Streed of Consciousness [Part 4 – The Quarter-Life Crisis]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: The Fallen by Set Your Goals)

Hey everyone! I’m taking a break from watching House of Cards and playing Breath of the Wild to write… something. I guess I’ll find out as I go along.

Actually, now that I’ve sat here for a few minutes trying to figure it out, I know exactly what to type. And this one’s actually important – I want to explain, from the perspective of a recent graduate, what it means to be going through the “quarter-life crisis” and what you can do to help someone you care about navigate this (almost guaranteed) rough patch.

(Pssst. Hey. Parents, siblings, and friends of someone who’s just entering early adulthood. This is written for you. Please pay attention.)

So here’s the idea. When a young adult graduates college, it’s more than just a transition into the job sphere. We’ve spent the last seventeen years of our lives in school, and now that’s being taken away from us. All the stability of knowing what we were doing, where we were going – it’s now gone. When we were young, we didn’t have to pay attention to the direction our lives were heading in, and even in high school, it only really extended so far as what college to go to and maybe what major to have.

Now, we’re actually in the adult world. Some of us might continue on to graduate school or another form of higher education. Some of us might take a gap year or two to figure things out. Some lucky few of us will have jobs. But the transition is by and large the same, regardless of where we’re heading.

The stakes haven’t ever felt so high in our lives – and I’m not being dramatic here. If a young adult knows what they’re planning on doing, that brings them a small amount of comfort and stability, but even then they’re not entirely carefree – they’re constantly plagued by doubts about if the path they’re planning on taking is the right path. If this young adult has had helicopter parents their whole life and now they’re making that first major decision on their own, that will ratchet up the stress incrementally.

And then there’s my own type – the people who did an undergraduate major, really liked it, but decided at the end of things that it wasn’t something they necessarily wanted to pursue for sure. I was lucky enough to have a job, but others can’t even fall back on an interim position while they try to figure things out. These people are stressed out to the extreme trying to make sense of their place in the world, and all the things they have to figure out seemingly within a year or two.

The short of it is, we’re dealing with an extreme loss of control and dysphoria. And we would appreciate all the help we can get.

So I want to give some friendly advice to anyone who has someone close with them who’s going through this kind of transition – because honestly, y’all, you suck at helping us with our problems. Please take this to heart:

  1. Stop trying to tell us what to do. I don’t care how well-meaning it is. I know it seems obvious to you in hindsight that the young adult in your life should be doing something. But right now, we are struggling with forming our identities and making choices, and we need to feel that we have agency – that we are not only capable of making our own decisions, but making the right ones. Every time you tell us what you think we should be doing, you are chipping away at our self-confidence and our ability to choose for ourselves.
  2. Related, support us in our choices. Yeah, I mean every one – even if you think it’s clearly the wrong choice. And seriously, if you’re reading this and thinking that we shouldn’t be coddled, fuck off. This is one of the most important times in our lives, and we need to feel not only that we’re making our own decisions, but that the people we care about are standing by those decisions. If you can’t do that for the year or two it takes us to get back on our feet, then… well, I honestly don’t know what to say. But we sincerely don’t appreciate it.
  3. Don’t try to offer us money or financial assistance. Again, this is something that is ostensibly well-meant, but it comes across as, “You can’t take care of things yourself, so let me step in to help you.” The whole point of this transition is for us to come out of it feeling like we can handle our own lives, and when you try to help us out financially, it undermines that feeling. Keep your money for when we come back home to visit – then you can buy us a nice dinner, because we probably won’t have eaten well for a while.
  4. Most importantly, listen to us and find out what we need. This one overrides the previous three – there might be some young adults in transition who really feel like they need to be told what to do, or offered money,  to feel comfortable. But Christ, people, you won’t figure that out if you don’t listen to what we’re trying to tell you. Just take a minute to listen to us without judgment – and I know this sounds like a standard maxim of engagement, but it’s shocking how few people do it. We will be bursting at the seams to tell you what we want from you – trust me, there’s little ability on our end to be withholding, especially with the pressure we’re facing. But you’ve gotta listen.

That’s it. Don’t tell us what to do; support the dumb decisions we make; stop giving us your money; and listen to what we’re trying to say. If you do this, you will be easing a tremendous burden on the young adult in your life. If you don’t – and I don’t care if it’s because you think you know better, or because you don’t want to coddle your child or sibling – seriously, go find a deep hole to stick your head into. You can shout your directives to yourself and they’ll echo and you can agree with yourself all day long while we figure our shit out.

Yours, just a little salty (can you tell?),

-R.R. Buck

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7 thoughts on “Streed of Consciousness [Part 4 – The Quarter-Life Crisis]

  1. I am about to go into undergrad school and there is already a cloud of uncertainty looming ahead. Its really stressful when you think about whether you have made the right choice. But, we can only take it step by step, right?

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  2. That’s a good point about how we’ve been handed direction our whole lives, and then suddenly have to create direction ourselves after college. It’s a real struggle. I also agree about agency, only I’d add that we need to embrace wrong decisions too, because those are valuable in and of themselves. Parents like to say, “I told you so, you should have done what I said.” Actually no – we should have done exactly what we did, because the choice-making itself is a necessary ingredient in the process. We need to learn from experience.

    I can relate to this post. I felt lost after college too. Rather, I felt lost a year or so after college, after I’d been working in the field I majored in but could tell it wasn’t right for me. That was scary, because I’d spent all these years studying only to feel like I had no skills for anything else and no idea what I wanted to do. Fortunately I was writing my first novel at the time, so that gave me purpose, but it wasn’t paying the bills so the job-search was still plaguing me. Eventually I stumbled into something that I realized I loved, so it worked out, but hoooo boy I was uncertain for a long time!

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    1. Thanks so much for this great comment, Noel. I don’t think people recognize enough the importance of making mistakes on the path to learning what’s right, and I’m glad you brought that to light here.

      If you don’t mind me asking, what did you stumble into, and how did you stumble into it?

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      1. On a whim I decided to apply at a library, mainly because the job I had at the time (behind-the-scenes work at a playhouse) was a bazillion hours away and I’d been commuting long enough. And I was like, “Hey I like books, why not?” It seems so OBVIOUS now. Of course I was going to love it! Now I ask myself, why didn’t I do this sooner??

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