The Quarter-Life Crisis and Every Other Transition Period
Coping with the unstoppable flow of life.
Growing up you hear a lot about one tough transition period: the mid-life crisis. This usually involves the played out image of a silver haired man, a red sports car and perhaps an affair. I don’t know about you, but this image never really spoke to me.
The problem, in my opinion, is that this narrow scenario doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which is being confronted with the inevitable realization that life isn’t indefinite. The anxiety this sudden visceral awareness provokes then leads to all sorts of irrational behaviors in an attempt to escape the inevitable. I believe these types of moments can happen at any point in a person’s life, and more than once.
The first time I had a real life crisis was when I turned 20. You’re probably thinking that’s a little young to have a crisis, but as the youngest sibling I always felt like the baby of the family — and babies don’t turn 20. I couldn’t quite place or explain this feeling of anxiety, after all I hadn’t hit mid-life, yet I knew deep down that this was somehow an existential feeling of being trapped in the unstoppable flow of life. This stress, along with many other factors, led to anxiety attacks and a near mental breakdown a year and a half later. Too many things I always thought of as far in the future were approaching, then happened and were in the past. I felt like I was on a train that was never slowing down.
A lot of reflexion and many Alan Watts books later I was able to get back a sense of stability in my life. I came to see that the only way to regain a sense of control is to go with life. You can’t stop time, so don’t try. It’ll just increase the amount of anxiety. But just as I was regaining this sense of stability, bam — college graduation, and there I was in free fall again.
I looked around me, and this time I saw my all too familiar feelings in almost all of my friends and acquaintances who had recently graduated. You’re in this really structured world and then all of a sudden you’re on your own and confronted with the realities of life: more instability than you’ve ever faced or imagined in an ever more globalized world. Meanwhile, all the graduation speakers are talking about how your life is full of possibilities and the world is your oyster. Well I don’t know about you but I didn’t want oysters at that moment, I wanted to crawl back into my bed and watch Disney movies on repeat.
If this sounds somewhat familiar (give or take the Disney movie scenario), then know you’re not alone. Transition periods are rough. When you’re at your first job bored or stressed or generally unhappy and underpaid, wondering where all the promises of a magical future went, just know uncertainty, change, and moments of intense frustration are a part of every person’s life. Instead of fighting your current situation and wondering whether you’ll ever feel happy again, know you’re not stuck here forever. It’s just another transition period and doesn’t define who you are. And although you can’t stop time, the upside is the bad times pass along with the good. So don’t give up.