Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Self-Indulgence, Aimlessness, and Putting Things in Perspective

So today one of my Gen Y buddies posted an article on a new phenomenon: the "quarter-life crisis." This new, self-induced crisis is neatly summarized early in the article:
This phenomenon, known as the “Quarterlife Crisis,” is as ubiquitous as it is intangible. Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.

The Bartish shorthand for this might be called the "What am I going to be when I grow up?" crisis. Or simply ennui brought on by lack of bounds or direction (see Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice for an extended treatment of this problem). I probably had something like this in my mid-20s, but I very quickly got sick of my own whining with asking, "Why me?" and asked, "Okay, what do I want out of life?" My rather naive answer was, "I want to go into space." Trajectory set. Date: October 31, 2004. Everything else after that was a quest to figure out what I needed to do to get there.

Now other people might come up with different answers to the question I asked myself or ask themselves different questions entirely. After spending a lot of my teens and twenties as an intellectual, it was somewhat unique for me to think about applying practical considerations to the wild ideas roaming around my head. But I think it's safe to say that from that point on, I started applying what Ayn Rand would call reasoning, my mother would call "common sense," and I ended up calling "wisdom." Once I had a goal in mind, the rest was just details, and I went forth and lived my life.

But I have a lot of friends--not just Gen Yers--who still don't have an answer to "What do I want?" Other people might be more driven by family, or more Earth-based aspirations. Bully for them. If you've got a dream, chase it. If you can't pursue it right now, take a job that supports you while pursuing what you really want in your free time. Of course, as my buddy Martin put it, "Sometimes a job is just a job." Maybe. My time at Disney's Dixie Landing Resort front desk qualifies. Hated the job, did it to pay the bills, spent my free time with my friends, reading, writing, traveling, and drinking. I took what joy from my life as I could, and I lived low-rent. And I had a great time in Orlando. I still have great friends from that time.

Of course even I'm not immune to moments of self-involved boredom. Excellent example today: I could sense myself getting p!$$y with a couple of coworkers about an absolute non-issue in even the work scheme of things, and yet I was prepared to make myself a permanent annoyance to my boss over it. If I tell you it's over an issue of grammar, that will show how shallow and terrifying the concerns of my life are right now.

And then I remembered an 8-year-old kid Darlene the Science Cheerleader knows. This girl is by all accounts a sweet kid, winning smile, the whole nine yards of what you'd like a kid to be. Well, last week Dar informed me that this little girl is going in for serious chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow work to cope with leukemia. She's already got a head like a ping pong ball, but her smile lights up the room. They've been treating her like a queen this past weekend--whale watching, tea party, ice cream party, whatever the hell she wants. Today was the day she was supposed to go in for the full-court medical press, and I suddenly remembered that as I caught myself being a self-involved nincompoop.

So when I read/hear about twentysomethings who don't know what they want to do with their empty little heads/lives, I think of the stuff I have left to do with my life, and then I try to think of kids like this little girl and shut up. If I have too much time to worry about my own little problems, I need to take a page from my e-buddy Laura and just do something for someone else.

Or, as the article puts it, "In other words: it might just be time to grow the f@#$ up."

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