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The quarter-life crisis (QLC) is a term applied to the period of life immediately following the major changes of adolescence, usually ranging from the ages of 21 - 29. The term is named by analogy with mid-life crisis. It is now recognised by many therapists and professionals in the mental health field.
Abby Wilner coined the phrase in 1997 and co-authored the first book to identify this phenomenon: 'Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties' (Tarcher, 2001). A number of other books on the quarterlife phenomenon have since been written in different countries.
Characteristics of this crisis are:
- feeling "not good enough" because one can't find a job that is at his/her academic/intellectual level
- frustration with relationships, the working world, and finding a suitable job or career
- confusion of identity
- insecurity regarding the near future
- insecurity regarding present accomplishments
- re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
- disappointment with one's job
- nostalgia for university or college life
- tendency to hold stronger opinions
- boredom with social interactions
- financially-rooted stress
- desire to have children
- a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you
These emotions and insecurities are not uncommon at this age, nor at any age in adult life. In the context of the quarter-life crisis, however, they occur shortly after a young person – usually an educated professional, in this context – enters the "real world". After entering adult life and coming to terms with its responsibilities, some individuals find themselves in a world of career stagnation and extreme insecurity. This can be after a first job or straight out of college/university. Whenever it is, the real world is tougher, more competitive and less forgiving than they imagined. Furthermore, the qualifications they have spent so much time and money earning are not likely to prepare them for this.
As the emotional ups-and-downs of adolescence and college life subside, many in the quarter-life crisis experience a "graying" of emotion. While emotional interactions may be intense in a high school or college environment – where everyone is roughly the same age and hormones are highly active – these interactions become subtler and more private in adult life. Nobody wants to admit to feeling like a 'loser' (especially not twentysomething men). This secrecy intensifies the problem.
Furthermore, a contributing factor to this crisis may be the difficulty in adapting to a workplace environment. In college, professors' expectations are clearly given and students receive frequent feedback on their performance in their courses. You progress year-to-year in higher education. By contrast, in a workplace environment, a person may be, for some time, completely unaware of a boss's displeasure with his performance, or of his colleagues' dislike for his personality. You do not automatically make progress. Office politics require interpersonal skills that are largely unnecessary for success in an educational setting. Emerging adults eventually learn these social skills, but this process – sometimes compared to learning another language – is often highly stressful.
Financial and professional aspectsEdit
A primary cause of the stress associated with the "quarter-life crisis" is financial in nature; most professions have become highly competitive in recent years. Positions of relative security – such as tenured positions at universities and "partner" status at law firms – have dwindled in number. This, combined with excessive downsizing, means that many people will never experience occupational security in their lives, and this is doubly unlikely in young adulthood. Generation X was the first generation to meet this uncertain "New Economy" en masse. There is also the problem of crippling student loans.
The era when a professional career meant a life of occupational security – thus allowing an individual to proceed to establish an "inner life" – is coming to a crashing end. Financial professionals are often expected to spend at least 80 hours per week in the office, and people in the legal, medical, educational, and managerial professions may average more than 60. In most cases, these long hours are de facto involuntary, reflecting economic and social insecurity. While these ills plague adults at all ages, their worst victims are ambitious, unestablished young adults.
In The Cheating Culture, David Callahan illustrates that these ills of excessive competition and insecurity do not always end once one becomes established – by being awarded tenure or "partner" status – and therefore the "quarter-life crisis" may actually extend beyond young adulthood. Some measure of financial security – which usually requires occupational security – is necessary for psychological development. Some have theorized that insecurity in the "New Economy" will place many in a state of, effectively, perpetual adolescence, and that the rampant and competitive consumerism of the 1990s and 2000s indicates that this is already taking place.
Erik H. Erikson, who proposed eight crises that humans face during development, also proposed the existence of a life crisis occurring at this age. In his developmental theory, he proposed that human life is divided into eight stages, each with its own conflict that humans must resolve. The conflict he associated with young adulthood is the Intimacy vs. Isolation crisis. According to him, after establishing a personal identity in adolescence, young adults seek to form intense, usually romantic relationships with other people.
The version of the "quarter-life crisis" proposed by Erikson, then, is very different from the one that occurs in popular culture. Indeed, the pop-culture version of the "quarter-life crisis" contains more elements of the crisis Erickson associated with adolescence, Identity vs. Role-confusion, giving credence to the theory that late-20th century life, with its bizarre mix of extreme comfort and insecurity, is then causing people to mature at a slower rate.
- Robbins, Alexandra; Wilner, Abby. Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties. Tarcher, 2001. ISBN 1-585-42106-5
- Barr, Damian. Get It Together: A Guide to Surviving Your Quarterlife Crisis. Hodder & Stoughton Paperbacks, 2004. ISBN 0-340-82903-6
- QLC discussion forum
- Quarter-Life Crisis
- Quarter-Life Crisis Project
- An example of someone going through a quarter-life crisis
- Article from the Times of London
- Is this it?
- es:Crisis del cuarto de vida
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