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Jul. 20 2010 - 12:04 pm | 3,155 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

Quarter-life crisis? Thoughts on turning 25

A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

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It seems to be that time. Time for re-thinking, re-evaluating, re-fashioning. Our lives.

Liz turned 25 yesterday. My time came back in March. Like a mutual friend said, “We’ve now entered a new demographic bracket.” 25 is half-way to 50. We’re closer to the way we’ll be at 30 than the way we were in high school.

I took a long, healing Saturday walk with another recently turned 25:er this weekend. She was unhappy at her job, was feeling unappreciated, unhealthy, and overworked. The words she hardly dared utter, an ugly cliché she didn’t want to identify with, slipped out like a whisper: “burned out.” She’d woken up to the truth of it when she tried to log 25 hours worked in a row and the computer wouldn’t allow her to enter a number higher than 24, the total number of hours in a day. Another bracket had been broken, and she had slipped through.

Now she wanted— needed— a change. She wrote me yesterday that she had decided to leave her job and look for something new, something that would allow her a healthier, saner lifestyle: “Basically the next job I take, whatever it may be, I want to be something where I can prioritize my life first, and then also do my job well.” For this friend, the New York way had gotten the best of her; the endless push to both work and play harder and harder until she no longer had the energy to do either. Reaching 25 for her meant waking up to realize the dream she had been chasing—the bling and the title and the prestige— wasn’t really, truly, what she wanted. She didn’t know exactly what it was she wanted, but she was relieved to know what it was she didn’t want.

Call it the quarter-life crisis, or call it classic Gen Y brattiness, but all around me, other twenty-five year olds are looking at where they are and what they are doing and feeling strangely….out of place. Perhaps it’s the job that wasn’t as satisfying as they thought it would be, the boss who mistreats them, their neglected physiques, the flights they secretly search for but never buy on Kayak.com. For some, it’s the dream they keep having but don’t dare follow.

Over drinks, a friend of mine who works in financial services told me how miserable he is at the job that pays him incredibly well. “What would you do if you could just stop having to live up to this macho idea of the money-making man?” I asked—knowing him well enough to know why he was in his unhappy position in the first place. His answer was immediate: “public planning.” He had been a Geography major in college, a GIS wiz. I had forgotten that. The fact that he wouldn’t do what he wanted because he felt he needed to do what was expected of him was depressing to me. I recalled my friend who’d “burned out,” who’d said she didn’t know what she really wanted. That seemed a million times better than knowing exactly what it is you want and still not doing it.

Another friend told me that up until we’re 25, we think we know it all. After 25, we realize we really know nothing. All the plans we had in college and directly thereafter have given way to a messy reality, where life often gets in the way of our meticulous calculations. You lost your job, you got an unexpected job, you were in an accident, or you fell in love with a boy and that love made you move across the world. At 25, we are beginning to understand, truly, that plans, like rules, are meant to be broken. It is often the spontaneous, the unforeseen, that chisels out our individuality.

Now, at 25, when we’ve started to stir from the frenzied state of our early twenties, when we’ve begun to look at where we’ve come and either feel dissatisfied or just plain antsy, perhaps it is time to stop planning and start doing. To stop fearing side-steps and mis-steps. To, as a wise man I spoke to recently said, breach the minefield and step on the mine, because maybe, just maybe, stepping on the mine is part of it.

That same wise man left me with these words: “You have to live the life you claim you want to have. No one will prevent you.” At 25, it is time to take his advice.

- Astri


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  1. collapse expand

    Nice post.

    Sad as it is to burn out at 25, so much better to see early the folly of living others’ lives and not your own and change those foolish ways. Depending on your family pressures and expectations, it can be very hard to step (far) away from the conventional choices of $$$, power, prestige, the bigger/better everything. When all your pals are climbing all those ladders really fast, why aren’t you?

    Because it’s not YOUR ladder.

    I burned out at 30, having already had the best job possible in my field by 26. I had never “failed” and I didm mostly because I was just exhausted. Took three months off to sleep and draw and sail and read and think. I am still in journalism, but have a different perspective on it.

    Some people live to work, others work to live. Being a Gemini, I flip flop between these two poles, driven as hell, but deeply attached to many weeks of vacation whenever I damn well want and need it (five so far this year, with two more planned for October.) That alone is deeply and weirdly un-American. Time off?! You bet. I know what I need and how incredibly hard I work when I do work.

    I’ve really enjoyed your True/Slant column and feel sure whatever comes next for you will be a great adventure. A belated Happy Birthday!

  2. collapse expand

    So much to say about this topic – at 25, I also was struggling to live up to expectations (self-imposed, really) and and somehow had an awakening and made sure that I changed everything. I eventually met my wife at 32, we got married at 35, and now we have two kids.

    But first I had to stop being materialistic, make a plan (professionally), live very frugally for a few years while I developed valuable experience from the ground up, and started my own business. From an entrepreneurial frame of reference, I realized that in order to be able to sell something (your services) you have to develop the expertise that someone would want to buy. This means, practically, that many of the high-paying jobs that some walk into after college or grad school (i-banking, tech field, law, etc.) don’t groom you in a way that would allow you to leave on your own anytime soon. I’m saying come up with a different path.

    Now my wife and I both have flexible schedules and we both do a lot of work remotely from our clients. We both share in child-rearing. There is no nanny (a concept we abhor). I’m writing this to let others know that this kind of picture can be painted by anyone; it just takes time, creativity, ambition, and the willingness to let go of others’ expectations that are really your own.

  3. collapse expand

    Unlike many, I went straight to the work-force while attending college at night. It took a lot longer, but I think I ended up more rounded than if I’d gone to school for four years and then stumbled in to the work force.

    There are many who feel the weight of expectations. It is important to be aware of those expectations, but to shunt them aside and listen to yourself and your dreams.

    I consider anyone who chases a dream to be a success, even if it didn’t turn out they way they’d hoped it would be. The worst thing of all is to be doing something you don’t enjoy and then to have regrets.

    I think that “Quarter Life Crisis” (really from age 25 to 30) is actually the time of life when you realize that you have dreams, and that it is time to pursue them seriously.

    Here’s to the chase…

  4. collapse expand

    Very well articulated post…like a John Mayer song. I recently (2 weeks ago) decided to uproot my life in San Fran, where I have lived for the 3 years following college–I’m 27–to stay with a friend while I pursued a job or maybe something more existential in the city I always felt that I should reside in, NY, NY. Cue potential land mine. However my perspective is always steeped in potential perceived future regret in retrospect, or (PPFRR, obviously). I know as an old man I will regret staying in a city that is so-so compared to a city that I love. Sadly I too fall victim to pursuing a job that I know I will not love for the–insert cliche–perception of prestige, potential of a higher income, ability to feel superior to old high school classmates etc etc….the stuff that matters. Ha. I realized how little I knew from a slightly earlier age and have sat by idly doing what is comfortable and ’safer’. There obviously isn’t a path, or maybe even structure to life…but as a self-aware talker and non-doer the move to NY was my first attempt to stop over-thinking, convincing myself of things I do not believe and actually throw off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbor–no matter how cushy and socially acceptable it may seem to be. Empathetic and encouraging–Josh

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We’re two twenty-somethings who joined the real world armed with diplomas worth a combined half million dollars from Middlebury College—only to find out that we didn’t have a clue. No one prepared us for the inflexibility of the whole workplace set-up. No one warned us that the Mommies were at War, or that employers still assumed men were okay seeing their kids every other week, or that the U.S. doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave, vacation, or sick leave. The current work-life model isn’t working. Let’s talk about it.

In 2007, we started a non-profit called The Lattice Group, which aims to bring awareness about work-life issues to young people, so if you can’t get enough of our musings on True/Slant check out http://thelatticegroup.org.

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