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?