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The Joys of Quarterlife Crisis

This is a Patch columnist's whimsical look at the "Decline at 25."

If my generation had an anthem, it would unquestionably be Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Such an angst-ridden ode to youthful apathy and ignorance, with half sincere, half ironic lyrics like “I’m worse at what I do best, and for this gift I feel blessed.” Really, I don’t think any other song out there best exemplifies the modern Generation Y mentality, even if we disaffected teens have grown up into disaffected twenty-somethings.

I have a hard time accepting that song is 20 years old now, much the same way I have a hard time accepting the fact that I’m 25 years old myself. Alike many of my cohorts, I’ve run smack dab into one of life’s great transitory periods, a phase some have taken to call the quarterlife crisis stage.

Yes, we’ve all heard about the famed midlife crisis phase, but more and more analysts and experts are beginning to speak up on the reality of quarterlife crisis. In 2001, Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner released a book entitled Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties. The authors summarize the experience rather nicely in this sentence: “So while the midlife crisis revolves around a doomed sense of stagnancy, of a life set on pause while the rest of the world rattles on, the quarterlife crisis is a response to overwhelming instability, constant change, too many choices and a panicked sense of helplessness.”

“Just what are we going to do with our lives?” my peers are most certainly thinking. “Is this as far as we’re going to go in life? Does my degree mean anything? Will I ever get a real job, and when does the real money start coming in?”

Certainly, we’re being deluged by thoughts of career-specific worries and doubts. That said, the absolute worst reminder of our aging comes in the form of physical decline.

For the last five or so years, I’ve felt virtually invincible. I could live off one meal a day, a few hours of sleep a night and get through a day of strenuous (both physically and mentally) tasks without so much as yawning. But over the last few months, something has changed.

Back in the day, I could put in a six hour workout and wake up the next day without a single achy joint anywhere. A few weeks ago, I mowed the lawn and for the next five days, I felt as if a train had run over me. It was drizzling one weekend morning, and I felt my knee give out — for as long as I’ve been alive, I thought my elders were joking about stuff like that.

I discovered a couple of gray hairs on my pillow a few nights ago. Since then, I’ve managed to convince myself that I don’t have an ever-progressing bald spot on the back of my skull; surely, that increasingly white terrain has something to do with the shampoo I’ve been using, no doubt.

In my salad days, I oft prided myself on my ability to consume large amounts of food during one sitting. I tried hitting up a a couple of nights ago, and about 10 minutes in, I thought I was going to have to be pushed out of the building in a wheelbarrow.

Everyday, I have a new symptom to add to my hypochondria shortlist. Is it arthritis, or carpal-tunnel syndrome, or an infection brought upon by an insect bite? By the time you are 25, not only do you have WebMD bookmarked, you probably have it set as your homepage, with a magnified zoom view. You wouldn’t think the leap from 21 to 25 would be that sizable, but you’d be surprised. At 21, I was the kid in the parking lot ogling the scantily-clad co-eds with the radio blaring; at 25, I’m the guy complaining about those freshmen with their too-short shorts and earsplitting sound systems.

I plucked the silver strand from my eyebrow, and my nostrils twinged. “Maybe I don’t smell like teen spirit anymore,” I had to woefully mutter under my breath.

The other day, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road, with the Boss blurting out the line, “So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore,” and the reality clobbered me like a sack of tubers.

Brenna Crowder August 24, 2011 at 02:57 PM
This is too funny and too true, James!!!! I'm turning 25 in a month and a lot of this sounds pretty familiar. I've found myself running to the pharmacy to buy an emergency box of hair color to cover up those unwelcome silver strands, and somehow, four hours of sleep just doesn't cut it anymore. It's definitely a strange phenomena when you find yourself waking up in the mornings thinking less and less about what mischief your going to manage that day, and more about which career routes are going to yield the strongest benefits, the number of bullets on your resume and that ever-present twinge in your back that wasn't there in high school. :) But I do have to say, it's all pretty exciting. Great column. :)

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