October 9 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 24   

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The Roaring 20s: time of your life or a crisis?

By Kelly Marcella
Gazette Staff

Dallas Curow/Gazette
WE ARE WE ARE, THE YOUTH OF A NATION. Twentysomethings all over the world are facing many new challenges in today's fast-paced world.

"Welcome to the casino: the confusion and helplessness that strike millions of twentysomethings soon after graduation is frequently the result of the feeling they are about to gamble. Often. On their lives." The casino that authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner are describing is something they've coined as the quarterlife crisis -a phenomenon which strikes twentysomethings with feelings of overwhelming confusion and helplessness about the future course of their lives.

In their book Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenge of Life in Your Twenties, Robbins and Wilner describe this phenomenon as "a response to overwhelming instability, constant change, too many choices and a panicked sense of helplessness." The authors note the crisis manifests itself through feelings of confusion, depression, panic or simply the sheer fact of feeling overwhelmed.

This newly defined crisis lurks in the shadows of the better-known and well publicized mid-life crisis, which is the focus of ample studies, articles and even movies; most notably in American Beauty, when Kevin Spacey's character Lester Burnham quits his job, buys a sports car and resumes smoking weed after turning 40.

However, for most twentysomethings, making positive changes in their lives isn't that simple. According to Robbins and Wilner, the problem of the quarterlife crisis isn't the "doomed sense of stagnancy" of the midlife crisis, but the fact quarterlifers face too many choices and lack the guidance, focus and initiative to make these important life decisions.

These decisions loom particularly large for people on the cusp of graduating from post-secondary programs. Facing the work force, choosing a graduate program and even deciding where to live are all life-altering choices that carry a lot of weight and many people have a difficult time facing the pressure.

"There is always some degree of stress when students go out into the 'real world' after leaving the structured environment of post-secondary education. Some just have more open personalities and are better able to deal with the challenges they face," says Sharon Lee, the recruitment co-ordinator at Western's Student Development Centre.

According to Western's ombudsperson, Frances Bauer, while she's never heard specifically of the quarterlife crisis phenomenon, she does not believe it is something new. "When someone comes in with a problem, I take it seriously -I don't think 'Oh this person's just having a quarterlife crisis'" she says.

"I think the hardest part of the 20s is having to decide on whether you hang on to your dreams or you compromise -and you know there will be compromises," said York University sociology professor Rob Lawrence.

"The longer you stay in school, the more stress you eventually face about the job market. A lot of students feel the pressure to get a job equivalent to their education and the job market is very competitive," Lee explains. "People wonder if they have enough education or if they need to go on and get another degree or go to a professional school."





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