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HUGHES: The stress of figuring your life out right now.

Photo by Doug Peters

Photo by Doug Peters

Morgan Hughes

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Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the quarter-life crisis phenomenon. As far as I know, this is a relatively new term, but maybe it’s been a thing forever and I’m only just noticing it. Whatever the case, I find it interesting.

I’m 19 years old and have my whole life ahead of me, so the idea that someone a few years older than myself would be stressed to the point of crisis about figuring their life out is daunting. Is this what I have to look forward to, three more years of college and then complete fear of the unknown?

While this perplexes me, I also understand that being afraid of the unknown is normal. I’ve been afraid of the dark since I accidentally watched 15 minutes of “Jeepers Creepers” when I was 6 (which was emotionally scarring, by the way). The fear of wasting my youth on deciding what I want to be when I grow up seems just as reasonable as being afraid of the dark.

When we’re young it seems so simple. Your aunt sees you at your fifth birthday party and asks you what you want to be when you grow up, and you tell her you want to be a doctor, or a police officer, or a teacher. Then every birthday after, she asks you if you still want to be a doctor, and you say yes, or you tell her that you changed your mind, and now you want to be an astronaut, and she supports whatever you tell her.

No one asks a 6-year-old how they’re going to fit six more credits of math into their schedule before graduation. Nor do they ask what the hiring rate for recent college graduates is for prospective astronauts. Did anyone prepare us for the stress that comes with being responsible for whether we fail or succeed at life? Why couldn’t Aunt Megan have asked me how I planned on paying my college loans post-graduation?

I think part of why everyone is so stressed is due to some static idea of what success is supposed to look like. It’s as though we’ve been taught the 1950s’ version of life; you’re supposed to go to college, meet your spouse, get a job, move to the suburbs, have three kids, retire and die. While that life might sound appealing to some people, it isn’t for everyone. Yet, there’s this idea that if you don’t follow the steps exactly, you will have failed at life.

Generation Y reports a higher stress level than any other generational group, according to the American Psychology Association’s 2015 Stress in America survey. The survey asks members of each generation to rate their stress levels on a 10-point-scale, and millennials averaged the highest rating, with a 5.5 average. That’s an entire point higher than the Baby Boomers’ 4.5 average. There is a lot of pressure to succeed, and it’s a danger to today’s teen and 20-something demographic.

One theory as to why today’s young adults are so stressed is because we are a generation of “right now.” Getting information and results as quickly as your iPhone 6 can load a webpage has not prepared us for the sensation of waiting for results. Unfortunately, there is no instant gratification in figuring out your future. Developing who you want to be for the rest of your life takes patience.

As a quarter-life crisis remedy, I suggest taking a minute to breathe. You do not have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life right this moment. Whether you are a freshman trying to figure out your major, or a senior scared of what the future will bring, you will be fine. You have so much time ahead of you. You don’t have to find your career immediately. You’re allowed to have five different jobs in your first year after graduation. It doesn’t make you a failure, you’re exploring your options.

If I have learned anything from the 19 (almost 20) short years I have spent on planet Earth, it’s that things are almost always out of my control. The only thing that can come from stressing about those things is a massive and uncomfortable ulcer.

So as you begin your fall semester, remember you are young and have a million options to choose from. Don’t spend your time stressing about what you cannot control. Instead, focus on getting your English professor to remember your name. Baby steps.

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1 Comment

One Response to “HUGHES: The stress of figuring your life out right now.”

  1. Karen Cudby on September 4th, 2015 3:55 pm

    Very wise words Morgan and you completely hit the nail on the head with this sentence: “I think part of why everyone is so stressed is due to some static idea of what success is supposed to look like.” If this was an issue before, now with a rose tinted window into everyone else’s life, people’s anxiety levels about their own lives are being seriously affected. You seem to have a somewhat more rational take on things tho 🙂

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