You can’t make any decisions because you don’t know what you want. And you don’t know what you want because you don’t know who you are. And you don’t know who you are because you’re allowed to be anyone you want. How messed up is that?
This phenomenon, known as the “Quarterlife Crisis,” is as ubiquitous as it is intangible. Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.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.
Ring a bell? We live in an age of affluence and yet we are more stressed than ever. The ‘Quarter Life’ crisis is about something deeper: it’s about the conflict of choice, and about having too much of it. When our parents were young, opportunities were easier to exploit because the pool of competition was that much shallower and that much easier to push over. Now, with people getting qualified faster than you can read this sentence, how do you… stand out?
And then, because you happen to be fortunate enough to enjoy your parent’s success (the wealth and security derived from leading a ‘normal’ linear life of school to work to family) you have the luxury of ‘exploring’ yourself. Which ultimately leads to… well, selfishness. Delayed responsibilities; un-delayed gratification.
We have too much choice: be a banker, a real estate agent, a writer, travel to Peru, be a couch potato, get married, have flings, have both, have kids, adopt kids, stay a kid, save money, exploit your overdraft, buy a house, be a nomad, lose weight, be fit, realize a good body image is actually no body image at all… too much choice, and thankfully, a good ten years before a mid-life crisis hits.