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Welcome to Your Quarter Life Crisis (eyeweekly.com)
114 points by apwalker on June 29, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

This article is the story of my life right now. I am 25. I am living the quarter life crisis. What makes this article hilarious though is that it is so true.

Yes, its a selfish, narcissistic feeling. But in my defense it was how I survived college. Society pressures you to think selfishly because when you are in undergrad all you think about is "I need to get a high GPA to get into a good grad school" or "I need good grades to land a good job" or "I need a good job to pay off my debt" etc etc. It's all me me me!

No one pushes you to think about others. No one forces community service upon you. No one tells you to go serve the homeless. These are all things that are essential to gaining a full perspective of life, yet there is almost no one encouraging you to follow that untraveled path.

My mom recently had good advice for this quarter life crisis, even though we didn't refer to this feeling as such. She said, "Life isn't clean." There is no route to success, no chemistry for happiness, no direct path to relaxation. We are all meant to encounter these feelings because that is just how life is and that is how we learn what we truly want.

I agree. Earning money and respect pretty much by definition requires you to think about others. Reduced to bare fundamentals, to make money you need to think about what other people want and give it to to them because money is a very abstract paper definition of "what people want from each other".

People think "oh, to earn money I have to go to college" or "I have to go get a job". The more important point is: people don't fucking give a shit about whether you want to college or not. If you can give them nice software, food, pornography, or luxury items so they can show off they _will want_ to pay you a lot of money.

This article is a treasure trove of narcissism and self-pity. I don't mean that to be criticism; I think it's an accurate depiction of the malaise that comes from having nothing truly important to worry about. I recognize a bit of myself in it.

I'm sorry but that is nothing but a bunch of ignorant hand-waving. Whenever something like the quarterlife crisis is brought up, there is a strong current of thinking that goes something like "These people should just get over themselves"

Fact is, there are a number of huge factors working against young people these days. Consider the following:

- You can't get a decent job without a decent education. It used to be that a highschool graduate could get a job that paid enough to support a family, a concept that is completely absurd these days. Kids these days are finishing school much later than their parents, and they don't have a choice.

- the cost of school is sky-rocketting, as it debt.

- A rapid climb in income inequality over the last generation (check the historical gini index for reference) means that there aren't very many quality, well paying jobs available to young people.

- young people will be stuck with the bill to clean up the fucking mess we're going through right now AND pay for the retirement and medical care of the people that have brought about this shit-storm.

The end result is, society has raised it's children with the wrong set of values, with policies that screw them over and now tries to wash it's hands clean by essentially saying that the stupid kids should have seen it all coming when they were pre-pubescent teens and manouvered around it.

Not just that, but there is so much social pressure and expectation that pushes you along through highschool, through college without much promotion toward the alternatives. Never once did I think or hear that I didn't have to go to college, that I could learn some sort of trade or technical skill instead. I blindly followed my nicely laid out path with little objection, and in a way feel robbed, though realize it ultimately my fault.

But what's really depressing is that I can't complain, at all. I am so lucky to have this life, these opportunities, but it is totally despairing to be aware of just how narcissistic and selfish it is to be able to have a 'quarter-life crisis. The fact is though, these feelings of despair exist, and for valid reasons.

The fact that someone else has it worse doesn't make your feelings any less real.

Group hug!

"I blindly followed my nicely laid out path with little objection, and in a way feel robbed, though realize it ultimately my fault."

A third option to feeling robbed or feeling it is your fault is thinking about what you want to do now, given the insight given you by the outcomes of your past choices. Sure, the feelings you describe are there for everyone at some point, but they don't have to determine your course of action (or inaction).

Welcome to the same life that everyone one of us has lived, all the way back to your parents. The particulars of your concerns, worries, feelings, and fears may be different, but the fact that you have them is not.

It seems to me that there are two audiences for the quarterlife crisis, and they're largely determined by selection of college major.

If you majored in something in Arts & Sciences which doesn't have a career attached, and then went to grad school in it (maybe a PhD) before figuring out that you have no marketable skills, you are now in your mid-to-late twenties, have a mountain of debt, and have no particular employment prospects.

If you majored something which a profession attached (engineering, foreign language with an eye towards actually using it to do more than order una cerveza por favor, etc), then you probably were employable in your early twenties and almost immediately a member of the middle class, without a crushing debt load.

I wouldn't exactly be the poster-child for "with it" in my father's generation but I came out of college with $20k in debt at the age of 22 with a job offer which paid very modestly, but better than working at a railroad or cereal company, both things my father had done at 22. Those aren't exactly ennui-inducing circumstances.

You are partially right, but gainful employment isn't the end-all, be-all. I finished engineering without debt and with plenty of excellent experience, and had no problem finding a great job at a great company. Yet, I can sympathize with much of what the article talks about and see plenty of it in my peers, including those who graduated from engineering with me.

I happened to choose an interesting and well-paying career when I was 17 or so. I certainly don't think it was a choice I made because I was wise, but mostly because of luck and happenance. Most others, I think, did not get so lucky, and now they have to deal not only with that, but with economic policies firmly aligned against them.

The most interesting thing perhaps is how global this phenomenon is. You have the above quarterlife crisis in north america, you have rioting muslim youth France, rioting Greek youth in Greece, massive protests and instability in Iran, the so-called "Mileuristas" in Spain (that is, people living on 1000 euros a month), etc etc.

Dismissing all of this with a simple wave of the hand about the whining of young people shows a complete lack of understanding.

> the so-called "Mileuristas" in Spain (that is, people living on 1000 euros a month)

As a side note - is that considered an unlivable low wage?

Although I now have a comfy programmer job that pays a lot more than what I spend, I have for many years lived on less than 1000 Euros a month (sometimes significantly so, and in Vienna, Austria - which is probably more expansive than most of Spain).

Also, I'm pretty sure the Spanish parents of the current generation of late 20's/early 30's earned less on average than 1000 Euros a month (even adjusted to inflation) when they were their age.

The only similiarities between the Quarterlife Crisis people the article talks about and rioting muslims in France or protesters in Iran is that they are young and unhappy. The reasons for their discontent are completely different.

This is hardly a global phenomenon. You can maybe see a weaker version of it in other developed western countries. But even young people in Europe... well, they don't have the debt when graduating from college and they also don't have the "You're special!" sense of entitlement. At least not to the extent that suburbanite Americans do.

Maybe that proves it has nothing to do with "You're special" meme OR debt.

I'm 26 year old from central Europe. And these feelings are all to familiar with me - especially from observing what's going on with my peers.

What I see is that generation of our parents - the boomers took all and everything they could - it feels like they didn't leave anything to us. Except the task of cleaning up leftovers of their broken dreams. Picking up their debts - their broken pension system, etc.

It seems to me that boomers are "the entitled generation" and our generation will be know as - the useless generation. In my country the unemployment amongst young 20 - 30 is 30% of all unemployed - quite a lot well educated. Why? Because you can't get job without experience and vice versa. While boomers created system that educated us and hold positions of power while bitching how unfair the system is to their children.

To say I'm a computer engineer without debt and with good career prospects. But not enough income to support family solo - my GF is one of those educated young people who cant get work. Meaning we obviously aren't going to do anything about improving our demographic situation anytime soon.

So we either have the option of living blue collar class lifestyle (thus negating our effort in education) OR screwing over the society.


> my GF is one of those educated young people who cant get work.

Can't get work, or won't accept work she considers beneath her, there's a big difference. I'm fairly sure finding a job as a waitress just about anywhere is rather easy.

Have you ever tried applying to somewhere considered 'low' when you have some questionably spectacular mentions on your resume? Most anywhere will at best consider you a joke and at worst suspect. You really have to dumb down your skills and experience if you're trying to move to a new location or get a temporary job for those with education/experience in a location that does not have the job areas your resume reflects. (against the rebuttal argument, 'you can always move' - no, you can't.)

There is always the charge leveled at the young and educated of being lazy and aloof when in the situation of not having a job yet with a nice resume but, well, it can still be hard. Even dropping items on a resume paints a picture of little experience and usually ends you up with a position that makes it more difficult to find a job elsewhere. Do you know how tired you get after a 16 hour manual labor job? You don't really feel that inclined to brush up on the latest ruby packages.

Yet someone almost always brings up the fact that they heard a story or they themselves found a job through some ingenious idea at marketing themselves or spectacular networking in an area that didn't know they needed their skills until they showed them and found a job. Well that doesn't work for everyone. Most places are just as boring and closed minded in their business practices as every one assumes, and never try something new unless forced (why do you think start-ups succeed so spectacularly otherwise?).


Your entire rebuttal rant still hinges on the selfishness with that "what I want attitude". It doesn't matter what you want, it matters what you have to do to survive. If you have to trim your resume then you do it, if you have to take a job completely unrelated to what you have training in then you do it.

That's life, that's what every previous generation had to deal with and it's what your generation has to deal with and the discomfort is not caused by the situation, but but the false expectations educated youth seem to have about life being about what "they want". Poor uneducated youth don't have this problem, they've been in the real world and know life ain't fair and young people get shit on. That's just the world, nothings changed.

I can't say that your statement has no merit.

However, it's still kinda weird how modern communities educate such vast numbers of people in fields where careers don't even exist (eg. liberal arts, biochemistry, biology,... for my country).

There is always a possibility of being a craftsman or entrepreneur - but that is not for everybody (it takes a special personality to have a go at that).

As for being a waitress - what she is doing currently is not far from that - but it is not something a person would aspire to do for whole life. Especially if you were a good girl/boy and studied hard - but then got shafted. :)

I graduated in 2002 and got a "crappy" programming job for 38k. I mentioned I only made that to a friend who said she had worked for 30 years and never made that much money. A few years later I was unemployed for 6 months and I still made far more money that year than she did.

It's not that we can't get waitress just so much as it's a drop in the bucket. Heck, my unemployment check paid more than an entry level job for far less effort.

And programming is one of those area's where skill alone can land you really good money, but it's the exception, not the rule. It's just really fucking hard compared to what most people can do so like all things, skills bring money. The fact is most people work as unskilled labor. If you can learn to do a job sufficiently in a couple of months, you're an unskilled laborer.

For those people, numbers like 38k, 40k, and 50k sound absolutely fucking HUGE. People often work a decade or more to get numbers like that. Programmers really are just ridiculously spoiled.

> You can't get a decent job without a decent education.

So, what makes you think a decent job is a right, because it isn't. Most people don't go to college, most people get low paying and/or manual labor or service jobs. Welcome to the real world.

> Kids these days are finishing school much later than their parents, and they don't have a choice.

They have every choice, they can choose to not bury themselves in debt to go to a school they can't afford. If you can't afford college, don't go.

> the cost of school is sky-rocketting, as it debt.

See above.

> there aren't very many quality, well paying jobs available to young people.

Have there ever been? Really? C'mon, young people have always started at the bottom of the ladder and been shit on, overworked, and taken advantage of; that's how the system works, it isn't anything new.

Seriously, this all sounds like a bunch of rich white kid whining about how hard their life is (despite being full of choices most people don't even have)... you people should just get over yourselves, most people have it much harder. Most people don't go to college, most people hate their jobs, most people make shit wages and have little hope of ever making it.

I think the point is comparison to parents/grandparents. Most of our parents never went to college - but could still have Dad work a blue-collar job - and still have a nice (small) house in the suburbs with a picket fence.

I think part of the issue/trend is the fact that this generation might end up worse off than their parents.. that hasn't happened all that much historically (that I can think of at least)

Yea, but in most parts of the country, one still can. Plenty of blue collar jobs pay pretty well, especially unionized ones like plumbing and welding and you make enough to do the little house and wife thing.

I'm not sure the problem is times changing so much as kids expectation changing, they all think they'll grow up white collar and rich now instead of accepting the obvious. They may not overall be doing as well as their parents as a generation, but they aren't doing that much worse either.

...but could still have Dad work a blue-collar job - and still have a nice (small) house in the suburbs with a picket fence

Fallacy. Home ownership in the population has increased by ten percent since the 50's. Your dad had less of a chance at home ownership then than you do now.

Also, your Dad wasn't blowing his money on cell phones and video games. Kids these days have a much harder time living within their means than their parents did, they're spoiled.

"- You can't get a decent job without a decent education. "

Fibs. I have no "proper" or "decent" education and work as a tech lead. You just gotta work hard and find a way to stick out from the crowd. Thankfully with all the dossers in low rung jobs that isn't hard.

You just gotta work hard and find a way to stick out from the crowd.

How can that possibly work for the majority of the population? We're not talking about the individual here, we're talking about changes in society.

There are many niches looking for different kinds of people. That is an easy way a majority can stick out. They don't all stick out to the same people.

That's true, but are there enough niches to absorb the millions of people graduating from college every single year?

No. Way too many people go to college. They'd be freed from the debt & infantilizing lifestyle and generally would better off if they didn't go to college.

"Everyone should go to college" is like a giant, farcical real-world existential play about the Lake Wobegon fallacy.

And that brings us back to the article - you're left with countless college grads with a near-useless degree who are faced with three choices:

- somehow "rise above the rest" - which, by definition, not everyone can do

- wallow in a career and lifestyle which is unfulfilling and doesn't live up to their expectations (as described in the article)

- suck it up, cut their losses, "settle" for a "lesser" job, and live happily ever after (also see: Mike Rowe's opinion on the subject).

If you're not exceptionally talented, it is a mistake to measure your life and set your expectations to have a successful career.

You can certainly take pleasure in purposeful work (from a non-profit to chopping wood). But don't expect the same praises you might have received in an easy college class.

They should suck it up and focus on something more interesting than work, like making or consuming some creative content, travel, sports, etc.

The 4 hour work week was made for people who can't excel in a career.

The plural of anecdote is not data. They teach you that in edumacation :-P

> A rapid climb in income inequality over the last generation (check the historical gini index for reference) means that there aren't very many quality, well paying jobs available to young people.

Inequality doesn't mean that there aren't quality, well paying jobs and equality doesn't mean that there are.

Inequality is a ratio. Ratios tell you something about the relationship between things, but don't tell you anyting about their absolute values.

Do you really want to say that you'd be better off if everyone was starving (gini=1.0) than you are with plenty of food, a computer, apartment, and so on because someone else can fly to Maui on a whim?

Envy is stupid. If you're unhappy, greed is your friend because it's not about what someone else has, it's about what you have. (Disagree? Compare the gini coefficient in any hell-hole to the coefficient in any place that you'd be willing to live.)

And, frankly, you've got it pretty peachy. Stop whining.

Oh, and another thing. Most jobs are shit and always have been. Dilbert has a better job than most folks. If you're looking for something to give your life meaning, get a pet.

"- A rapid climb in income inequality over the last generation (check the historical gini index for reference) means that there aren't very many quality, well paying jobs available to young people."

The rise in income inequality is offset by the growth of average real income.

In fact, every point on the income curve has risen, at least in the US.

That is, if we compare the population 30 years ago to today, the real income is higher for the 10th percentile of lowest earners, the 20th percentile of lowest earners, etc.

Thus, its not harder to raise a family the same way today as 30 years ago -- people's standards have just heavily ballooned. "Raising a family" used to mean getting food in the door and clothes on your familys backs. Now it means a couple of sets of HD TVs, computers, barbeque grill, etc etc...

> You can't get a decent job without a decent education.

But you can get a decent job without expensive schooling. I'm sure many hackers here can attest to that. Not every kid needs to go to college, even in the service-sector economy.

I entirely agree with that: the problem is narcissism and self-pity; that has ramifications. Like you, I don't mean in an offensive way. It's fairly tragic and the sadness these people experience is real. People are pitying themselves so highly that they're actively hurting themselves. People are setting unrealistic expectations for themselves and are driving themselves to depression when they don't meet them.

E.g. if someone is unhappy with their job/their significant other, they should either re-asses their expectations/priorities and/or look for another (do you want high pay, or do you want greater flexibility? do you want a greater fulfillment, or do you want a strict 9-5 job with frequent vacations?).

Instead, the people described in their article (as well as many I've known) lament how it's impossible for them to find the perfect job/partner/residence and thus become depressed as they view themselves as not only unhappy in the present, but stuck in a world of perpetual unhappiness.

Just as there are architectural trade offs made when designing a computer system (do you want strong consistency, do you want low latency, do you want scalability? Pick two.), so there are in life.

Guess I'm even more glad that I dropped out of high school, started hacking, played in bands, lived/worked in europe for a few years, came back to the states and now work full time from home for clients and my own start up. Maybe I hit my quarter life crisis in 9th grade but I realized what my culture offered me after school was over appealed about as much sitting in school waiting for it to be over.... Maybe all the stereotypical hardcore/straight edge lyrics about "taking control" of your life actually hit home for me - but regardless I actually love my life at 27 - know where I've been, know where I'm going and only regret that it is passing so quickly.


Newsflash: Twenty-somethings with no ambition will eventually realize that they have no ambition and will get sad. :-(

There, I just saved you 10 minutes of reading the article.

There's a difference between ambition and direction. I think many twenty-somethings have a lot of ambition, and no idea what to apply it to. I know I did at one point.

Not being a twenty-something any more, I'd say I now think it probably almost doesn't matter. Pick something, and work hard at it for a long time.

More correctly I think that 20-somethings with ambition, but no passion, will eventually realize they have no passion and will get sad.

I know lots of fellow recent-grads who are ambitious (in the "I want to be successful!" sense), but have no idea what success really entails for them personally. I've been blessed with a love for hacking, and I don't think what I want to be good at was ever a really big question. For many people, though, it is.

I know fellows who've graduated from engineering or computer science, yet despise code. These are the guys who are truly stuck in a quarter-life crisis: a job they don't care for, and lack of passion to succeed. For most of them their only direction is to try and make management - they don't care about the code anyways, and the financial success will numb their sadness a little bit. I don't think they will find the solution to their "quarterlife crisis" there though.

Durkheim wrote about this more than a hundred years ago. It's called Anomie.


So it seems the Quarterlife Crisis is nothing new, it was with generations before and it will be in the future. The good news are if others solved we will handle too.

In plus, in a similar way we both had a childhood crisis too, I can sharply remember when I was 10 I had the very sad feeling something very good ended and will never come back.

More, as the article says we are heading to the Midlife Crisis after we will solve the Quartelife.

So there is no crisis at all, it's just the human nature, the way life goes on. I'm firmly convinced we are not living just one life but many-lives-in-one separated by such crises. The only common thing in these lives -- even the body changes! -- is the presence of the same Observer accounting all life periods.

Personally I'm enjoying these crises: there are so many things out there no one should stick to just one lifeform. Yes you are free to do whatever you want unless you are constraining yourself with the TIME.

"In plus, in a similar way we both had a childhood crisis too, I can sharply remember when I was 10 I had the very sad feeling something very good ended and will never come back."

I distinctly remember a very similar feeling in my childhood. I specifically remember realizing I would have to give up daydreaming about superheroes, comic books and play acting long adventure arc narratives with my friends that could span multiple days.

Here's the ironic thing: the top grossing movies over much of the past decade have been about super heroes, receiving much critical acclaim and attended by millions of unembarrassed adults, written and directed mostly by men about my age.

Which just goes to show, maybe not everyone gave up their childhood imaginations and fantasies, after all. :)

1. You make an impulse purchase. It’s ... c) your fifth beer on a Monday night.

Umm, what if I bought it deliberately a couple days ago?

Anyway, there's nothing new about this. At the age of 25, men and women should both be in the process of child-rearing. Deviate from that and nature will send you signals that something is wrong. But the money and luxury of the modern world allow this unnatural state.


The new alchemical dream is: changing one's personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one's very self... and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!) This had always been an aristocratic luxury, confined throughout most of history to the life of the courts, since only the very wealthiest classes had the free time and the surplus income to dwell upon this sweetest and vainest of pastimes

"Umm, what if I bought it deliberately a couple days ago?"

Then it would not be an impulse purchase.

I just read that, and laughed.

I live in South America, doing volunteer work nearly full-time, with a group of expat friends and a much larger extended family of local friends ... I come back to the states to work for 3 months out of the year.

(Yes -- I work only 1 week in 4. I do a lot of surfing down here. )

I don't want to sound smug, but I want to say that the malaise described is not inevitable. I got out when I was 23 or so, and I feel like I've managed to dodge a bullet. Starting my third year of my new life, and I can't imagine being any happier. And my imaginator is in working order.

Mind if I ask what exactly you volunteer to do? I tired of my current life and have been wanting to go away, but have not thought of what to actually do if I do go away.



I realize that I am going to immediately accrue a massively un-hackerly stigma by posting this, but what the heck, it's true:

I'm a missionary for a small and fairly unpopular religion.

The what to do part is the most personal part of escaping, and the part that determines if it'll be an episode or a part of your life going forward. So it shouldn't be surprising if there's very little transference between people. ;)

I guess I'd say the goal most people would like to set, regardless of how they will personally get there, is to dedicate themselves to improving lives. Yes? (We can even avoid Ayn Rand trolls by saying "lives", not "the lives of others")

How you'll go about doing it would be your thing. It's important that you be pretty darn convinced of the importance of doing whatever you escape to do.

I guess there are plenty of other reasons to escape. Ramen profitable, meet Plantain Profitable. I spent $7 for food this week, and I ate like a king (tilapia, fresh veggies, etc).

A startup that was really committed to being a cockroach could survive down here with an angel invester that worked at a meat packing plant.

> is to dedicate themselves to improving lives.

I believe improvement is something that is uniquely personal (e.g. to split hairs, the person is responsible for their own improvement and growth).

However, I believe adding value to the larger community by building something people want is along these lines, yes?

Where in South America are you?

A lot of this comes from being lied to their whole lives. How many of these people were told (in many different ways, some subtle, some not) while growing up that school and college and grad school were important and the key to a meaningful life? Sorry, but in reality, there is no universal shortcut to having a meaningful life. There was nothing special about the structure you've gotten used to in two decades of schooling. You have to accept this and move on. This part of the crisis has gotten much worse in the last half-century or so -- the unquestioned faith many middle-class urbanites now have in schools and colleges.

For a much more entertaining version, rent "Vicky Christina Barcelona" by Woody Allen.

It's funny you say that, because I watched that this weekend, and liked it so much that I got a bunch of his movies. I enjoyed one or two more, then realized that they're all the same: guy gets married, guy is unsatisfied, guy cheats on his wife, guy decides not to leave his wife. That's the way all of his "best" movies go, at least. But you're right, it's the same sort of thing: permanent, vague dissatisfaction with what one has.

I guess I like them because I'm a twentysomething who's coming out of my own quarterlife crisis. It really is pathetic, but the problem is that even though you realize how pathetic it is while you're in it, you don't know what to do about it, so the realization just makes it worse. Being a human being is so fun sometimes. I guess that's why we have comedians like Woody Allen....

Try his movie "Zelig" if you want a meditation on fitting in. :)

I recommend you 'Manhattan Murder Mystery'

It has nothing to do with this article but I suggested the name "Quarterlife Crisis" for my company's kickball team, and it stuck. Perhaps appropriately, they did not win.

good ending :)

He listlessly works through lunch, then goes to the bar after work to meet up with some university friends, where they talk about their jobs and make ironic jokes about other people. Back at home, he wonders why he feels so gross and empty after spending time with them, but it’s mostly better than being alone.

good description of my slightly younger hipster sorta-friends lol

I have lots of friends that are feeling the pain of a courter life crisis and I sometimes feel a bit of it too. I question myself with things like: Why have I not started my own startup yet? And I am really happy in my life and my job.

Crikey. And I thought that baby-boomers were self-obsessed and whiny... I guess their kids are even worse.


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