Seeking the Fountain of Youth

As midlifers seek the fountain of youth, chances are they’re not noticing the younger folk glancing enviously their way. “I’m looking forward to my 40s,” says Mikey, a struggling entrepreneur in her mid-20s. “I plan to suffer my midlife crisis at the wheel of a new red Porsche.”

Recent college graduates have always grappled with hesitation and self-doubt. But in their new book, “The Quarterlifer’s Companion,” co-authors Abby Wilner and Cathy Stocker suggest that these feelings can signify a legitimate problem.

The quarterlife crisis – which typically hits between the ages of 21 and 35 – is, according to Wilner, a “state of intense anxiety resulting from the uncertainty and instability accompanying the shift to adulthood.”

The crisis generally sparks feelings of helplessness and isolation. And various culprits like student loans, inflation, job competition and parental pressure are to blame. The key factor, though, is the void created in the transition from school to the workplace.

“Quarterlifers graduate from the most productive point in their lives to a time of less meaning and far less direction,” says Stocker.

And when the structures of home and academic life vanish, the undefined road ahead can seem paralyzing and disorienting. The QLC would be easier to define if it were a static issue. But because the pressures of 21 and 31 are different, the crisis can mutate over time.

At the early stage, twentysomethings are less likely to feel pressure to settle on their career choice or spouse. But while this freedom has its benefits, the unlimited options it presents can lead to confusion and doubt. Such is the case for Maren, a 21-year-old nonprofit worker who is generally optimistic about life.

“I want to accomplish countless things while I’m young, like backpacking through Europe and human rights work abroad,” she says.

“Between all the careers, places to travel and degrees to seek, I can’t commit to a thing!” The good news is that many quarterlifers resolve their indecision as they progress into their 20s. The next snag, however, is the frustration they face when they fail to meet their goals.

“It doesn’t matter what they’ve already accomplished,” says Daisy Swan, a career counselor. “They have this sense that they should be making more money, getting married and acquiring all the superficial ‘benchmarks’ of success.” Enter Chris, a 27-year-old design assistant who feels stalled in his career.

“I’ve committed to fashion, but being past 25 has made me re-evaluate where I thought I’d be by now,” he says. “With a bottom-rung salary and little chance of promotion, I feel more insecure than I did at 21!”

Wilner and Stocker believe that a micro-managed regimen can help QLCers gain control of their lives. Through strict financial planning, cautious spending, a healthy balance between work and play, and an understanding of office politics, they believe young people can achieve the confidence and security to kick their lives into high gear. Stocker also hopes the book will help quarterlifers “relax and understand that everyone feels confused by these new life responsibilities.” Psychotherapist Andrea Macari agrees, urging QLC-ers to take their time exploring options.

“The process itself creates fulfillment,” she says. “And if individuals could learn to enjoy applying for jobs and finding their passions, then there would be fewer morose twentysomethings around.”

There’s just no silver bullet to overcoming uncertainty, which is why Macari advises QLCers to live with a certain level of confusion. “Insecurity is a fact of life at any age,” she says. “A little doubt can drive us to do better!”

And fear not, says Stocker. “You’re not a loser if your life isn’t perfect at 25. Don’t worry about where you wanted to be, and focus on where you are now.”