Dec 29, 2009

Instead of traveling, writing and trying to figure out what we want, should we be marrying and having babies?

Welcome to Your Quarterlife Crisis - Eye Weekly - by Kate Carraway

When a contemporary 25-year-old’s parents were 25, they weren’t concerned with keeping their options open: they were purposefully buying houses, making babies and making partner. Now, who we are and what we do is up to us, unbound to existing communities, families and class structures that offer leisure and self-determination to just a few. Boomer and post-boom parents with more money and autonomy than their predecessors has resulted in benignly self-indulgent children who were sold on their own uniqueness, place in the world and right to fulfillment in a way no previous generation has felt entitled to, and an increasingly entrepreneurial, self-driven creation myth based on personal branding, social networking and untethered lifestyle spending is now responsible for our identities.


There is something about all of these critiques of quarterlife crises that kind of bother me. That quarterlife crises are almost wholly the province of middle to upper-middle class kids with an education and with a whole lot more opportunity for, to put it in nice terms, fucking about rather than working goes without saying. While I get tired of the "it's just a bunch of whiny rich kids," I can see where the argument comes from. But it's this look back over the shoulder to "a better time" that gets me.

"When I was your age, I was getting married and having children, not any of this nonsense about seeing the world or figuring out what I wanted."

Really? Is that the preferable path? That people once accepted the status quo, got jobs they didn't particularly care for, married and had children even if that wasn't particularly what they wanted, bought homes in neatly planned little subdivisions in the 'burbs, and then at 40 or so had the same kind of crises many of us are having in our 20s--self-doubt, self-worth, where is purpose and meaning, etc.--just with 20 less years to change paths?

I think one of the reasons why kids today have quarterlife crises is because we've seen how little happiness the myth that a house in the suburb with 2.5 kids and a dog and a "comfortable" job has afforded our parents and maybe even also our grandparents. We have the self-awareness to realize that just because this is the ideal that has been sold for 60+ years, that doesn't make it the right lifestyle for everyone, that it may not be the right lifestyle for us. At the same time, though, there is little opportunity to have a different kind of life. At every turn, people try to push you back into the mainstream. Get that 9-to-5 job. Buy that house. Snag that husband. Have those babies. Don't forget the dog!

There is also, of course, a fear that if we do something different, we'll end up in a place that we like even less, that we're even less suited for. Obviously, this is a phenomenon only for those who have the certain degree of economic privilege to make this sort of choice possible to begin with, and for that reason a lot of people treat considering making different choices as frivolous. At the same time, some of the questions that underscore the quarterlife crises so many experience are important. They challenge the idea that the status quo is the right choice, that it should be the only choice and the choice toward which all people should strive. A person having a quarterlife crisis asks: is this lifestyle really all it's cracked up to be?

I think overwhelmingly the answer is no. You're looking at a generation of kids who were raised in this "perfect" environment that has been touted as the paramount of personal achievement for most Americans at least for over half of a century, and they are rejecting "perfection" in large enough numbers that it is notable. You can argue that these youth are taking their privilege for granted or that kids these days don't appreciate what they have, but maybe what they are really saying is that all of the material things and material privilege don't bring significant meaning and value to life. Maybe what they are saying is that maybe we should value different choices, different lifestyles, because those choices might bring something better, both to individuals and to society at large.

The fact that young people are so harshly ridiculed for questioning the life they were born into ("you're spoiled," "you're entitled," etc.) is sort of confusing to me. Yes, these are essentially a bunch of (comparatively) wealthy kids who have privilege that many others don't, including the privilege to question the wealth and status quo they were brought up in and which gave them access to wealth and privilege to begin with. But is questioning whether the very wealth and privilege they were born into are valuable or if that status quo is worth perpetuating really a bad thing?

I don't know. For me personally, the answer is no. I've got a lot of questions. I may not know the exact direction I want to go in life. But I think the fact that I'm not just accepting the life handed me, the fact that I want something more--for myself, for those around me--is a good thing. Yes, I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to question whether or not the status quo is a smart choice, but who better to question the status quo than those most likely to perpetuate it?

6 comments:

  1. Hi,

    It's actually just "EYE WEEKLY" rather than "The Eye Weekly."

    thanks,
    Kate

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  2. This is an interesting post. Just over the holidays my mom was poo-pooing my cousin who's switched jobs a few times in the past couple of years, saying that she "needs to find a job and stick with it and settle down". I agree that jumping from career to career is not the best thing to display on a resume, but wouldn't it be worse to stay in a situation that's COMPLETELY not what you want? My parent's generation seems to value stability above everything else. We value choices and options. I don't know what's better. Sometimes I think they're right...other times I want to shake them!

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  3. I agree with pretty much everything you said here. After all, isn't it better to get our life crisis over with in our twenties, before we have a husband/wife, kids, mortage, etc.? And aren't the people looking down on us and calling us "spoiled" the very same people who catered to our every whim and said we were all special and unique and capable of anything we wanted?

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  4. I think you're right, that it's better to re-evaluate in your 20s than in your 40s - but I also think there's more to the quarter life crisis than re-evaluating your life path. For me and so many of my friends (in our mid twenties), the quarter life crisis is a panic that we won't be able to achieve the life path that we know we want - usually the typical, stable, husband, kids, dog, suburbs lifestyle. We know what we want, we've done our soul-searching, but we just can't seem to get there (usually finding spouses, the one thing that you can't just work harder and make happen.) Our generation's soul-searching and previous generations' search for stability are not necessarity incompatible. (PS - saying that previous generations "had it all figured out" by 25 is a gross oversimplification, as I'm sure you're aware, but one that is perpetuated to continue casting our generation in a bad light.)

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  5. A lot of my personal QLC has been about not being able to achieve what I want. Finding a husband has never been big on my list (although I did find one, randomly enough), but there were a lot of other things I have wanted so badly, but to an extent have had to acknowledge are impossibilities...

    I completely agree that previous generations didn't have it all figured out by 25. Being set on a path and having it all figured out are two very different things... If they had had it all figured out, I doubt they would have all had their own crises in their 40s and 50s...

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