I remember the day as clearly as if it was yesterday. I was attending a high school awards banquet for my youngest sister who was graduating, and as they were reading off the names and future plans for each over-achieving senior, a new and unfamiliar feeling suddenly overwhelmed me. The feeling was one I knew I'd eventually have, but I mistakenly assumed that it would not occur for at least another 10 years.
I felt . . . old.
Not just "Wow, look at my little sister growing up" kind of old, but "Oh no! My life is flying past me and I'm missing out on it!" The kind of old people feel when they turn forty and make rash decisions about things like plastic surgery, new hair color, and expensive motorcycles. But I wasn't forty; I was twenty-four. The ripe old age where I'm now legally allowed to do anything I want, with the exception of renting a car without an extra fee, and that milestone was only a year away. It sounds silly, I know. Some of you may have stopped reading after rolling your eyes and playing tiny violins for the poor 20-something who's feeling old.
But whether you think my feelings were valid or ridiculous, they were very real, and the feelings that I felt at that moment were only the tip of the iceberg. What followed was a mixture of feelings that would wax and wane over the next several years. Loneliness. Confusion. Uncertainty about past decisions and anxiety about future ones. And the worst part was that by their very nature, these feelings were incredibly isolating. It seemed like all my friends were fine and everyone else thought I was in the best years of my life. So what was my problem?
My problem was that I was living in the middle of what I now recognize as a quarterlife crisis, a phenomenon that was revealed to me through a book ( Quarterlife Crisis, by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner) , a Web site ( quarterlife.com ), and a John Mayer song ("Why Georgia," of course).
What I've learned is that the dynamics of today's economy, our culture's customs, and consequences of previous generational choices all add up to create a unique situation for those of us who are currently transitioning from academia to the "real world." We take jobs only to face corporate downsizing and an American economy that for the first time is not promising to be more financially successful than that of the preceding generation. As a bachelor's degree has become more expensive, it's decreased in significance and a master's is almost expected. Add to these facts the reality that many of today's quarterlifers are children of divorce, and it's easy to see why the pressures of marriage and commitment can be particularly daunting.
"I rent a room and I fill the spaces with wood in places to make it feel like home. But all I feel's alone. It might be a quarter life crisis, or just the stirring in my soul. Either way I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still verdictless life. Am I living it right?" These lyrics from John Mayer's song, "Why Georgia" capture many of the emotions and questions of this season of my life. The beauty in all of it, though, is that God's grace met the "stirrings in my soul" during this journey. I've been reminded of His grace and control of my life through close friends, trusted advisors, and most importantly a new understanding of Him. Rather than giving me simple answers to complex questions such as, "Am I living it right?", He gently directed me to Himself, reminding me that finding the "right" answers really meant finding Him.
To others going through a quarterlife crisis, know that you are not alone. And for those who may know someone going through this time, perhaps you can put away your tiny violins and provide a sympathetic heart and listening ear to a younger friend.