Quarter-life crisis? Thoughts on turning 25
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.