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Friday, November 13, 2009

I avoided the Quarter Life Crisis but can I escape the Mid-Life Crisis?

The quarter life crisis is the new mid-life crisis. A search for "Quarter Life Crisis" on the Generation Y career website Brazen Careerist reveals entries on how to assess if you're having a quarter life crisis, what happens when previously clear paths fog over, and the existential struggle in between.

It does not surprise me that this crisis involving the search for meaning, uncertainty about the future, and ambivalence about the past now hits us in our mid-twenties. Previously paths were more certain as you worked on the farm, your parent's business, or got married. Paths were also delayed as apprenticeships or paying your dues were typical so tough career decisions could be delayed until we were in our 30's. Now, Generation Y has to worry about the right decisions on their Facebook post let alone the choice of graduate school, entrepreneurship, corporate jobs, or year long bender in a Thai opium den.

I dodged and juked past my quarter life crisis like Barry Sanders used to dodge the Green Bay Packers defensive line. My early 20's were spent in the Peace Corps, working on-call at multiple psychiatric floors with complete control of my schedule, or living in a commune. Actually, I should clarify, communes are now called Intentional Communities since commune's got a bad name in the 1970's. During these jobs, I spent the time thinking about what kind of graduate degree I should get to be able to do what I wanted in the health care field. At the end of the 3 years, I had decided on an MBA. I had complete confidence in my decision and future path. Additionally I embraced the small victory of each skill developed. I had experience in construction, grant-writing, and social work. I knew how to knit a sock, spin a pottery wheel, traveled most of South America, cooked for 50 people, garden, used power tools, made soap, spoke 4 languages, and butchered a pig. Actually, my ability to butcher a pig excited one of my rugby classmates so much that everytime I answered the phone, I thought that I would hear squealing in the background with my classmate yelling, "Come on over and let's barbeque!" In summary, I had more than enough stories of adventures to take center stage at most cocktail party conversation. On a serious note, I felt accomplished, lived a life less ordinary, and had confidence in my ability to make decisions about my future.

My method of avoiding a quarter life crisis is not a new one. The idea of spending 2-3 years finding your way in the world, sewing wild grains, and experimenting is a pretty standard career path for my undergraduate class. I know there are those with bigger student loans, visa issues, or family expectations or culture that playtime was over and it was time to get a job that could not take this path. My point is that a quarter life crisis is, for the most part, a relatively modern construct of our making. Some part of it does involve the collapse of the American dream where 4 years in college leaves you with a staggering load of debt and no health insurance. The ability to spend 2-3 years traveling, being a subsistence organic farmer, Americorps, working part-time and doing art part-time, moving to San Francisco and seeing what happens, homesteading in Alaska, or any of my other classmate's pursuits has faded. However, the quarter life crisis emerged well before the economic crisis so I will stand by my position that the quarter life crisis is our own invention and we have more control over it than we may think.

I turned 35 this year so my mid-life crisis is approaching. In some ways, I'm ripe for it as I am married, have a child, clawed my way to middle management, and am 20 pounds heavier than I was in college. One of my high school classmates with a suburban lifestyle lamented how he's realized that we've reached the age where we have as much chance picking up young Generation Y women in a bar as our grandfathers do. My car died recently and I saw a perfect opportunity to embrace a mid-life crisis by buying a sporty red convertible. My wife said that it was fine as long as the baby's car seat fit in the front seat. We bought a station wagon.

What's saved me from a full blown mid-life crisis so far has been maintaining a life outside of work, family, and social life. I still climb a mountain or two a year which keeps me connected with life and the wilderness outside of the normal 9 to 5. My high school classmate who lives in suburban Chicago doesn't have this outlet and I can tell that he needs it badly. By some quirk, I am also in better shape than I was in my 20's. I can run farther and faster, get into more yoga positions, and rock climb harder routes. Blogging also keeps my feeling connected and involved in what's new in the world, whatever that may be.

However, I can't pronounce my mid-life crisis to be avoided until I have had at least 5 more years of hindsight. There's also still my plan to grow my hair down to my shoulders again when I turn 40. Long hair is part of my plan to embrace a mid-life crisis since I may not be able to avoid it.

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