Insufferable whinging…

Every year there’s a word or phrase that enters into mainstream usage that becomes more irritating and obnoxious than a pair of underpants woven from poison oak. Usually it takes at least 2/3 of the year to pass before anyone really has a handle on how overused and annoying this annual phrase or word is. This year is just over a quarter done and I think I’ve already identified the most odious phrase of the year – [tag]quarter-life crisis[/tag].

The phrase was coined by a pair of authors in 2001. For this offense against sanity I suggest a lengthy stay in [tag]Gitmo[/tag] for both. Honestly, don’t the American people have enough uselessly overlabeled conditions, syndromes and disorders to fret about without adding something so obviously idiotic to the stew pot?

I first encountered this verbal tragedy while flipping channels on the TV. At first I figured it was some kind of joke. Then my wife brought home a magazine with the phrase featured prominently on the cover. Suddenly thereafter it was everywhere. It gave me a stomach ache.

Before I looked into what this new plague upon our nation’s youth was really about I surmised it must have something to do with young folks bitching and moaning about how rough and awful it is to be in your early twenties. I was completely stunned when I read up on the subject to find out that my first guess was completely correct. Here are the chief defining characteristics of a quarter-life crisis:

  • feeling “not good enough” because one can’t find a job that is at one’s 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 concerning long-term plans, life goals
  • insecurity regarding present accomplishments
  • re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
  • disappointment with one’s job
  • nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life
  • tendency to hold stronger opinions
  • boredom with social interactions
  • loss of closeness to high school and college friends
  • financially-rooted stress (overwhelming college loans, unanticipatedly high cost of living, etc.)
  • loneliness
  • desire to have children
  • a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you

I’ll pause to allow you to vomit.

Is it just me or does it also seem to you that before the decade is over every perfectly normal state of being that is part of the overall human condition will be labeled as a specific crisis or disorder? Yes, one’s early 20s can be a trying time. My achievements in college led me to believe that I was fit and prepared, certainly, for a greater career challenge than answering phones for 9 hours a day. But I would hardly characterize this as a part of any sort of crisis.

We’re all familiar with the concept of the [tag]mid-life crisis[/tag], and I’d bet most folks accept that such a thing is probably very real for some people. So some folks are probably apt to accept that the stresses of our early 20s could be a crisis for some as well. The problem with this is that if we assume that a mid-life crisis occurs at around 50 then there’s one factor that’s certainly very different – at 50 there is literally less life ahead for us than there is behind. That can be a sobering reality for some people, and it’s easy to see how it might induce panic and extraordinary reactions to that panic. What, precisely is a 23 year old panicking about? Not being a teenager anymore? 60 or 70 years of potential time left to make one’s way in life? It really just does not compare.

The temptation is certainly there to simply say something trite like, “kids these days, they don’t know how good they’ve got it.” Or, “youth is wasted on the young.” The temptation is there because both phrases are 100% correct. I’m often heard to say that boredom is something that only happens to people who are stupid and lack imagination. I feel very much likewise about any 20-something who finds him or herself in a “crisis.” You’re only in a crisis if you’re too dumb to realize that you’re feeling insecure and intimidated because you have virtually limitless opportunities and possibilities before you.

Another way of looking at it was put very well by [tag]Mahatma Ghandi[/tag], who said, “Everything you do will be insignificant. But it is very important that you do it.” Instead of worrying that you’ll make the “wrong” choice about any of the major paths before you in your 20s, just pick one and see where it goes. And remember in the immortal words of[tag] Buckaroo Banzai[/tag], “Wherever you go, there you are.”

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