couple resumes the routine they established over 20 years of wedded bliss, promising to go to a salsa class once a month to keep things exciting.
For those that are stuck in the “mid-life crisis”, relationships can be tricky. My own personal experience dictates that those of us that are in crisis mode aren’t married. Why? Because if we were, the direction our future is most likely to take would be much narrower. See statement 1. Instead of being devoted to one special person, we are still trying to figure out what kind of person we need to be devoted too. Sometimes we look for the life of the party, the one that can still chug a beer in 10 seconds and has TWO season tickets to every home football game. Other times, we find ourselves attracted to the hard working full time employee of a major corporation who makes enough money that will eventually be able to support a family and has FOUR season tickets to every home football game, with a tailgate spot (not in the family friendly zone). Some find themselves in long term committed relationships, but question the longevity or authenticity of the relationship due to their own concerns about the future. Essentially, we are perpetually unhappy when single and perpetually unhappy when taken ( and our parents thought that puberty was bad).
In regards to relationships, the “quarter life crisis” will end not when 2 people rediscover their future together. It will end when one person finally finds a direction that they are happy to be moving in, and meets another person along the way.

3.  Age and Duration
Culturally speaking, the “Mid-Life Crisis” has been depicted to begin when someone finds their first gray hair, when someone turns 40, 50, 60 or anywhere in between, or when their spouse turns 40, 50, 60 or anywhere in between. It can end when their roots begin to show gray again, when their younger fling begins to date someone younger, or when they realize that the prices at the early bird special do make a 5 pm dinner totally worth it. Hollywood does a poor job of depicting what happens if none of this happens so I am just going to assume that everyone snaps out of their midlife crisis within at least a year and settles into retirement by traveling the world and visiting with dozens of grandchildren. I am also assuming that the “quarter-life crisis” is a relatively new phenomenon. Prior to this awek5some economy those of us in our mid twenties are lucky to be graduating in, it was once said that college students would have job offers upon graduation. As far as I’m concerned, that is urban legend. Which is why I have determined that the “quarter life crisis” can begin on the day you graduate and you have to ask yourself “what now? “From there, you may find yourself working in a restaurant going into debt because grad school is such good option, or finding a random temporary job just to avoid moving back in with your parents. Duration depends on how long it takes you find something that you love and can do until your mid-life crisis.
I believe that the similarity in both the mid and quarter life crisis is the term “settling”. The difference is the outcome. A person in a mid-life crisis fears that they have “settled”, search to find something better and different, only to realize that it wasn’t “settling” at all because they have a past full of extraordinary memories and a future to look forward too. A person in a quarter-life crisis fears “settling”, because they know that something better has to exist and wont settle until they discover it

How are you dealing with your quarter life crisis?


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