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You’re Having a Quarter Life What? Learning To Deal With Life And The Harsh Realities That Come With It

The cute receptionist doesn’t love you, your dream job is years away while you’re toiling away making a few bucks above minimum wage, and your car is 15 years old and failing. If your life isn’t plated in gold in your mid-twenties, welcome to the club called life — this isn’t a crisis, it’s the fun part.

 

A quarter life what?

A “Quarter Life Crises?” At 25 years old life is supposed to be a crises; constantly! That’s part of the fun. It’s part of the fun too many college graduates are replacing with fear, doubt, anxiety and paralyzing inaction.

Here are some twenty-something scenarios:

  1. You matriculate only to find a highly competitive job market; it’s nearly impossible to find a suitable job in your chosen field at an acceptable salary level.
  2. Living expenses are forcing you to make undesirable lifestyle choices including taking roommates, living in lousy neighborhoods and eating Ramen noodles.
  3. You put out 20 resumes, get 2 calls for interviews and no jobs.
  4. You’re forced to work at dead-end part-time jobs that have nothing to do with your chosen vocation. These jobs are boring, demeaning and as far as relating to your ultimate career pursuits are a complete waste of time.
  5. You find yourself relying on help from family and friends, particularly parents. There are always conditions and strings attached.
  6. You have the greatest idea ever for a new entrepreneurial start-up; this is the next Microsoft. Nobody gets it but you!
  7. It’s hard to meet promising women when you can’t pick up a tab and you wouldn’t even bring a cheap hooker back to your crummy apartment.

Sound familiar? These examples are not the product of extensive research into the lives of young men in the midst of Quarter Life Crises in 2009.

This is the stuff I remember my friends and me going through in 1980! I’ve also heard similar stories from people who were 25 years old in 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1990 and 2000. I’ve heard the same stories from old guys who were 25 in 1920 and 1930!

What’s so different as we approach 2010? Peter Doocy, a twenty-something reporter for FOX News offered a moment of honesty and insight as he wrapped up his story on the Quarter Life Crises phenomenon, “My generation, I will admit, ever since I was younger I get a trophy whether I win or lose; just we think we are, as a whole, entitled.”

(See Doocy’s story here.)

Yes; that’s it!

I do recognize a cultural shift. I didn’t get a trophy when I lost; I was taught to accept losing gracefully, that the winners got the trophy and that if I wanted one I better work harder. I was taught that there are no entitlements, only opportunities. I learned that failure is an inevitable and inseparable component of success.

It took some time to learn these lessons; I did not experience enlightenment in my twenties.
If you’re in your twenties right now; ask yourself this question: Do you honestly feel that you’re entitled, right now, to the job of your dreams? If you answered yes, you may be honest; you may also need to adjust your expectations.

A college degree is a means to success; it is not the end. Success is a lifelong process; it’s a journey of a thousand miles and graduating college is just the first step. Hopefully through your college experience you learned a little bit about how to perfect yourself. If you did, you’re going to need that skill. If not, you’d better take a side trip and learn about the process of self-perfection.

No matter what adjustments and compromises you make, this is all part of the continuing process of self-perfection that will ultimately lead to your success.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/zetson/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Part of the problem is that at twenty-something we’re all full of expectations and promises. Your parents and teachers have no doubt been telling you how much potential you have. Your commencement speaker no doubt delivered a stirring call to change the world and create a lasting legacy in which you’ll correct the mistakes of past generations and bring mankind ever closer to perfect justice and equality.

This bullshit has been going on for quite a while too!

I can remember having the same feelings of fear, anxiety, self-doubt and angst that many Quarter Lifers are feeling today. I can remember becoming complacent at times and wondering when I was going to get my due.

As I near Mid-Life, I’ve stopped wondering. Like the Energizer Bunny I just keep going, and going. My life as a martial artist taught me that the secret achievement is a continual dedication to the process of self-perfection. I learned to be a constant student and to preserve the wonder and curiosity of a beginner’s mind in every moment and to find the opportunity and lesson in every task; even if I’m flipping burgers or mopping floors!

I now know I will achieve what I set out to do. I also know that it takes time to achieve any worthwhile goal. I accept that the only thing I’m truly entitled to is opportunity; results are a product of my discipline, focus and dedication.

As the guy who teaches people to Think Like a Black Belt I should probably quote some ancient Chinese philosopher to support my point. Instead I’ll share a moment I experienced as a Quarter Lifer.

I was feeling under-appreciated, underpaid, overworked and discouraged. I can’t honestly say I overestimated my value; my problem was quite the opposite but I still faced the same feelings of anxiety, desperation and fear that Quarter Lifers face today. I don’t remember feeling exactly “entitled,” but I do remember feeling that I was owed something more than what I received at the time.

A co-worker and dear friend noticed my distress and after a few days walked into the office and dropped a battered, worn, highlighted and dog-eared copy of “Zorba the Greek” on my desk. He said, “Read this; it will change your life.” I did, it did, and I’m forever grateful to my friend Nat for sharing Zorba with me.

Now go out and get your own copy and read it!

Success is a process of facing challenges, testing and honing your talents, abilities and skills and developing the courage, fortitude, wisdom and perseverance to stay in the game through the fourth quarter. You can’t win this game in the first quarter. Let fear, anxiety and unfounded expectations get the better of you and you can, however, lose it in the first quarter!

About

Jim Bouchard: Speaker, coach & author of Dynamic Components of Personal POWER!. Jim’s next book: Think Like a Black Belt is scheduled for release in January, 2010. Check out his website, http://www.jimbouchard.org/.

 
  • http://www.aspiringgentleman.com Luke – AspiringGentleman

    Thanks! A great reminder to always look to the positive and find ways to overcome your challenges both external and internal. It’s these kind of thoughts that, after being frustrated with the uni-dimensionality of my job, led me to blogging. I look forward to Bouchard’s book coming out. Looks to be a good read.

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  • Alex Armstrong

    Thanks, Jim!
    We can all use the reminder that we’re the ones responsible for our own success!

  • Jason

    Good points, and a punch in the face of reality. I found myself feeling this way a few years ago (still do on occasion I guess). It’s a hard lesson to learn how reality / the real world differs from what they tell you in school.

  • http://jackbusch.com jack

    Good points – I do feel that there is a continual push towards:

    “Just be yourself”
    “You are special because you are you”
    “Everyone else is fake but you”
    “Follow your heart”

    And I think that it’s not just parents feeding us this. Movies are the worst at this – I think there is this constant cheerleading for the protagonist. He can be untalented, unmotivated and maybe not even nice, but he always wins, because he’s the main character. And in the movie that is our own lives, we are always the main character. We believe, in part, that we’ll be rewarded simply for being special.

    It seems like the turning point is almost always seen as a lucky break, rather than a slow build up. It’d be a pretty crumby movie if it wasn’t. Can you imagine a film about a guy being responsible and disciplined over a span of 25 years? Sounds like a Warhol flick.

    I do think that some people my age are mistaking the American dream for entitlement. The American dream is that everyone gets a chance at a successful, fulfilling life. It means you get 3 rounds in the ring to deliver a knockout – it doesn’t mean the other guy is gonna throw the fight!

    The thing that’s hard for the entitlement generation to fathom is that, yeah, you are special, but every other person is just as special as you. Everyone else deserves a job just as much as you. Everyone else deserves to be happy just as much as you.

    Still, I don’t think the quarter life crisis phenomenon can be wholly chalked up to feelings of entitlement. This article touches on what is really upsetting about the real world in this section:

    “Your commencement speaker no doubt delivered a stirring call to change the world and create a lasting legacy in which you’ll correct the mistakes of past generations and bring mankind ever closer to perfect justice and equality.”

    That, as the article points out, is indeed “bullshit.” I think much of the malaise that sets in after a grad’s first two or three years “out in the world” has more to do with disillusionment than temper tantrums over not having received a handout. Growing up, we are full of ideals and, even though we see the ills of politics and a self-serving consumer society, we feel like there is hope. That’s why we go to college and become journalists, artists, philosophers and doctors. Because we believe there is a way we can change and shape the world to make it better.

    But once you get out of college and then comes the student loan payments, the $90 co-pays, the debt collectors, the rejection letters, and the soul crushing apathy of our peers, superiors and successors – that’s when it sets in.

    When you hit the street with your chapbook and you find some 65 year old guy who’s been reading the same poems as you to the exact same crowd to no effect. Except his poems are even better.

    When you rally for political action, civic change, democratic empowerment, and find that everyone would rather mind their own business and poke fun at a few token fringe lunatics than engage in a rational discourse about the fate of our nation.

    When you write the songs that you think speak to your generation, but everyone would rather tune into the radio, or completely tune out, hiding in a carefully postured hipster mentality, a smirky visage of calculated irony.

    When you realize that it’s more about networking than integrity.

    When you enter the working world with that mantra, “You can be anything you want, you can do anything you want” in your head but find out that it really means, “You can be anything you want do anything you want… on the weekends and after 5pm, as long as it doesn’t end up being bad PR for your company, and as long as you save up enough money to keep paying those car and house payments and as long as you have enough energy to give a 150% effort on Monday so you can maybe have a shot at that promotion which will maybe let you get a bigger salary and more benefits so you can maybe save up enough money to finance the thing that you really wanted to do…”

    When you realize that your job isn’t a means to an end anymore, because you’ve forgotten where you are going.

    When you meet up with your old friends from high school and the only thing you can think of to talk about is “that one time, in high school…”

    The real world is jarring, not because it’s not presented as a self serve all you can eat buffet, but because it is more banal and riddled with inertia than we ever imagined.

    One of my favorite intros to a song is this live version of “The Sinking Ship, The Grand Applause” by The Paper Chase, where John Congleton says, “This song is about that point between 20 and 30 when you realize that you’re not the Messiah, and you’re not going to set the world on fire.”

    I think that’s how most of us feel. We aren’t upset that the world isn’t giving US anything for free, we are upset that it’s so difficult to GIVE BACK to the world in a meaningful way. There are too many obligations to be fiscally responsible, socially unobtrusive, respectful to your family’s legacy.

    Our mentors urge us to follow our dreams until it comes to adulthood, then they urge us to “get a job,” “settle down,” climb the ladder and essentially blend in.

    Which is all well and good. We are very lucky for an opportunity to be gainfully employed, have a comfortable home and be relatively healthy. Generations before us had to fight hard for the opportunity that is baked-in to our existence. But I think most people who had big visions on graduation day are kind of let down by the real world and what it means to become a respectable, productive member of society.

    Yes, some of us will go on to be outstanding. Some of us will win Nobel prizes. Some will write bestselling novels. But the thing is that there are millions of us hitting the bricks hoping to be number one – and it’s easy to forget what “outstanding” and “excellent” and “exceptional” literally mean. To be separate from the rest – to rise above (or dip below). We cannot all be outstanding anymore than you can highlight an entire page of text and expect any part to be emphasized.

    The rest of us have to be satisfied with smaller roles in the great play of life, which is something that we are, and should be thankful for, but is, undeniably, disappointing. We aren’t the star of the show, and it turns out that the show isn’t even that splendid anyway. Why do most of us exist, anyway? To push paper, create widgets, feed our own families? To accumulate stuff? To save up for a two week vacation in some militarized beach resort in the Caribbean?

    The song I mentioned above ends with the lines:

    And the notes fill the pages as I scramble to paste up my bleeding heart
    And this sick song moves on if you’re lucky lifelong you can sing a part
    As it falls apart

    That’s what we have to hope for. We can bust our asses and keep our noses to the grindstones and, if we’re lucky, we can join the chorus of consumerism. There are no show stoppers. There’s no real room for your ideals. There are no real viable alternatives other than dropping out.

    Okay, so I know this is all kind of rambly and wandering and probably way too long for anyone to want to read in a comment, but as someone who just turned 25 last month, I think it’s closer to what a quarter life crisis feels like and means than what some kid on Fox News (!) says. I’m not upset because I didn’t get a trophy. I got the damn trophy – I just could care less about it. Hell, I liked eating Ramen Noodles. I liked working at McDonald’s with my friends, goofing off at a job that was easy and netted me enough cash to keep me happy on the weekends.

    What I don’t like is busting ass to maintain a bit role in a crappy B-movie. I don’t feel entitled to a good job and a cushy home. I feel entitled to the world that I learned about in school books. Why did we learn about Rosa Parks, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr. (and Martin Luther, while we’re at it), Thomas Paine, Hellen Keller (an influential social activist, by the way, not just a blind/deaf girl who learned how to say “water”) and all these other socially progressive individuals when in the “real world” our role models are supposed to be Suze Orman and Warren Buffet and Ray Kroc and others who are essentially “good with money.”

    A quarter life crisis isn’t about what life didn’t give back to us, it’s about “What am I going to DO with my life that’s going to matter.”

    I know this is just a state of mind I’m in right now and I’ll likely feel different when I’m 40. But this, I believe, is what’s going on through the heads of twentysomethings. And I think it’s good. The quarter life crisis is supposed to be a turning point for the protagonist. It’s necessary. It’s not merely symptomatic of a false sense of entitlement. It’s the birthing pangs of that “true self” that so many years of nurturing and sugarcoating and an insulated campus life couldn’t coax out. I think the point of a quarter life crisis is that the individual emerges with a clearer picture of what he or she wants to be and wants to do. It’s what we are SUPPOSED to learn from college, but never really do.

    Sorry, I really apologize for this long comment – I originally only meant to say that “matriculate” means to enroll in college, rather than to graduate. But I guess I got carried away.

    I really enjoyed the article. And I did pick up a copy of Zorba the Greek.

    Thanks
    .-= jack´s last blog ..Luck Hacks: Six Practices That Will Lead to Good Fortune =-.

  • Dascamel

    I am very wary of the whole “I am entitled to my dream job right now or else I am going to hold my breath” theory. I know a lot of folks who have worked hard in HS and college, paid their dues, and still have nothing to show for it. We are told that if we work hard we will be rewarded with good jobs, money and perks. When? When we are 40 years old? screw that what am I going to do with a $400,000 salary when I want to go to bed at 8pm. Also how many people have their college degrees and are barley making $40,000 a year? How many 30 somethings are competing for entry level jobs.

    I think we where sold a bad bill of goods.

  • Jason

    Dascamel,

    I completely hear what you’re saying. To take it a step further, if we’re going to use the word “entitled” the only reason we feel that way is because for the last 25 years everyone has been telling us if we do all the right things, work hard in hs, college, work for free in multiple internships, etc. etc. then we ARE entitled to what we’re looking for. Even at my age, making a decent salary, I completely agree with your “too much too late” idea. I make way more money now than I did a few years ago wasting money in a bar every weekend, but now I’m too exhausted to do anything with it. How can I work harder to earn what I’m “already” supposed to be getting?

  • http://www.JimBouchard.org Jim Bouchard

    What powerful, thoughtful and sincere comments! I’m truly grateful for all your perspectives; thanks for taking the time to share your ideas!

    First of all, let me address Descamel:

    I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, but I’ll be 50 in a year and I don’t go to bed usually until midnight; and I’m usually up by 6 or 7. I also still play full-contact big boy semi-pro tackle football, practice martial arts every day and I enjoy a prescription-free sex life if you know what I mean!

    As crippling as entitlement mentality is; tremendous freedom comes once we let it go. I’ve made and lost decent sums of money several times. I’m still on the beginning side of a tremendous adventure as a speaker and author and I’m looking forward to whatever the next few years brings!

    We all may have been “sold” a bill of goods; but we also bought it!

    Wherever you are in life there is always room for a fresh start. I’m not diminishing the pain; I’m embracing it.

    I can remember selling hot dogs to make ends meet in my mid-40′s. I’ve always done what I need to do, but I’ve got to tell you that I had moments when I asked why an accomplished professional martial artist should be selling hot dogs on the side of the road.

    It was the right thing to do at the time! I credit Black Belt Mindset with keeping me focused on being the best hot dog vendor I could be in that moment. Some day, I will create a franchise from that hot dog business!

    What that experience did was awaken a new passion in me. I’m a teacher; I should be teaching. Not that you can’t teach from a road side stand; there are plenty of fast food Yoda’s and bar tender therapists in the world; I just felt there was something bigger.

    That’s when I wrote my first book; at age 44.

    For Luke; you don’t have to wait for the second book, my first book, Dynamic Components of Personal POWER is available at JimBouchard.org. (Shameless plug!)

    Jack: It’s not always about working “harder.” It’s about finding what work you’re supposed to be doing and express yourself fully in that area. I’ve met janitors that are completely fulfilled and successful people; I’ve met wealthy people who want to put guns to their heads.

    You might see I’m not a “nicey-nicey” motivational guy! The plain fact is that finding your personal vision of success and happiness is work too. Go to my website subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll get a free download: the New Year REVOLUTION program; this might help.

    The process is to take a rational inventory of your current material, emotional and spiritual assets and plan your next move from there. You may be too exhausted to take a meaningful step right now; your first goal might be restorative. That’s important too!

    Jack:

    Wow! You’re right on target!

    To explain the “bullshit” factor with a little more depth: What I’m saying is that the platitudes served up by teachers, graduation speakers and motivational gurus is just that; bullshit. Unless…you’re willing to grab the bull by the nuts and do something about it!

    Utlimately, the greatest value you can bring the world is to improve your self. Make yourself better and you bring more value to the world and the people around you.

    What the graduation speaker should say is this:

    “You can change the world; but don’t waste time in the attempt until you’ve trained yourself for the battle! You wouldn’t go to a gunfight with a ping-pong paddle; don’t try to save the world with a high school diploma and a pat on the head.

    “Commit yourself to continual self-perfection. In this process you’ll find your true value to the world; and you’ll express it fully. When everyone is singing in his or her best range, we’ve got harmony. That’s what gives the chorus power.

    “It takes practice to be a useful, productive force in the world. Your job isn’t done because you’ve got a diploma; you just made the practice squad! Now get to work!”

    Or something to that effect!

    Remember this as well: No matter how glorious or humble your vision of success is; it’s important!

    You might be making coffee at Starbucks and you might be perfectly happy doing that. Do it to the absolute best of your capability and you have power. I’ve found that most of the time; that kind of focus and dedication is what leads you to the next opportunity and adventure.

    If you want to be a CEO; then great…go for it. Just remember that getting to the top is process of self-motivation, discipline and focus. To make your trip meaningful, lasting and satisfying do it the right way. Enjoy every step along the way; the set-backs as well as the successes.

    I’m truly grateful for this dialog and I hope you all can benefit from this discussion as much as I am!

    Best thoughts,
    Jim

  • Dascamel

    Jim,

    It is awesome to here from you, never seen that before. I wasn’t trying to tear down your article, most people don’t discuss they just say what they want and never come back to the article. I do agree there are some out there who have entitlement syndrome, but I think the major problem with people my age 32 is we thought our lives would be different. Talking about buying a bill of goods; I don’t think we had much opportunity at 18 years old to see the other choices we had available. The people we turned to for advise at 18 years old are our parents and teachers. They bought the same bill of goods, work hard get the degree, you will get a good job/life.

    On a different note part of your article deals with lifestyle choices, more than with work/job satisfaction. The lifestyle choice is consumerism, working to buy stuff we may not need. And this topic is a whole other conversation.

    Dascamel

  • http://www.JimBouchard.org Jim Bouchard

    Dascamel…AMEN!

    I don’t presume to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t desire or have; but when buying what you don’t need is the major cause of stress it’s time to reassess!

    I didn’t think you were tearing down the article; although that would be OK as well. I thoroughly enjoy these conversations and try to participate as much as I can.

    If you’d like to join some more interesting discussions go to my networking page and join in on the fun: http://jimbouchard.org/NetworkWithJim.htm

    I have groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and we get the word out with Twitter too.

    Best thoughts!
    Jim

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