The term “quarter-life crisis” is nothing new. Dictionary.com defines quarter-life crisis as “a crisis that may be experienced in one’s twenties, involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life.” People often experience this soul-searching transition period in their 20s and early 30s when things don’t turn out as expected, and they feel a little lost. The Friends theme song even includes the line: “No one told you life was gonna be this way.” But as Millennials are experiencing adulthood, and as Generation Zs approach it, quarter-life crisis takes on a more serious, stressful meaning. Today, it is less about soul-searching and more about trying to survive a broken economy and coping with the overwhelming presence of social media. It appears that Generation Z will experience the same thing. Nowadays, the quarter-life crisis is synonymous with young adult burnout and has much higher stakes.
Many deem Millennials the Burnout Generation with good reason. Previous generations conditioned Millennials and Generation Zs to believe that if they are not struggling, they are doing something wrong. As a result, they pile up obligations, leaving little time for sleeping or eating. This internalized struggle-to-succeed mindset seems to do more harm than good. Sarah Hosman, a sociology professor at Emerson College, explained how the competitive nature of the current job market due to economic changes contributes to young adults’ tendencies to overwork themselves.
“There’s an increased expectation for higher education, which means more people are going to universities, which leads to increased competition [in the workforce] to differentiate themselves and make themselves stand out,” Hosman said.
With today’s dismal economy, overwhelming student debt, and the spike in home prices, life for young adults is not as easy as it once was several years ago. Owning a home, getting married, and having kids are no longer expected steps in the anticipated future for young adults. These are now aspects of a future that is not necessarily unattainable, but certainly unrealistic.
Buzzfeed News published an essay entitled “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” which discusses Millennials’ constant preoccupation with work and their careers. This causes the generation to consider simple, mundane tasks like voting or sharpening knives as a burden to be avoided. “Adulting,” which many older generations believe is just a term that describes young people’s laziness, is really a term that describes how difficult it is to do everyday errands because of generation burnout.
The author of the article, Anne Helen Petersen, writes “It’s not as if I were slacking in the rest of my life. I was publishing stories, writing two books, making meals, executing a move across the country, planning trips, paying my student loans, exercising on a regular basis. But when it came to the mundane, the medium priority, the stuff that wouldn’t make my job easier or my work better, I avoided it.”
The rise of social media contributes to this generation burnout. When presented with idealized versions of people’s lives on social media, we become dissatisfied with our own lives. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, obsessive social media use causes depression, paranoia, and loneliness because of the pressure to share things with others and to compare each other’s lives.
“Social media has an impact on people’s sense of wellbeing and social integration,” Hosman said. “We’re seeing snippets of people’s lives. It’s a very constructed sense of reality that people present.”
We feel as though everyone’s lives are perfect except for our own. Life becomes a competition, a race to see who’s more successful. This sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and the dissatisfaction of one’s reality leads to young adults questioning if the direction of their lives is the correct one and if life will forever be this stressful.
The quarter-life crisis is not just an episode of Friends anymore. Because of the current state of the economy, being a young adult in America today is as stressful as it has ever been. Millennials have not been prepared for the drastic economic changes because the previous generation expected a better future. Generation Z will have an even more difficult time, as no one knows how to solve these economic issues yet. It can be difficult to be optimistic about the future, as student debt continues to rise, the job market becomes more competitive, and affordable housing becomes less affordable. As young people approach adulthood, however, they must hope that they can do what the previous generations couldn’t, and perhaps the quarter-life crisis will no longer be associated with burning out before your adult life even begins.