You're Not Alone: The Quarter-Life Crisis Is More Common Than You Think

by Daniel Dickey

If you’re having a quarter-life crisis, it’s important to know you aren't alone. Last year, over three million people—aged 22 through 28—claimed to be having a quarter-life crisis. Take a second to let that statistic sink in. Now, take a second to realize that even though that statistic is completely fabricated, there are plenty of people who went to college to become a lawyer, and now, two years after graduation, they've come to realize what they really want to be—a beekeeper.

Buying a bee suit and collecting honey does not mean you’re wasting your life. On the contrary, if anything is a waste of life, it’s buying a Perry Ellis suit and pretending to be interested in corporate law. No one dreams of doing taxes when they're a kid, they dream of starting a company that invents moon shoes. But they left the moon shoe business because accounting looked like the safer major (inventing moon shoes is not actually a major at any accredited college), and now here they are at 25, knee-deep in processing W2 forms, regretting that they didn’t stick with the one thing that made them happy.

It should be noted that I am not a psychologist, nor am I familiar with the career patterns of post-college graduates, but I have spent a whole week Googling “Am I Having a Quarter-Life Crisis?” And in today’s society, this pretty much makes me an expert. (For those who disagree, tell me you’ve never gone to WebMD for a half hour and convinced yourself you were a doctor?) I decided to begin the quarter-life crisis search when I found out the graduate school I wanted to get into hadn’t accepted me. A rejection letter in my hand (later in my garbage, covered in man-tears) left me wondering what I was supposed to do next.

I could um, be a dentist? I could go back to waiting tables? Maybe I could apply for a nice job where I can use big words? Yeah, I’ll apply for a—oh, they’re only accepting résumés from kids who went to Princeton. That’s cool. I’ll just time travel back 10 years and tell my parents to buy a yacht, boat shoes and develop the ability to convince their teenage son that attending a state university means you will end up working at a grocery store until you’re 30 (at 30, they take you into the back office and fire you because “someone from Princeton just applied for your position and they have experience in a nice job that uses big words”).

I'm genuinely bothered by people doing anything but what they love. And as someone who has been guilty of this, I understand the reasons why we do other things: money, job security, health insurance and workplaces that supply free Greek yogurt. But at the same time, I don’t understand why we do anything other than what we absolutely, unequivocally care about.

Why are we collectively working jobs that do nothing but suck out our will to dream big and live meaningfully? Does supply outpace demand for ideal jobs, or are we missing out on them because we’ve structured ourselves to fit a mold of mediocrity? If you want to be a beekeeper, buy some bees (please make sure your neighbors aren’t allergic first).

If you have always wanted to be a ballerina, but stopped dancing to do information technology, HTML yourself back into a dance studio and code the life you want. Remember: Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas. It’s not the other way around.

It’s easy to test the water temperature by dipping in your foot; it’s hard to strip down and jump in, unconcerned whether your testicles will end up cold and shriveled. We all want warm testicles (ladies included). And I know you can’t foresee yourself paying the bills with moon shoes and tutus—at one point I couldn’t either, and in reality, I'm not sure can now. But it’s in exploring the inability to sustain ourselves with careers we enjoy that conspicuous consumption—our purchasing of name-brand crap—plays the biggest part.

You became an IT chick to buy a BMW, but most ballerinas ride bikes. Really, the cause of our quarter-life crises is that we value consumerism over happiness. We can’t sustain ourselves as organic farmers because a Michael Kors watch costs $300. You’re not going to be able to write that novel, because the money you saved is going to be blown on a weekend in Vegas. We took the safe jobs because we need enough money to buy Armani socks and iPhones. I have 60 collared shirts. Why? I wear one of three, every time I go out.

I look fat in the other 57, but now I can’t devote my life to writing because I have a credit card maxed out from collared-shirt debt. We’re all doing this and it’s been working for a long time, until recently, when 20-somethings started to fidget in their cubicles and wonder why in the hell they’re doing taxes and not jumping around in awesome moon shoes.

We need to invest in our future, not the liabilities preventing us from getting there. We don’t need another DVR or another IKEA spoon set, we need another career. One that we choose for the most important reason: it makes us happy every, single day.