Sunday, Sunday,Sunday. I’m sitting here trying to articulate what it is I’m trying to say, but what can you really say about birthdays? On Sunday I will turn 26. The big 2-6. Twenty six. My parents make fun of me for celebrating my birthday the entire week before the actual day (March 10). I do this because I normally get abysmally depressed because I hate the idea of getting older, but this year is different. I’m not upset, not exactly jazzed: I’d use the term hopefully resigned. Despite my slow march toward 30, this year more than any other I have extra cause to celebrate: my quarter-life crisis is now officially over. Get out the cake and balloons!
What is a quarter-life crisis, you ask?
If you have to ask, you haven’t had one yet, and should consider yourself lucky. It’s a term used by mid-twenty-somethings when they wake up one morning and realize their life isn’t all they thought it was going to be., or the moment when your childhood fantasies meet your adult realities. Things are awful in your early twenties. I mean, yeah you have your youth, health, and good looks, but what else? Jobs that suck, apartments that suck, you are dating which is the biggest suck of them all, and you can’t even wear a hangover the way you used to in college. A quarter-life crisis is the panic that sets in when someone realizes all those bad things might stay forever. This usually happens around the age of twenty five for two reasons. One, because you realize a full quarter of your life is finished. It also dawns on you the next quarter of your life will be spent building a career and fostering a family life (if that’s your choice), things you normally felt “too young” for, or that would happen to you “when I grow up.” The second reason is at twenty five, you realize you aren’t going to be able to do the things you always thought you’d get around to. I can no longer be a participant on MTV’s The Real World, and that’s how I know I’m getting old.
Scientists describe five phases of the quarter-life crisis:
Phase 1: A feeling of being trapped by your life choices. Feeling as though you are living your life on autopilot.
Phase 2: A rising sense of “I’ve got to get out”.
Phase 3: Getting out of whatever it is you feel is holding you back. During this phase you will probably experiment a lot to try and figure out what it is that would most make you happy.
Phase 4: Rebuilding your life based on what you’ve learned.
Phase 5: Making long-term commitments that better serve your new realizations.
Naturally, my quarter-life crisis came early in late 2010 when I packed up everything and moved to New York City. I got by: I slept on couches, ate honey buns from the bodega around the corner, and drank a lot. Even though I made it work there for a few years (Phases 2 and 3 for me), that coming “undone at the seams” feeling didn’t really go away until the end of 2012, after I had rebuilt my life here in Atlanta. So yes, I’ve had a really long time to sit and think about my quarter-life crisis.
Advice for Getting Through Your Quarter-Life Crisis
Now that I have the wisdom of twenty-six years and one major life crisis behind me, I can give advice to others on how to get through their own. The sad reality is there isn’t a magic tonic or trick, the only way to get through your quarter-life blues is to just live it out, realize it won’t last forever, or maybe start a blog.
How do I know I’m finished with my quarter-life crisis? Well, I know because of a few signs. Yes, on “paper” my life has quieted down: I work a full-time job I like in a completely different field than I originally set out in, I financially support myself, and I have a dog (and a plant!) I haven’t accidentally killed yet, so I must be getting better about taking responsibility for things. On the outside my life is quiet and drama free, but even in my past when I have periods of quiet in my life, on the inside there has been a lot of pain and anxiety I hid from the world.
The pain came from a lot of places, mostly me feeling misunderstood by pretty much everyone and trying to change myself to fit into a mold I thought the world expected of me. I have come to accept the fact that I am a really odd duck, probably alone out on my pond a lot of the time, but every now and again I happen upon the odd duckling or two willing to share in the insanity. I now realize why I’ve always been drawn to people a little “rough around the edges”, because I am rough around the edges too. I’ve spent my whole life trying to appear polished and “just like everyone else”, I don’t have energy for that anymore- I work full-time.n The reason I know my own crisis is over is because that familiar, lingering pain that has been in my bones since I graduated college is gone.
Anxiety about my future used to rule my life-seriously-it would be the first thing I thought of when I woke up and those thoughts would keep me up at night. I still deal with anxiety on a daily basis, but I no longer fret about where I will be in forty years. God willing, I’m going to turn twenty seven next year but I can’t control the passing of time, or the fact that I am getting older. Just like I can’t control what life is or isn’t going to throw my way. It’s been an interesting year full of ups and downs, I’m sure it won’t be the last bad year of my life, but now it’s over and I’m still here. I feel this is what a quarter-life crisis is meant to show you- there are only a few things you can actually control. Fortunately, being happy is one of them.
I am a better person for this struggle, but between you and me? I have never been so glad to turn a year older.
Have you ever had a quarter-life crisis? What was it like?