The quarter life crisis is real, ladies and gentleman.
Actually, I am having a pre-quarter life crisis -- which I am thankful for, despite all of the anxiety -- because that means I can start the next quarter of my life with a clean slate. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
The mid-20s freak-out has definitely made its way across my peer group. People are realizing that career changes might be required if sanity is to be maintained, others are getting married left and right and I’m delighted to see more and more baby pictures in my social media feeds. Grad school is the new buzz word and for those who don’t get in, major life re-evaluation ensues.
It’s kind of funny to watch and listen to a bunch of 20-somethings try to figure out what they are doing for the rest of their lives. That little nugget of wisdom that goes “Don’t ask your single friends what to do about your relationship” comes to mind, as we are all trying to help each other cope while trying to chart the course of our own lives.
You have to figure out what you want before it’s too late and according to “The Defining Decade,” by Dr. Meg Jay, the time is now. The book was recommended and I devoured it. (I’ve actually read three books, since I wrote the column on not finishing books a couple of weeks ago.) In a nutshell, Jay talks about the importance of deciding where we want to go in life and making sure we are on track to achieve the desires or the lifestyles that we see fit while we are in our 20s. Jay wrote the book as a reaction to the fairly new American trend of starting careers and families later in life and how doing so isn’t necessarily better. 30 is not the new 20, Jay says, to counter all of the 20-something procrastination. I’m definitely guilty in some aspects. The Defining Decade is harsh reality, but I’m glad that I read it. I actually need to re-read it about two times for it to sink in. Jay covers everything from getting some identity capital -- valuable and useful skills, essentially -- to a woman’s need to recognize that we can’t have kids for forever.
I think the hardest concept for me about growing up and tiptoeing into a career and life is the fact that I can’t do everything. I have to choose to focus on just a few things to make a real impact. Most 20-somethings don’t want to hear that it’s logistically impossible to get really, really good at more than a couple things or completely enjoy the ebb and flow of them, for that matter. I didn’t get that concept from the book, but that piece of advice complements Jay’s work nicely.
One of the most profound things in the book, for me, is what Jay includes about what clouds the act of finally choosing. Once we stop being afraid of what it is we really want to accomplish, the how do we get there insecurity takes over, she said in the book. But it seems that getting to the place of being OK with our choice is pretty significant in itself. Being able to see where we are comparing ourselves with our peers or still trying to live up to the expectations of our parents and community is critical to finding work we actually enjoy, can sustain and can make a living from. For a person of any age, thoughts of what we should be doing can hinder our personal and professional potential. Not only can our own hang-ups leave us limited, as I mentioned earlier, our friends, who become the equivalent of family for most 20-somethings, can become a liability as well. Jay talks about the downsides of relying so heavily on our small group of friends who, naturally, limit our possibilities because of similarities in social circle, aspirations and the like.
This idea of limiting choices is a real fear for most 20-somethings. We are afraid of choosing the wrong things, so we avoid choosing, which isn’t to our benefit. In fact, we really don’t have as many options as we think we do and the pool gets smaller and smaller as we get older, Jay said. That youthful idea of immortality is false (even though I’m convinced I’m going to live to at least 107 or so). People do decide to change their course as middle-age adults, but usually that comes after they have persevered with one thing or another for several years. Despite my own natural conflicts with the college to “real life” transition, Jay’s book has opened my eyes to some of the dangers of my waiting until I’m ready to plan for and pursue my dream life.