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The Quarter-Life Crisis

The Point at Which We Realise We Know Fuck All About Anything

Chatting with a work friend just the other day, she reminded me that next week was her birthday. I asked her what age she was going to be and she delightedly replied “27.”

As soon as I heard the number, I felt my stomach start to sink. “Oh, god," I muttered to myself, "twenty fucking seven." This age, as it turned out, was a pivotal age for me and one that made me realise that there really IS such a thing as a quarter-life crisis.

Going back 6 years now, I had just turned or more precisely I was approaching 27 and I was consumed with overwhelming feelings of failure and confusion. I wholeheartedly felt lost. Having just moved back from London, I remember telling one of the girls I worked with at the time that if I hadn’t found my career path or accomplished anything remotely progressive before my next birthday, I would simply turn 25 again and start over.

At that moment, I hadn’t realised I was experiencing a quarter-life crisis. Not as dramatic as a midlife crisis; I wasn’t compelled to buy a sports car or have a fling with someone half my age, but I was definitely fighting an uphill emotional struggle.

A Nagging Voice

When I turned 27, all of life’s big questions reared their ugly heads in deafening unity. Where am I going, what have I achieved, why am I not successful, why haven't I been anywhere abroad, or accomplished anything significant? Shit, I’ve spent my entire life thus far not having any real sense of direction and now it feels like it's too late!! Fun? Sure, I've had plenty of that, but anything of substance?? Panic set in.

What the fuck am I going to do?!! I’m too old to start a course or start from scratch at a new profession, but I'm too young to be settling into a 30s lifestyle with children and stability.

For the next few weeks I used my friends as soundboards, telling them my woes and in my melodramatic way asking, “where did it all go wrong?” What I discovered was they too were feeling the same sense of uncertainty and since that time I’ve heard numerous others discussing symptoms of the very same crisis.

I started to wonder, was it actually just me or could this possibly be a much more common occurrence? There are plenty of valid reasons for a person to be feeling all consumed with questions of purpose at 27—it’s a limbo age where you’re being hurried along to a maturity that you know you can’t turn back from, yet the path has absolutely no certainty about it and you alone have to decide how you proceed. All the while you’re frantically questioning yourself and hoping to god you make the right choices.

The 27 Club

I thought intermittently about it over the next few weeks and it led me to ponder other examples of people, like me, who may have found 27 to be one bitch of a conundrum. I wondered if it could in fact be an explanation for the 27 club.

If you haven’t heard of the 27 club, it’s the glamorously morbid grouping of famous people who all died at the age of 27. Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, the list continues.

Any or perhaps all of these marvellous creatives could have felt the pressures of a quarter-life crisis and not thought it relevant enough to speak out about. With a fast paced career and an abundance of cash, drugs and partying to preoccupy your time, you could easily be persuaded to bury life’s uncertainty under a cloud of indefinite fantasy.

Could this be the unfortunate cause for some of their early departures? Given the right fuel, you could certainly party a little too hard and not notice yourself entering into a danger zone.

A Pivotal Moment

This awkward age is a turning point for many and in the last few years, I’ve noticed the subject become more prevalent in conversation. Even prominent media sources have published articles debating the phenomena.

It’s the final stage before we become "grown-ups," whereby we hoped we’d have been enlightened as to what in the world we were meant to do in life. What we actually discover is we know fuck all about anything, just like everyone else who has come before us and everyone else who will come after. There really are no certainties when it comes to the question of how you should lead your life, only that life must and will continue. So what do you do?

Taking Control

Well, by definition, the sheer lack of choice in being propelled towards maturity is what makes the quarter-life crisis a crisis; so actually, you have no choice but to power through. What you do have a say over is how you go about it, so here to help you (hopefully), are some of my own realisations about growing up.

  1. The sky’s the limit. – Stan Lee was 43 when he started drawing his iconic band of superheroes, so if you don’t know what to do in life—don’t panic! You have all the time in the world.
  2. Let yourself fall down.—Rather than sit still, panicking about which direction to go in, why not start trying out the things that interest you? If they turn out to be dull or disastrous, then at least it’s one path you can cross off your list.
  3. Remember success is relative.—Some people are born lucky, others work their hands to the bone to succeed. Some are given every opportunity in life and others simply have more important things to think about than what society would define as successful. Be your own benchmark.
  4. Avoid the social bravado.—It’s common knowledge that people only really put the best of life on their social profiles, so don’t assume everyone is having a fucking ball. Chances are they’re dealing with their own crisis behind the scenes.

Apart from that, there really is no groundbreaking conclusion to this article. I hope my experience can serve as reassurance to anyone going through it themselves but most importantly, I want you to know that you're not crazy. Even better than that, you're not alone. It’s just another one of life’s glorious lessons that in time you will look back on and laugh about. I know I do.

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible” Margret Drabble
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