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Quarter-life crisis hits hard

I could practically be a middle-aged, overweight and balding man on his first poorly rationalized venture into a motorcycle shop — or at least I feel that way. The phenomenon long mocked as the "midlife crisis" doesn't seem to require you be in your midlife at all, and it seems to have descended upon me in all its fury.

It was quite a relief to hear a friend of mine say that he needed to "figure his life out." This Ivy Leaguer always appeared to be put together: It seemed like he was 10 steps ahead of me even when he had spent the entire school day napping. So, while it may not be appropriate to admit that I am excited by his expression of alarm, my misery loves his company.

For reasons unknown, the start of junior year denoted the need for some of us to reflect on our accomplishments to date. It is the point in a university career when you find that too many of your goals have not yet been achieved, when you reconsider all your personal, academic and career objectives and when you determine for some reason or another that your life must require a drastic change in order to become meaningful.

For some of my classmates I saw the beginnings of what I'd call a "mid-university crisis" manifest itself in a breakup with a longtime boyfriend or girlfriend. In others, the crisis attacked its host with a vengeance, motivating them to take on outrageous levels of responsibility and overloading their schedules with courses beyond a workable capacity. My own mid-university crisis exhibited itself on a change of major declaration form.

Unfortunately, I cannot say this is the first time I have experienced this sort of terror at the thought of having made a mistake, wasted time or not taken enough chances. This period of dread comes over me like clockwork, falling halfway between major milestones. I can even expect a midterm crisis around the time my first exams, worrying I hadn't studied hard enough or fearful that I had studied something else too much — generally, just feeling concern that I had not budgeted my time wisely.

My junior year of high school began much the same way as this year, with panic and regret. I resolved those feelings of discontent by taking on new friends and extracurricular interests. Yet the fact that I find myself in the same quandary today does not seem to indicate that altering my path back in high school resulted in a very effective life change.

I was given the opportunity to walk the halls of my alma mater this week as a substitute teacher. Even in my high heels and professional attire, I felt as if I was blending in with the throng of students and not standing out like the occasional authority figure parting the masses. The years since high school flashed by, but being back there and experiencing such similar emotions to those I felt during the last time I could call myself a "junior," it was as if I'd hardly grown at all. This reminder that I was so incredibly close to high school made my mid-university crisis all the more demoralizing — the living proof that I had not made great enough strides getting to this halfway point.

According to The Washington Post there exists a "quarter-life crisis," "the 20-something version of a midlife crisis, in which sufferers struggle to establish their sense of identity and purpose." Also known as the "graduation blues," the quarter-life crisis describes the difficulty adjusting to the period of transition between college life and a "stable life structure with marriage and parenthood and stable work." It is believed that this period of transition is more prolonged for our generation, and likewise we are more likely to suffer the stresses that go along with the uncertainty.

It is terrifying that when I do get over the current hump in my personal growth, I am still unlikely to be able to avoid the next. So, I better gear up for my quarter-life.

It sure made me feel better knowing I wasn't completely losing my mind and I wasn't alone in my nervous breakdown. But the idea that these crises may in fact be unavoidable has forced me to reconsider my approach in dealing with them. Certainly changing my behavior during my mid-high school crisis did not provide lasting value for me, so what is to say that radical modification is the answer for me now?

The embarrassment associated with midlife crises originates from the outrageous behavior of its sufferers. Not every guy needs a Harley Davidson to overcome the difficulties of his unfortunate and unavoidable aging. So, I think it's safe to say revamping my wardrobe, changing my diet or refiguring my political ideology is not the way to go. Rather, I might just advise we all sit back, relax and take what our mid-university, quarter-life and midlife crises have to throw at us. If we can master dealing with our crises, we may be helping ourselves at the expense of the sports car and motorcycle industries, but that's a risk we must be willing to take.

Larissa Klein is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. Her column, "Definition of Insanity," runs on alternate Thursdays. She welcomes feedback at [email protected]


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