The quarter-life crisis
This thing came up on my Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago asking me to assess whether I was having a quarter-life crisis. That’s right, as well as spending the middle of your life in crisis (and by all definitions, that’s like a whole third of it, right?), it is also to be expected that the twenty to thirty period will be considerably rocky too.
I have always dismissed the idea that the quarter-life crisis is even a thing – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Do I sometimes feel like I napped through orientation and have just woken up, been handed my adulthood credentials and told to hop to it? Sure. Do I experience physical nausea when I picture 95% of the potential versions of myself fifteen years from now? Occasionally. Am I having a full-blown existential breakdown? There’s a chance, yes. But it just seems so counter-intuitive. Our early adulthoods are so ripe with possibility that surely we should be loving the quarter-life; this chance we have to become who we want to be. But if possibilities are peaches, ready for the picking, then we’re grabbing at all of them in panic, casting them aside when we think better, and then, instead of climbing the heap to reach the choice fruit in the up-most branches, we’re being suffocated under the weight of our mulchy indeciveness. Or whatever.
So why the crisis? A quick Google search on the topic suggests that large numbers of twenty-somethings experience severe stress and anxiety that they attribute to the fear of not doing enough with their life; of missing out on something indefinable. In a nutshell, FOMO. We have real bad FOMO.
If the mid-life crisis is the realisation that you have more time behind you than ahead of you, and that it passed by in a flash, and that too much of it was spent poorly, then I guess the quarter-life crisis is the fear that you’re hurtling towards that eventuality and nothing can stop you. It’s the realisation that you’re heading down a path, and you’re not sure if you chose it or how many junctions you’ve already missed. Because you probably weren’t ready for any of this, and how could you be? Being a kid feels so much like you’re waiting around for this transformation, that of course you’re thrown for a loop when there isn’t one. No coming of age moment. No kid skin to shed. No chrysalis. This is it; this is your life. It will never suddenly start to feel like you think it should, so take what you have now and make what you can of it.
So yes, sure, the quarter-life crisis is a thing, along with the thing we catch at forty, the thing we catch at thirteen, and I’m sure the very serious thing we endure at eighty, on that bleak and fright-worthy home stretch. Crisis is, I think, just living. Maybe the moment when you suddenly feel like you’ve arrived – the moment the crisis is over – is the same one in which you die.
But all the same, I’ve decided I like the idea of the quarter-life crisis, and this is why: when I look around me, almost everyone else seems so sure. This is another unfavourable side-effect of living: that most of the time, you’ll be convinced you’re some kind of freak. But call your freakishness a quarter-life crisis and suddenly you’re not so weird. Yes, other people feel these things, so much so that we went and named it. It’s almost a little curative. Maybe you’re anxious and afraid, and maybe you don’t know where you’re headed from here, but you’re doing fine. Or at least other people are fucking up too and that’s basically the same thing.