Navigating the quarterlife crisis
Scott Newberg flew into Logan airport in the middle of the night. He went straight home to his office, and in the dark room the blue light of his computer glared — a screen full of unfinished work that piled up while he was gone. He sat down at the keyboard, and that's when he had the revelation. He gave notice. He has no other job lined up. He has no real plan for how he will make money. But the career he had was not fulfilling.
One of the contributions Generations X and Y have made to the workplace is the quarterlife crisis. It's not the midlife crisis, typified by a baby boomer in a Porsche obsessively speeding. The quarterlife crisis happens in one's twenties and more likely involves takeout pizza and obsessive IMing.
The journey toward crisis begins at college graduation, when the typical student has about ten thousand dollars in loans and no skills to land a decent job. Frank Furstenberg, professor of sociology at University of Pennsylvania, says the transition to adulthood is “more arduous today than it was fifty years ago.” Employers are not hiring people in their early 20s for staff jobs. “Employers hire temps for positions that don't require experience. Society can incorporate people only when they get some experience working and there is a better match between employee and employer.”
With little to lose, most twentysomethings use their post-college time as an opportunity for finding oneself, seeing what's available, and trying a lot on for size. (Which translates to more than eight jobs before turning 32.) The new behavior, which looks remarkably like flailing, is appropriate for the new workplace. Jeffrey Arnett, psychologist at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood says, “People have different personal time tables and it's nice that people can make choices that are right for them.”
Yet this new phase in one's career is unnerving in light of the stability of previous generations of people in their 20s. And if the job-hopping doesn't stop by age thirty, the stress intensifies to crisis.
Emerging adults “have high expectations for work. It is not just a way to make a living,” says Arnett. They want work to be fulfilling and to be an expression of their identities.”
This is true for Alexandra Robbins. She took the first job offered to her after college because she was “seduced by the trappings: Short commute, friends at the company, office with a door. The pay was fine, but the work was not rewarding.”
She realized that in the post-college world, people are judged by their answer to the question, “So, what do you do?” And she knew she needed to do something that could define her.
Typical of her generation, she does not claim to have extravagant dreams: “I never had a big dream. I wanted to make a living writing. Dreams that are too specific lead to missed opportunities.” As a writer she has become a sort of spokesperson for the generation of lost college graduates. Her recent book, Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis, chronicles the ups and downs of people like her, who finally found their way.
Like Furstenberg, Robbins sees that previous generations were more equipped to make the transition to adulthood. “We cannot gain a foothold in society until age thirty. But our parents' generation has twenty in their head. The crisis is a clash of generations.” Fifty years ago, people expected to find a job for life right after college and be married with kids by 24. But for the current generation, Robbins declares, “Thirty is the new twenty.”
Sure, GenXers and Ys have high expectations for work, and maybe they're unreasonable, “but the only way to find out is to try,” says Arnett. “Most people will fail. But by the time people are in their late twenties most have made peace with their dreams. Psychologically people tend to accommodate themselves to whatever they have.”
The problems start around age 27 or 28, when most people find a career. For people who do not feel settled, there is panic and what Arnett calls “desperate and dangerous” measures in order to reach their goals.
Which brings us back to Newberg, whose wife is about to give birth. His plan is to stay home with the baby while she supports the family. And he will write music for commercials, though he has scant experience in the trade. And he will “write some novels and shop them around.” He wants to support his family in five years but has not figured out how many novels or musical compositions he would need to sell to do that. Those people who are not turning thirty might bristle at Newberg's plan. But he says, speaking for many in his generation, “I don't want to be eighty and regret not taking this risk.”
I am curious about the reasons for all this: why prev generation was able to do it, but this one didn’t?
Anybody looked into it? Is it the school changes, whatever global society changes or…?
Each of the people I cite in this piece has written a whole book on why this generation is having more trouble. So, there is definitely a lot written.
This is the first generation that cannot support themselves on an entry-level job. (Think low-level advertising job in San Francisco. No way you could get your own apartment.)
This is the first generation to expect work to be meaningful from the start and not just cog-in-a-wheel stuff, so finding acceptable work is difficult.
This is the first generation where men and women both feel like they could work in business full time or raise kids full time or some of both, so there are big decisions to figure out before settling down.
I’m in the midst of said crisis.
Most of my friends are too.
And we ALL seem to be making career changes this summer.
For some it’s because the old job made them unhappy. But for many it’s because the company they were working for made cuts . . . or burned them out.
The previous generation could take some comfort in knowing what a happy life looked like.
We don’t even have the delusion that a 9 to 5 (do those exist any more?) and a marriage will make us happy.
But we are still expected to be locked down in them.
Look I’m a twenty-something and while I don’t mind my job, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it gives my life meaning.
It seems like an unrealistic expectation really – you know, like expecting to remain madly in love with your spouse for your whole life with no moments of drudgery, boredom or resentment.
Like relationships, work requires effort on your part to remain motivated.
Eventually, I’d like to work in non-profit, but that will be later in life, after I’ve gained experience in the corporate world and therefore have more to offer.
We don’t have to fulfil ALL our dreams simultaneously. Our jobs don’t have to be the be all and end all. That’s what hobbies & side jobs are for.
Have our jobs become our new white knights or something?
* * * * * *
Thank you for your comment. I think you’re right on target, and people who are thinking along the lines that you are will probably get settled into something that is a more long-lasting than people looking for a job to give their life meaning.
Here’s a post I think you might like about how to choose a job that will facilitate a life instead of be a life:
I became a father at 21, a husband at 22, a father again at 24 and a father for the third time at 26, all the while navigating a career in graphic design.
Now I’m almost 34, exhausted from an unfulfulling series of jobs in the design field, currently unemployed, uneducated, unqualified, and recently separated. My parents (boomers) think my life is a disaster, but I’m calmer inside now than I have been in twenty years.
The quarter-life crisis. What a fantastic term. I’ve been trying to articulate this difference in values between boomers and xers for a while, and you’ve done a brilliant job of it. Thank you!
this is very interesting. perhaps this is a reason why there is a rise in numbers of 20-something starting their own companies (like me ;) )?
I wish Scott Newberg all the luck and the success in the world, because I admire him for daring to follow his dream.
I am 48 – way past my quarterlife – and I just resigned from a boring job with a nasty boss. Over the next few months, I’ll be finding my way around just like Scott does: finishing my novel, write another book and a board game, and pursuing my interests in food, fashion, art, and yoga. Where will I end up? On the trash heap or at the top of the heap? Or somewhere middle and mediocre? I don’t know, but at least I won’t regret not having tried.
I will be sixty this year and I have been own my own since my divorce almost ten years ago. I feel just like the quarterlife crisis combined with aging and all the insecurity and frailities that brings. I was and am ill-prepared for the job/career world, yet need a way to support myself.
I’m a late thirty something (am I gen X? I can’t keep track anymore, I think I am). Anyway, I just want to say to all the twenty somethings who think their parents were “happy” with their 9 to 5 jobs and their marriages: it was no different for your parents than it is for you and me. They were probably just as unfulfilled in their jobs as you are, but they had you when they were your age now, or younger even, and when you have a kid (I have one), your priorities literally change the moment that kid pops out. Literally. I stopped thinking about job fulfillment coincidentally around the time my son was born 3 years ago. Why? Because you have to, that’s why!!! Your child will become the most important thing in your life, your career will become a means to an end, which is providing a place to live, food, clothes, toys and daycare for your child. So my advice to all the twenty somethings looking for a fulfilling career: Have a kid. Your worries about having a fulfilling career will end instantly. For the record, I have a fairly fulfilling job now which I make a decent living at, but I got kind of lucky getting my current position, and I have been through my share of drudgery, bullying bosses, etc. to get here. Take the long view twenty somethings; keep in mind whatever you’re doing right now is not going to last forever, trust me. Put up with it for as long as you can, but for better or worse, take solace in the fact that you’re almost certainly not going to be doing in three years what you’re doing now.
HAVE A KID???? That’s the lamest thing I have ever heard..how is that going to make things better?
“A soldier forgets his toothache when his leg is blown off”
Having a kid may be the right choice for some, but not as a means to avoid stress.
How on earth can we afford a kid when we can’t even afford a house on our flimsy wages?
Have a kid and then you won’t care about a fulfilling career? That’s ridiculous. Most people still want to enjoy what they are doing and think that it has some meaning. I work with people who have children and love what they do and find it fulfilling, and I work with people who have kids and just see their job as a means to an end to provide for the little boss at home. Guess which ones seem happier?
I’m 26 and I tried that. I had a kid, and I am miserable in my job that doesn’t really pay enough to support my family and has become even more painful drudgery than I experienced when I worked in foodservice before the university.
Having a kid doesn’t make it any better, it just makes me feel like I have to do this rather than like I got myself stuck temporarily.
Thank you for writing this. I can’t tell you how many 20 and 30-somethings I know (include me) that have been labeled failures by family and friends for failing to follow the baby boomer success model. I appreciate your balanced approach, and more than anything your encouragement of generation X and Yers to try new things, find something that satisfies them, and refuse to define themselves by their jobs. I’ve even added the quarter life crisis to the name of my own blog, because, yeah, I’m right in the middle of it.
Thank you again for advice and commentary that fits the reality of the new generations, not just in this post, but in all of your posts.
I will be 24 in a few months and I am definitely having the quarter-life crisis. I am mostly ANGRY because with my bachelor’s degree, experience in work, and leading clubs, etc. during my college years I feel that I should be able to support myself with one job. Instead, I am forced to have roommates that are not the best because I cannot afford a place of my own, I have taken on a side job, and I am dissatisfied with my work.
Why can’t employers be reasonable with their entry-level salaries so that we truly can become adults, without having to live with parents or roommates for years to get on our feet???
A very interesting post. As a woman in her late 20s, I’ve witnessed a lot of this mentality. I believe it comes from the sense of entitlement and instant gratification instilled in our society. I agree with Maxine that many young people have unrealistic expectations of their first positions in the ‘real’ world. Discipline, tenacity, and fortitude are no longer things that we value overtly in our society and this thought process has saturated the Gen X and Y-ers. Whether we like it or not employers still expect you to pay your dues. The Baby Boomers still hold the majority of top positions, so unless you are blessed enough to work for yourself (another kind of discipline and tenacity) or for another person in your generation with the same mind set, you will have many moments of job dissatisfaction while you strive toward your ultimate goals. In the mean time, we need to look to deep personal relationships and extra-curricular activites (i.e. further education, hobbies, etc.) for soul fulfillment, not our jobs. Thanks for letting me say my piece.
* * * * * *
Hi, Kelly. You post this comment in a place on my blog where a lot of people who are actually having a quarterlife crisis come for information. So I want to correct a few misconceptions in your comment.
1. There is no reason why people should not expect to have fulfilling work in their first position in the real world. It seems like a smart thing to aim for. Why aim for work that is not fulfilling?
2. Young people are in the driver’s seat in terms of finding a job. Fortune 500 companies, and smarter smaller companies, are bending over backwards to accommodate the requirements of young people because if young peple don’t get jobs they like, they leave. The idea that young people need to conform to demands of baby boomers in order to find work is not accurate. In fact in many cases, the opposite is happening.
3. Young people, in study after study, are more adept at building personal relationships than baby boomers. Part of this may be because young people are not willing to sacrafice their personal life for thier job at a young age, whereas baby boomers were willing to do this.
4. Personel Development International just released a study of 24,000 managers and found that younger people are more committed to work than baby boomers.
I understand your audience. My intention was not to say that people should not aspire to having a fulfilling career, but to state that the majority of people will not find that early in their career (i.e. just out of college, etc.). Also while I agree that Fortune 500 companies and smarter small companies are seeking to cater more to the requirements of younger people, the majority of young people entering the work force will not be working for a Fortune 500 company or said ‘smarter’small companies. I am not suggesting that young people need to ‘conform to the demands of baby boomers’ in order to find work. I stated that when you begin your career you may still have to prove yourself or pay your dues to get to higher level positions or more fulfilling roles in an organization. To your third point, I’m not sure I understand your purpose in stating that. I was not saying anything to the contrary, in fact I agree completely. Work-life balance is crucial is in people’s overall ability to have a content and fulfilled life. And finally, your fourth point about the study, I would be interested in seeing the specifications of that particular study. I rarely am impressed by statistics that have no background with them considering bias, sample selection, etc. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe whole-heartedly in the message you are conveying overall to the Gen X and Y groups. The ‘quarter-life crisis’ is a common reality for many people and there’s nothing wrong with seeking fulfillment in your work as long as at the same time you keep a level head about it. I believe there is something to be learned at every stage of the game and sometimes it’s the jobs you didn’t like that teach you the most about who you are and what you want. My final thought is that if you go through life quitting before you even understand what it is you’re doing, you will miss a lot of opportunities to discover hidden skills and desires for your career.
Anyone experiencing a quarterlife crisis should check out http://www.quarterlifecrisis.com/forums to chat with other twentysomethings. The concept is not new – I actually coined the phrase and co-authored the original Quarterlife Crisis book 6 years ago. Thought you all might like to know!
Penelope: You might want to check out http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com blog by GenY entrepreneur (and a heckuva speaker, too) about personal financial management. He is interesting…shares your knack for opening up dialogue and calling it like he sees it.
* * * * *
Oh, I like Ramit — I quote him often on Brazen Careerist. So thanks for putting his url here. Good one. Another good one in that vein is getrichslowly.org–Penelope
I think there are several factors going on with the quarter life crisis. First of all, a lot of GenX & GenY were raised with unrealistic expectations in life. Too many of us expect the financial and material trappings to come easier than they really do. At the same time, I think it truly IS harder for young people to get on a decent career path. There often is no set career path – and the professions that do have one have become more demanding. A Bachelor’s degree is now the equivalent of what a high school diploma used to be. Before long, a Master’s degree will be required for most decent paying jobs. So things have gotten tougher and at the same time we’re a generation that is not as persevering as previous generations. Not a good combination. I went through my own quarterlife crisis at age 28.
By the way, for posters unsure of where the generational boundaries are. According to Strauss and Howe in their book “Generations” those born from 1943 to 1961 are the Boomers. Those born from 1961 to 1981 are Gen X. Those born after 1981 are GenY or “Millenials” as the authors call them. The birth years of the Boomer generation both started and ended a few years before the demographic Baby Boom (1946-’64). For the record, I was born in 1970, smack in the middle of Gen X.
I agree with your post asking why we can’t get decent jobs after graduation. Not even taking into account personal fulfillment, why can’t we at least get jobs that will allow us to support ourselves? I live in the midwest, where the cost of living is pretty low, but my student loans and current income make it a real decision to even go out to eat once in a while.
I am upset that when I was in school, no one helped me to understand how networking really works, or what I could really do with my degree so I could focus on certain aspects that would help me now.
I feel far behind, and feel like complete failure, and I’m not even 30 yet.
I agree with you 100%. And the thing is, I don’t want to sound like a whiny brat. I am grateful that I found a decent job at all in my hometown area and that I can somewhat supoort myself on my own, without bumming off my parents for years like many other twenty-somethings I know… I also understand, as Kelly pointed out, that you have to pay your dues in the beginning of your career. I fully agree that new people should work hard to prove their worth and find their strengths.
My problem with the whole situation, though, is that I don’t even see myself or anyone my age as even having a CAREER. All we have are JOBS. Right now, the business I work for is up for sale… so if (when) a new management company takes over soon, they may or may not keep me after two years of working here. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge I have, or how good a relationship I have with the tenants here… all that matters is that big business gets bigger and the rich get richer.
I am sick of all my hard work not meaning anything and getting a 2% raise because that’s what is “in the budget” rather that being given a merit-based or even cost-of-living(!) increase in my wages. It makes me sick that employers now offer 25 cents on the dollar contribution to your 401K rather than a FULL pension plan or retirement fund. It justs seems to me that employers no longer care at all about their human capital and about culturing the long-term growth of their employees, and if that is the case, what is the point of working hard in the first place if you can be fired or replaced at the drop of a hat?
Not sure where I would fit in this – I am in my late 30’s, and have never been able to say that I have had a safe, steady job. I live outside of Cleveland, Ohio and most of the companies I have worked for have been bought out, shut down, or had lay-offs. When I graduated from college in 1990,with a 3.3 GPA and a major in Bus Adm/Accounting, all I could find a was temp job paying $6.00 an hour ( minimum wage was $3.35). I got my CPA certification in 1997. Flash forward to 2007, and I am working part-tine as an Accounting assistant for $16.60 an hour, with no benefits. I have to drive 40 miles a day to get to and from work. I can not find anyone who is interested in hiring someone with my background. The closest I came was last year when someone offered me $14.00 until I could “prove myself”.
I am currently training a recent college grad from a top ten school to do part of my job ( I had been doing some of the work of the former senior accountant, who resigned in February.)This work pretty much got handed to me and I was expected to figure it out. Knowing that I would be handing this off eventually, I made extensive notations on the daily cash reporting spreadsheet, and created an excel file with notes on how to code various reoccurring items on our cash management report. This college grad, who majored in business has a very limited knowledge of computers, word, excel, independent thinking ability and seems very uninterested in his job. He gets stuck and seems unable to even try to get to the next step on his own. Everyone has a learning curve,but is this normal for this generation? I can’t believe that I have to repeat the same things everyday and very little seems to sink in. I, always had to learn on my own because the companies I had worked for did not have the time or patience to train- you were expected to figure it out on your own.
* * * * *
Where you fit is that you are Generation X and we did not have quarterlife crises for many reasons but the biggest one is that, as you show in this comment, our whole life was a crisis — we were raised as very independent kids (most say more neglected than independent) and we graduated into a horrendous job market.
I caution you, though, about complaining about a young person being unlike you. If a young person does not have your independence and fast thinking on your feet it might be because he never had to. But you can bet that he’s better at working on teams than you are. He’s been raised to do that and you haven’t. We each have our strengths.
And, anyway, I’m not so convinced that independence is a strength that’s so important….
Thank you for the advice. I am sure, you are right, that my new co-worker has never had to think on his feet, and I am sure the fact that he is the owner’s nephew doesn’t hurt. I do notice that he spends a lot of time getting sidetracked on Instant messaging and personal calls, and if it doesn’t come easy, he gets stuck. This is certainly a different group, but I am working on staying as patient as I can and repeating the same things each day, hoping that eventually, things will sink in… I am curious to see how the office dynamics work out since most of the office staff is in their 50’s.
I’m 27. I don’t think my generation has unreasonably high expectations. Most of my peers just want a full time job with benefits where the boss isn’t a total jerk. It is VERY hard to find that sort of job these days. I graduated high school in 1998. The economy was great then and we were told to go to college, that finding internships would be a piece of cake, that there would be 3 jobs offers of $30K or more awaiting our graduation. Maybe that was true in 1998 but by the time we graduated in 2002 the economy was in the drain, all of the jobs had left our state, and there is no end in site. It is so hard to get your foot in the door. I have a Master’s degree. I just want full time employment and health insurance. I don’t think that makes me a spoiled brat.
I definitely agree with this post. Although I seem to be in the minority of the younger generation who found a career early on, I feel held back by the baby boomers that loom above me. There is one director that is closer to my age that inspires me, but the others, are baby boomers that constantly bring up their age, my age, and the differences. They basically call me a brat or cut into my experience or lack of knowledge about some lame tv show that was on in the 80’s. I could care less. And, on bad days, where my boss loses his cool and acts like a total jerk, I feel like my creative drive is being sucked from my being. I respect their experience, why can’t they respect my experience (albeit limited) and ideas? It seems the baby boomers are too busy looking for tribute to play fairly on a team. If they could just realize we do look up to them, they would stop looking for that acknowledgement and maybe feel less threatened.
I’m so glad I ran across “quarter life crisis” because I was starting to think I needed therapy. I just turned 28 and shortly after I graduated from college last year and took my first position as a Tax Accountant for a large corporation, I began to feel different. Initially I thought I was burnt out. I am one of the fortunate ones who had to work full-time while attending school full-time because i’ve been living on my own since 17 *joined the military. I wasn’t happy with my starting salary but I was ecstatic about working in my field. The thing is… these feelings hit me all at once. I couldn’t tell you what was wrong with me I just knew what I was doing with my life wasn’t working for me. Depression is what I summed it all up to be. After my corporation displaced us, i took time to sit back and assess myself. The thing is… a lot of us want our lives to be fulfilling. It’s not because we have unrealistic expectations. Believe it or not we are going through the normal course of life. These things just hit me, I thought I was doing everything right…WRONG.
Generations before us didn’t have the priviledge to hit this point of discontentment and dwell on it because they had families to worry about. Majority of my peers don’t have a reasonable prospect to even consider marriage and/or a family. So what else do you have left at this point? Your career which unfortunately is a huge part of your life. Fulfillment is and should be number one. Having a career is far different from just obtaining a job. I just want those out there who feel HIGH EXPECTATIONS is the problem, you’re absolutely wrong.
Thank you so much for letting me know that i’m not insane (lol). I am now better equipped to deal with my emotions and move to the next stage.
I definitely agree that the quarter life crisis exists. It reminds me of the junior year of high school where you had to pick a college, and a major, except that was only four years. The stakes are higher in your twenties because the decisions you make today determine your success in the future. It’s a lot like high school only you're making major career, and financial decisions. I think this generation has an extreme desire to succeed because we live in a society where competition is high because information can be exchanged faster and in larger quantity than back in the 50’s. Young people today have so many choices for the future because there are so many opportunities. Figuring out which one will benefit them in the long run financially, and make them happy is difficult.
I am 27. I am certainly in the midst of this crisis. I have always been a very happy, positive and upbeat person. About 6 months ago I realized that everything that had so much meaning at one point is completely the oposite of what I want now. I am confused, sad and mad all the time. I want to make big moves (changes) in my life but with bills, home, relationship and pets, where do I start and is it even possible. I just never imagined that I would go through something like this. I feel like a looser even though I am greatful for everything I have and all that I have accomplished. Please tell me I am going to grow out of this! I am very lucky to have a few core friends but the crazy thing is they are all my age and going through the same deal. I’m so glad to have info. like this on the web to let me know that this is a real issue and others are in the same boat.
Very good article. I’m 31 and certainly experiencing my own quarterlife crisis. I’m from a developing country where people from the same age group can be split into X and Y generations depending on their education and income levels. My peers who didn’t have the fortune to receive higher education can be described as X-Gen people, contented with their families and their jobs. People like me, however, have a degree, then a masters degree, no families of our own and find out jobs very unfulfilling–first world education for third world jobs. In my own case, I was an overpaid public servant and one day I found I hated my job and wanted to leave because I didn’t want to end up like my baby boomer bosses. And so I quit and went on to study for my PhD in England. I really hope that step helps me to figure our my future life plans.
Hmm. I think that a lot of the blame for this situation can be laid at the feet of higher education. Even my technical degree (computer science and business), while very good at teaching the skills necessary, was horrible at giving me any hint of how to use those skills to get or hold a decent job. As many people my age (especially those who are/were techno-geeks like myself) found out upon entering the work force, technical skill is only a small part of the equation for having a successful career. I still feel a bit shafted by the amount of money spent on the degree that I earned, inasmuch as it did very little to actually prepare me for getting a job. I can’t imagine the trials of those who chose less technical fields of study.
For me, this all culminated in the proverbial quarter-life crisis when I was 23. I had hung all of my hopes on a promising job opportunity at Microsoft when I graduated college, and when that didn’t come through, I wound up working a horrible job for a small company in my hometown. They underpaid me horribly and generally treated me like crap. I finally got sick of it, gave notice, and decided that I had always enjoyed cooking, so I was determined to find a job in a gourmet restaurant. I guess it was one of those ‘find out now or regret it forever’ moments that many of my generation seem to be willing to pursue.
Now, after almost four years of grueling (but rewarding) labor in kitchens, I feel like I have finally started to receive the education that I paid so much for in college. The difference is the relationships built and especially the mentoring that occurs in the kitchen. I feel like this is the most lacking aspect of the education received by my generation. Most college education has become so impersonal that there is little chance of picking up anything more than the bare technical skills in a field of study, which is hardly enough in the real world.
After four years in kitchens, I generally feel much more prepared to pursue any career I may chose in the future (provided I ever tire of cooking).
I think an educational (not to mention parenting) model that focused more on mentoring would alleviate much of the potential job-angst of the upcoming generation. I also think that is a tall order to fill, considering the ratio of students to teachers is only getting worse, which is a tremendous shame.
This “quarter life crisis” has been playing out in my life for 2 years now… Maybe even longer… I am only 26 (just turned in March). I graduated with an electrical engineering degree and an IT degree in 2006. I was confused to where I wanted to go, and took the first job that came my way (due to pressures from above). It was even into a career that I knew I did not want to get into. I have been unhappy for 2 years now, not being able to move out or buy a new car or do what I want to do and getting minimal job satisfaction.
My frustration crept into my everyday life and affected my social life and relationship until my girlfriend decided to break up with me in November (she is going through the same way, just handling it a different way). I tell you that there is nothing like a breakup to but the fire of hell back into the heart. Since then I have overcome my frustrations and decided that I am the only one that can make me happy. So I am finally making a career change into something that I feel is right, and moving overseas to pursue my dreams.
I think a big part of the “quarter life crisis” is “existential angst”, maybe its the same thing, or at least for now it is.
Part of my frustrations was the expectations I had going into the working world, that is absolute freedom (financially and socially) as well as going into a career / job that the company would take certain responsibilities upon themselves, like career development and training. We have also grown up with hard working (and mostly miserable) parents, and I know that I don't want to be in their shoes, I want to find a career where I will be satisfied 80% of the time, challenged 80% of the time and miserable 20% of the time –
I also think that with all the knowledge that has been accumulated over the past 20plus years we have so much information at our fingertips, and with that so many excuses – We don't just get on with things anymore like our grandparents, we analyze and excuse. Not that it's a bad thing, I think its great! Having this experience has grown me into a stronger person, a more driven and motivated soul. I will no longer accept 2nd best and no longer accept a job that I am not satisfied with. I think that employers see this in me as lately I have been offered many great jobs, on totally different career paths, but now come the angst –
What to do? Where to go?
God, this is good to read about.
I’m a 24-year-old with a bachelor’s from a top school, currently highly marginally employed (avidly job-seeking) and living on a friend’s couch because I could no longer afford my rent with what I was making. I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes, but it’s so true that a master’s degree today is what a bachelor’s degree was to the Baby Boomers; more than half the postings I’ve seen on Craigslist for administrative assistants (not, mind you, executive assistants) ask for bachelor’s degrees, whereas thirty years ago secretarial work was often completed by those with only a high school education.
It doesn’t help that my brother, only a year older than I am, just finished his PhD from A School in Boston and has already gotten junior faculty offers from prestigious offers, or that most of my friends are enrolled in or about to start graduate or professional school, most at absolutely top-notch programs (one close friend is about to graduate law school with an offer from the top firm in the country for her specialty).
The bottom line is that I’m trying to get my ducks in a row to go to grad school for the professional degree that I want, but that’s no easy feat either. It’s looking like I might have to move back to my parents’ house for the summer (I live thousands of miles away at present) to regroup and keep applying to jobs. Just what somebody wants to do on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday!
And my expectations aren’t overwhelmingly high; at this point, all I ask is for a job that’s (a) tolerable and (b) pays me enough to live. “Tolerable” doesn’t mean perfect; there’s no such thing as a perfect job — I just want one that doesn’t make me want to get drunk the moment I come home five nights a week. As for paying me enough to live, I don’t need exorbitance. I did Americorps and lived just fine on what I made there, although I wasn’t able to save anything. I’m fine with roommates and an un-swanky apartment, plan on driving my current car until it gives out, have no need for a Wii, love to cook for myself instead of eating out… If I could find a tolerable job that paid me $30k, I’d be in!
But where the hell are those jobs? Or, rather, because I see them every day on Craigslist — why the hell can’t I get one of those jobs?
I’ve read every single of these comments and I think everyone makes a good point. I was fortunate enough to have graduated school and landed a job with the City and County of San Francisco that pays pretty well. Most of my peers with similar degrees (Business Admin) are unable to find any jobs at all and with the recent downturn in the economy it is tough to find jobs even with The City. I’ve recently experienced a disillusionment with life if that’s what you want to call it, but I’m not sure if that has to do with whether I find my job fulfilling or not. I fall along those lines where I don’t hate my job but then again it doesn’t define me either.
I am single and still living at home trying to save enough for my own place someday. I’ve dated casually and I still have a social circle of friends that I hang out with. But suppose that one day you do accomplish “your goals”, what then? Is that supposed to be the defining moment of your life? Everyday I’ve become more accepting to the fact that I may never live the life that I always thought I would, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Marriage isn’t a guarantee into happiness, and I know all too well ‘life’ still happens even when you do have a house, a wife, and two kids.
I think part of the problem is this social conditioning that we have as we’re growing up. We’re bombarded everyday from the media, your friends, and even family of what’s successful, where you should be in your life, and what “everyone else is doing”. Let’s face it, we all know someone who seems to have it all. And deep down we all want to be that person who seemingly doesn’t have any problems in their life. I think the defining moment of this generation cannot and will not be found on the external level. Current trends show that change, which is happening on an astronomical rate that if you sit on your laurels for too long you will get left behind.
As Tyler Durden said: “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. “
You hit the nail on the head with that quote. My friends and I (Gen X) have been quoting that to each other for years. I am 38 and have felt this alienation for the last twenty years. The babyboomers behaved like locusts and we are left with the famine,while listening to how great the sixties were.
It takes years. Corporate America had picked-up where Communism left off. Just like Soviet Russia, we cram our bodies into flats with stinky, drunken roommates, or live with our parents until we are grandparents ourselves. I always strove for success. A-Honor roll in high school and got nary one detention. Graduated from Indiana University with a good GPA. Graduated second in my program from the University of Cincinnati for my Master’s. Stayed straight and sober-only smoked weed 7 times my whole life. During my 20’s I hopped from one crappy teaching gig to Starbucks to any non-profit hellhole that would hire me. I took the pittance they paid and went back home to Mommy. Here I floundered. I tried to keep my portfolio alive and worked hard from my lonely room. I applied and applied. Oh, I know those Craigslist postings well, Ihop. One day I took personal inventory of all my skills, accolades, and duties. I Pro’ed and Con’ed all my talents, loves, interests, and benchmarked my ability levels in each. I realized I was lonely and broke and 31. It was the time to chuck all the moving-and-shaking in hopes of getting a puppy-mill advertising job and salivating over a two-percent raise only to be canned in two years. It was time to take those abilities and gigs of equipment and do something with them. Realizing freedom from commitment, from family, and from sociability I decided to turn them into blessings.
So I got into porn…
Now, at 34, I am buying my first house, like I should have at 24 (if it were 1972). Porn doesn’t care if you are ethnic or vanilla white. Porn doesn’t care if your name is universal, common and boring. Go ahead, change it! You probably should in this biz. It doesn’t care if you have a rippling uber-body and a St. Tropez tan permanently tattooed on every one of your nooks and crannies. It just needs willing people to share from a 12.5 BILLION dollar industry-that’s in America alone. There is a money-making position for anybody in this field. Design,web-development, sales,cosmetics,photography,SEO,business,marketing,journalism, writing, editing -oh,and sex. The kicker is, you don’t even have to be very good at what you do! But it really helps (especially for sex).
1)You get rich slowly.
2)Some people will ostracize you.
3)You have to work with some potentially VERY dangerous people. So keep as much of a polite working distance from them as possible.
-but then, people join the Army every day.
Yes, this post may get deleted because the “P” word is in it. Yes, many of you may call me a godless pig, but I guarantee at least five-FIVE people lucky enough to catch the post will check into the biz. I’m not a recruiter. How you do it is up to you. I don’t teach anymore, you see…
You just might have nothing else to lose.
Never had a quarterlife crisis. Got drafted at 18 and sent to Vietnam with 4 of my friends. I was the only one to come home alive. Living the boredom, terror, thrills, angst, inanity and comedy that is life in a combat zone doesn’t allow you the luxury of a crisis that doesn’t involve immediate life or death decisions. You learn what’s important, like teamwork, maturity, calm in a crisis, decisiveness, intelligence and perception very quickly, because the price of not learning quickly is a body bag and a telegram to your parents with the Secretary’s regrets.
I suspect this hasn’t changed at all for any of the young Iraqi and Afghanistan vets returning to ‘the world’ today.
wow alot of postings from fellow 20’s 30s peeps!
I actually read through all of them and now I feel quite fortunate compared to alot of you.
However I myself feel very struck/depressed because upon graduation with a BSc in 2006 with high hopes of becomming a doctor or dentist my plans didnt go as planned.
I was fortunate enough to land a great paying job at a pharmaceutical company working in a vaccine manufacturing lab.
so the first 6 months I was stoked with all the pay and benefits, however I realized that I had a hard time fitting in with the crowd at work…( I am one of the youngest) and even till this day feel very disconnected with my cowerkers.. i experienced alot of office bullying/sarcasm, condescending behaviour..as a result I became very detached and now struggling with alot of insecurities in my abilities/personality.. I even have a hard time making eye contact at work…It seems like things havent changed much in terms of environment over the past 3 yrs..
I ended up not getting into dentistry due to high competition and gave up on being a doctor due to not high enough grades..
I also fell in a sort of trap in buying a new car couple years ago and actually buying a brand new loft downtown in my area withouth really thinking through if I want to make a career change…
so in terms of materialistically and financially I m content,.. however its the work environment …I cant seem to fit in and this causes alot of stress for me..
I did alot of reflecting through the past 3 years and I am comming closer to realizing that I am really a people person (but having major difficulty in my work culture)..
and want to work in helping people directly..
I decided I will apply for professional progarms in Speech Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and see what my options are..
in terms of the car/loft.. its causing some difficulty as I am having a hard time finding a tenent who can rent it out for a few years while I get myself in more debt..(btw I already paid off my student loans)… and the car I am willing to get rid of and take the transit for a few years.. moving back to the parents house will cause some stress but theyre supportive folks..
I even thought of going to see a counselor, psychologist but my older brother told me to snap out of it and took me out golfing where we drank too much beer..and had a good time lol..
but yea i totally feel all your pain as your all disatified with life/jobs.. i feel extra bad for those whos not even financially being paid enough..
I agree with some of you who said to pursue somthing that you are..
I believe God has made us with unique attributes and strengths and allows us to choose to use them or not..
in my case I am firm that I am an ENFP and most happy around supportive environments and people I can be social with, where I can meet many differnt people, and encourage people..(its quite a contrast to what my suffering is right at the present) but I think this is a time for me to learn my strenghts and weakness’s one being that I have a hard time relating with people who are really really differnt than me..
anyways enough with the blabbing… i remind all of you including myself that LIFE IS SHORT!
we must make the most out of life instead of wasting time getting drunk every night and complaining that our life sucks.
we all have potential..we must stay positive
another word of advice.. dont focus on making the BIG MONEY because I can tell you from experience money can make life somehwat easier howver its not enough to make your soul happy..
if anyone wants to corespond and offer advice/ share your progress feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m 27 years old, and have three Bachelors Degrees – two done concurrently and one a year later after I took a year off to ‘decided what I wanted to do’. I have, since finishing that degree, worked in three different jobs for three years. In the new year (2009) I will be starting my second year in my current job – the longest I’ve had one job since I was a part-time cleaner during uni to pay the bills!
And I still don’t know what I want to do – I’ve begun making jewellery as a hobby, I blog, I would love to be a writer… in short, my entire life so far has been a ‘crisis’!
I believe I only have this life, and there’s no point wasting time in a job that I don’t enjoy, or that stresses me out etc. I plan on sticking to my current job for another year or two before moving on – but I can’t even begin to envision myself staying with one job for more than a few years, ever.
I had a quarterlife crisis in the early 90s. Then I cut my hair and got on with my life.
My mother had a quarterlife crisis in 1961. She realized that she’d met some rather major life goals before turning 25, and worried that she’d peaked. Then she set some new goals and got on with her life. (BTW, no, she wasn’t married then, and her goals at the time were not based on marriage.)
Occurrences aren’t always new. Sometimes it’s just the label that’s new.
You’re right, Kate. Our parents went through the same things we went through. They just didn’t whine as much…
My 24yr old son seems to be in a quarterlife crisis since a couple of months. We talk a lot but what else can I do to help him or even better what should I definitely not do in this situation?
I’m a 22…I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in writing. I have been out of school for about a year now. I almost went to grad school for a MA in Social Work, but I hated my internship my last semester of college and a job that I had before that..so the idea of grad school in this field made me rethink my decisions. I don’t even know why I picked this major in the first place. My first job inteview was a DISASTER..I was sooo nervous that I couldn’t explain my goals or job experience. So now I feel like I am wandering aimlessly through life..with no goals or aspirations. I have no idea what I want to do! I live at home with my elderly grandparents who I have lived with for about ten years (a whole different story). I am working a crappy job as a desk clerk at a hotel.I have no money to move out whatsoever and it doesn’t look I wiil be amking money anytime soon. I feel all of my friends are doing better than me..most of them have salaried jobs or are in grad school. Some are married, have their own homes, or at least have moved out of their parents’ house. I feel like I am falling behind! I hate when people ask me what I am doing now..I honestly just make up stories about my ‘job prospects’ or how I am applying to graduate schools. I can’t tell them that I don’t know what to do in life.
doesnt it seems tha people cannot get a foothold in some profeesion because that proffesion, or any profeesion, is dominated by individuals that have stayed with a company or in some job for more than they should. Yes, i am talking about this new trend that people in their 60’s think they are only 40 thus holding more and more jobs for longer periods of time
It used to be reasonable to retire at 50-55 with a pension. Pensions are rare, and retirement age is nearly 70 now. By the time we get nearly old enough to retire, it will have gone up another decade or two and the young ones will be complaining about us. If Social Security is still around.
wow i actually ended up readn 80-90% of this whole thing, interestn read…
definately feeln a tad more normal after hearing that many pple going thru this… I too was thinkin if I needed some form of therapy?
i do agree that employers seem to be caring less about keeping “good people on”… it seems to be all about PROFIT now rather than giving people CAREERS.
The rich, sadly are geting richer – and greedier.
Watch the movie Zeitgeist so eye revealing!
Keep an open mind but don’t let it brainwash you too much! Still good to have another point of view. Zeitgeist all bout the changing world. It’s a scary thing.
What DID happen to normal business hours?… I have landed weekend jobs but more recently did rotating shifts for an airline, who cared nothing about work balance! It ended up being 24/7 and I was doing a lot of 6 day weeks!
Its completely screwed my faith in finding an honest employer!
I feel i have worked really hard at jobs but its never rewarded because of office politics! For once I would like a boss that is NOT insane.
Maybe all these young people starting smaller businesses are a good thing, balance those bigger corporations out.
With absolute power comes absolute corruption!
Need more honest “family operated” and “smaller” workplaces.
We definately need more honest employers in the game, looking out for their people… I heard of one really cool company who’s CEO was an entrepenuer but he would sit in same room as his employees (not locked up hidden in his office), so he was approachable… and WAS NOT the highest paid, he was earning evenly with his colleagues. That is a sign of an inspiring leader! – oh and this was a small business.
Now with the economic crisis, a lot of people are fired and have to look for a new job. It is hard, but a lot of them needed this because they didn’t feld well with their current job. The need for changing jobs doesn’t always come from the need to make more money, but from the fact that the person can’t relate with the job and simply choose that one because the firm offered the job after college.
I have just started reading your blog after stumbling on it a few weeks ago. So many of your posts are incisive and gripping. My husband and I are 26, and definitely had a sort of quarter-life crisis. We got pregnant right after marriage, at age 21, while still in college. I graduated with a huge stomach and flailed for a year before deciding to teach high school to support our family. Now, three years into this very stable job, having bought a starter home and had another kid, we decided to move overseas and teach in an international school. Part of it was definitely that “do I want to wake up 80 years old and still never have taken a real risk?” thought. So we rented out our house, and took our toddler and preschooler overseas with us. Our families and most of our friends thought we were crazy, but we love our new community here in Taiwan. It’s invigorating to be challenged again.(I love that advice–only stay at a job as long as you’re learning something. Thanks!)
.I was sooo nervous that I couldn’t explain my goals or job experience. So now I feel like I am wandering aimlessly through life..with no goals or aspirations. I have no idea what I want to do! I live at home with my elderly grandparents who I have lived with for about ten years (a whole different story). I am working a crappy job as a desk clerk at a hotel.I have no money to move out whatsoever and it doesn’t look I wiil be amking money anytime soon. I feel all of my friends are doing better than me..most of them have salaried jobs or are in grad school. Some are married, have their own homes, or at least have moved out of their parents’ house. I feel like I am falling behind! I hate when people ask me what I am doing now..
my crisis was from college graduation at age 23 till 27 when I finished a master’s degree and found a full time job
I had the quarter-life crisis right after college, too. I went to college at age 24 after realizing that a high school education would lock me into minimum wage jobs forever and that a college degree was the only way to open the doors to better pay. The quarter-life crisis was the result of believing my college degree would actually open doors to better paying jobs. All it did was open doors to jobs on a track to better paying jobs. I still had to start at or near minimum wage and I still had to do things I didn’t want to do.
What got me out of the crisis was accepting that I had to start at the beginning. Not some step above, but right at the very bottom. Once I accepted that, I felt pretty good about what I was doing because I was doing my best and doing it with an attitude of gratitude.
But the quarter-life crisis, and now the mid-life crisis, has always been with me. Every time I start to make career progress, I start to feel restless and in need of a new career. I now think that there is no answer to the “what do I want to be when I grow up” question.
All I know for sure is that I want to earn enough to afford a basic life, I want my job not to take up all my mental energy and time but still be interesting, and I want my boss and co-workers to not be psychopaths. Maybe these wants would be possible if everyone just gave up making work the center of the universe.
I guess I would say that I am at the “tail-end” of my quarter-life crisis. I am 27 going on 28 and currently unemployed, sort of by choice, but mostly because I am unqualified to do most things other than “stand behind a cash register.” And I will add, enter data–YUCK. After University I also thought that I would land that great job, get that lucky break, find that one employer who would be willing to give me a job without the “2+ years of experience needed” that I see everyday. Well, like the statistic I suppose, I didn’t find that job, I was never accepted for a position that was in ANY way related to my degree, and so I have gone from job to job trying to “figure it out” and have traveled around the world to avoid the whole situation. So now what am I doing? I am going to back to school to learn a skill. A trade. Something that I can actually say that I can do because I suppose academia no longer provides that (at least for us who pursue Fine Arts or the Humanities. My Engineering boyfriend is doing just great!) What a shame though! As I really do believe I am a better, well-rounded, more considerate and accepting person because of my University education.
Anywho, I have finally found out what I want to do (Landscape Architecture), not what I love to do, but what I think I will be good at and enjoy. I wish that I had never been told to “do what you love” because it truly was the albatross around my neck.
I will also add: Thank you Penelope for your blog. You are a real inspiration for those who are lost, afraid, confused, alone, or unable to say what they really want to say because of all that cultural/societal crap that keeps us in it’s confines. Thank you for pushing that crap all over the place and telling it like it is. Or how you think it is. So refreshing. I am a new viewer/reader and will pass your words along to those I know who need a boost, and some kick-you-in-your-ass tough love advice.
I am going through my quarter life crisis right now. It is not the most pleasant thing. The best thing one can do is to focus and work hard. As long as one has found what they like to do. If not then narrow your options down and just work on something you like.
I am creeping up on my quarter life crisis (great term) and living the college life right now – without the excessive partying, just study study study – So I am excited about graduating and getting a job that will make me some decent money :)
This post basically describes me to a “T”. I majored in Communication and I have an IT in Information Technology. Sounds like a great combination, right? Or so I thought. I can’t help but be discouraged. I haven’t been able to get a permanent job since I graduated this summer. I chose Communication because I like contemplating things about the world, writing, “thinking” etc etc. It doesn’t get any more vague than that does it? I have no idea what my true “strengths” are and I don’t know what industry I would fit into best.
Before I graduated, I was dead-set on getting a sparkling new career in IT. But then I realized that I am not very good at hardcore math or logic, and I hate the idea of sitting in a cube writing code all day for some profit/production-crazed boss. I really want something more rewarding and more fulfilling than that. You know, something that will make a positive impact on the world. That goal is about as cliche as it gets for a college grad, probably.
I am just patiently waiting for a phone call that will launch me into my next random gig. That’s the only thing I can aim for right now.
I think people who lived in the past were lucky because they could just inherit the family business (ie. clock-making, brick-laying or whatever). They had skills “built in” to them and didn’t have to worry themselves into oblivion trying to pick a career out of the huge multitude of options.
I loved reading these! Thank you! I’m 37, and have a B.A. in Psychology which I finished at age 28. After 7 years as an overpaid but miserable bookkeeper the company I worked for closed. That was two years ago. My marriage was a wreck, the job was gone but I had a nice savings (lucky investments). My husband and I separated and I traveled for 6 months mostly backpacker style (England, South America, Canada(Vancouver Island).
I painted and drew everyday and really lived my dream. I meditated, spent lots of time in nature and met great people. I volunteered. I taught art at a correctional facility. I walked dogs for the SPCA. I learned basic Spanish. I did a VERY short stint on a biological reserve in Ecuador.
My husband and I reconciled. I was absolutely unwilling to return to a job which felt meaningless for me. I considered returning to school for Art Ed but the job prospects seemed very grim. I tutored kids part-time (still do-love it) but the savings is gone and the $ stinks. For the most part my husband has been supporting us. He has given me the gift of time and I will forever be grateful.
We sold our house at a loss and are in effect starting over. In the past we were totally over the top with everything (big house/cars/etc) and miserable. We were always stressed. The big house always needed something done (weeding/mowing/painting/roofing/etc). We now live in a very nice 2 bdrm 1500 sqft apt w/ our dog and cat. Simple.
While we do want to get our finances in order since we aren’t getting any younger overall we are both happier than we were in our “previous life.” We both learned gratitude.
I recently started massage school part-time. I love it. I plan to begin working part-time towards my RN in Jan and work through both programs concurrently. I plan to keep tutoring and am considering working as a nurse’s aide in addition to this as your are helping others, the hours are flexible and you can always find a job. Not glamorous. Not what you expect to do with a B.A. but….who cares :-)
While outwardly, my life might appear to be a giant fail (our friends and families are aghast at our current lifestyle), I regret nothing.
I only share my story because I hope it might help someone else in some way. Good luck to all…I wish you well….
in this crisis… i am tring harder to make money online… i think this solution for the lack of job out there