I recently read a very interesting article about the quarter-life crisis, a new phenomenon that has sprung up as a result of – get this – too many choices. The piece, published on Eyeweekly.com, argues that “You can’t make any decisions because you don’t know what you want. And you don’t know what you want because you don’t know who you are. And you don’t know who you are because you’re allowed to be anyone you want. How messed up is that?”
In other words, society as a whole has been putting a wholehearted effort into dispelling labels and expectations and therefore, little to no energy has been designated to studying that effort’s consequences. This generation, my generation, is supposedly somehow stunted because we’re having to think for ourselves rather than following a set career path. Too much freedom, it seems, is actually causing this minor panic – this quarter-life crisis. People aren’t used to freewheeling through life without labels and answers; seems like the unbeaten path may have a few pools of quicksand after all.
But, like Frou Frou said in their lyrics, made famous by a spin through indie flick “Garden State,” there is indeed “beauty in the breakdown.”
The beauty of living in NYC doing what I love at such a young age (yes, I’ll still call it young…) is that I really can’t live life with excuses. Now is the time to hustle, to learn to live life through the ups and downs and really explore all my options because I am not constricted by labels, have not yet been pigeonholed, am still learning about the ins and outs of the “Real World.” The 20s is the time for roadtrips, heartbreaks, marathons, new jobs, bad jobs, too many commitments, no commitments, solitude, too many people, new ventures. Settling into your life – well, you can always do that later.
This isn’t to say that life needs to be lived recklessly, but there are definitely things that you can get away with when you’re younger. Like dreaming. Or making mistakes. Life is short. At the end of the day, isn’t quality of life more important, since quantity is never guaranteed?
Life never has to get stagnant. It can, of course, all too easily, but it doesn’t have to. The system. Comfort. Security. These are the things we’re always taught to abide by, and sometimes to a fault. America is arguably spearheading the capitalist culture – join the rat race, find your own lane and speed ahead as efficiently as possible toward some sort of coveted end-goal.
Living life by a certain structure is still the norm, even with efforts to make us think otherwise. This is why people who veer off course don’t exactly fall into the categories of success we have set before us; they are often outsiders, rebels, strange. Some rare few make the crossover, blazing their own trail and accumulating a following enough so that they end up leading the pack.
But these are the exceptions. Because while our schooling teaches us to think independently (well, depending on what field you were schooled in), it also focuses on teaching us about guidelines.
Writing with lines. Art within a structure. Jobs that follow a preset path. And while I know it would be naive of me to lambast these standards and call them foolish – that would be ignorant, for that kind of structure and system lets society function properly – while I realize this, I also know that the reason why fantasy and rebels and criminals and celebrities fascinate us so much is because they have so much abandon.
Artists, musicians, risk-takers, they live the life that we all want. They have the kind of freedom I’m sure most of us simultaneously envy and fear. But why does there have to be a separate them and us? Why can’t we live these lives? Take the best of the worlds that we know and really have a hand in shaping our existence?
I like labels. On food condiments, hair products, items that I purchase. Mostly because this gives me a way to judge the standards of the product and item. I know a brand like Sara Lee will have quality bread. I know the store-brand bread might be just as good but will cost me less. I know about brand loyalty.
But I also know that if you remove all labels and preconceptions, these items can taste identical. So why not apply this to people? Why not stop trying to fit the mold of what it means to be an engineer, a law student, a journalist, a guy, a girl? Why not try to create an identity and avoid the labels altogether? It’s scary because there are no means of comparison that way; no means, that is, except to yourself. But sometimes this is the best way, and the only way to make true progress.
By doing something so dramatic, you’re willingly isolating yourself so you can self-examine, have no one to live up to, no expectations to meet but your own. This is what New York has done for me. It’s stripped me of my labels, allowed me to figure out my own constitution, my strengths and weaknesses and how to deal with them.
You can’t break the rules until you know them – but labels are not the only way to form your existence.
Life is for living, and part of the game – no matter how far along you are – is figuring out on whose terms you’re playing.