Braving the Quarter-Life Crisis

A few weeks ago I woke up and remembered a dream, or rather a nightmare. I recounted the dream to a friend telling her how horrified and miserable I was when no one wished me a happy birthday on Facebook except for several close friends. After all, what’s the point of having close to a thousand friends on Facebook if not to validate your existence with a “happy birthday” wall post? The nightmare ended, but the fear is all too accurate in a culture that is consistently driven by social media. Did you really have a successful birthday if it was never referenced on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? All of this aside, my 20th birthday is coming up in a matter of weeks. I have been thinking a great deal about this new decade.

The shift from teenager to twenty-something seems to be of the utmost significance. Being 20 seems to indicate a new, more mature venture in life. “Teenager” is synonymous with “na??ve,” “innocent,” “unknowing,” “immature.” Twenty-something has grander connotations of being a professional, put-together adult, accomplishing one’s goals and bettering society with each and every passing day. In three weeks should I suddenly feel a cosmic shift in society’s perception of my age and my persona? Is age arbitrary? Does the number even matter?

On this campus, age at first seems irrelevant – until you start thinking about the clear differences in being an 18-year-old amongst 22-year-olds. Each age and class year represents a different lived experience of change and growth. This community, and its varied experiences, forces each of us to be challenged by our own notions of who we are and what exactly it is that we are about. Our portrayal of ourselves, our goals and the essence of our

personality inevitably shifts through these defining collegiate years. The sense of being 20 is infinitely different than the sense of being 18 on this campus. Twenty means something else than 18. Being in my twenties will be vastly different than my teens. And to be honest, I never wanted to be one of those people that peaked in their teen years anyway. The culture of twenties is portrayed everywhere in society, media and entertainment.

HBO’s hit show “Girls” follows the plight of the twenty-something. The twenty-something lost in themselves, in the affection of others, in their own ambitions and expectations struggling to navigate the world and its challenges. In the first season, the protagonist Hannah Horvath, played by Lena Dunham, claims, “I have work, and then I have a dinner thing. And then I am busy trying to become who I am.” So in the midst of class, work, extracurriculars and social commitments on this campus, everyone is expected to be refining who they are going to become as a person – at Colgate, in their twenties and in the world at large.

Turning 20, however, means more than its celebration will reflect. There is more worth to it than merely being allowed to shamelessly inform everyone you see and meet out that night that it is, in fact, your birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely will be at the Jug with my friends to celebrate a new age but that’s not all that a birthday is about.

In the months leading up to my birthday I’ve been thinking a lot about what 20 will mean – as a new year and a new decade. I came across a TED Talk when perusing articles about  what it is that being a twenty-something means and how to thrive in this new age. The TED Talk was done last spring by Meg Jay, a psychologist specializing in twenty-somethings. Jay discusses the various twenty-somethings she has counseled, recounting tales of Emma and Alex, two twenty-somethings struggling with boy problems and viewing their twenties as an extended adolescence. To Jay, this seemed normal until she had an “a-ha moment.” Now is the time to claim your twenties as a period that has the capacity to be transformative for your work, your love and your own enduring happiness. If 80 percent of life’s defining moments happen before the age of 35, then it seems our twenties are the right time to live passionately and be driven to begin leading and shaping the life we desire.

In psychology, the main concept that is studied is youth development, yet Jay sees a need for the twenties to be a time of adult development. Society has trivialized the defining decade of adulthood into a period of struggle – a limbo between youth and adulthood.

Having a quarter-life crisis has become the new midlife crisis. But if that’s the case, I will welcome my quarter life crisis if it means that I will be questioning my values, goals and desires and becoming more aware of myself and the world around me. Jay emphasizes a need to create identity capital to add value to who we are as people. Creating identity capital is an investment for our future and can help us figure out the person we are in the present and the person we want to become. Right now, still clutching to being 19, I have no way of knowing what twenty will look like for me. But I’m hopeful and optimistic for my defining decade.

 So readers, what I’m really getting at here is that I expect a decent amount of birthday posts on my wall in a few weeks. No matter what age you are currently or are approaching, claim now as the time to define yourself as a teen, a twenty-something or most importantly – as the person you want to be. After all, there’s no better time than now.

Contact Lauren Casella at [email protected].