Book Review: Quarterlife Crisis

When I recently mentioned my interest in the book Quarterlife Crisis, GRS-reader Laura volunteered to review it. She didn't find it as useful as she had hoped.

I've just finished Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner.  Let me be clear: I am not the right audience for this book.  I am 33, married with a young child, and have been out of college and active in my career for over ten years.  The authors do say that if I am a “concerned parent, friend, colleague, teacher, neighbor or relative who merely wants to understand what it is like to be a twentysomething in the twenty-first century,” then it is also acceptable to read the book, so here goes.
 
Because I had read some of the columns and blogs written by these authors, I was under the impression that this book would be full of advice for twentysomethings during their “crisis”.  That is not the case.  This book is literally a compilation of one hundred interviews conducted with twentysomethings on coming-of-age topics.  That's it.  These quotes are segued and sectioned for easy reference, but the only revelations offered are those from various people listed by their (not real) first name, age and location.  Some of these people are insightful, while others are just whiny.  There are a few nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from this book, but not from the authors — only from their interviews.  I had never read a book that was written this way, and I found it a little monotonous. 
 
I can only say that if you are twentysomething and feel life outside college is like escaping from Heck into Hell — you are not alone! There are at least 100 other people who know exactly how you feel.  It's scary and complicated, expensive and frustrating.  If you are looking to commiserate with other twentysomethings, please read this book.  If you feel like it's not worth living to see thirty, the authors have resources for you at quarterlifecrisis.com.  If you are feeling like “there should be more than just this” and are looking for a more purpose-driven life, there is another book that may interest you…
 
I did learn a few things from these interviews.  Because of this book I now have a plan to prevent my little boy from facing a Crisis when he reaches his quarterlife:
 
1. Have a Strong Faith
Many of those interviewed said they only had a strong faith in friends and family. A few even said that their anchor was college.  What if you move to another state?  How long can you attend a four-year college? Cling to something eternal — everything else is shifting sand.
 
2. Learn how to Choose with Consequences/Set Goals to Achieve
It amazes me that so many of the interviewees for this book had never faced difficult choices before.  It seems their parents made many of their choices for them, and they were paralyzed when they had to choose for themselves what to do after college.  They hadn't thought about it, and just did what their parents expected of them without any idea what to do after that.

My little guy is only 18 months old.  He already gets to pick what he wants to wear and chooses between marshmallows and candy (just for dessert).  He is learning now that when he makes a choice, he doesn't get to go back.  You can't always have your marshmallows and eat your candy too.  It's difficult, but a good lesson at any age.  Choose what you want and know what you need to do to get it.  Right now he just has to say “please” but later that will translate to saving for toys and doing chores for special treats.

3. Remain Optimistic
The world can be a rough place.  See the good in people.  See the sunshine for the clouds.  Know that because things change, they can also change for your good.  There were many, many twentysomethings in this book that felt like things were not going to change for them.  They were stuck and didn't see a way out.  The few folks who worked toward that light at the end of the tunnel fared much better than their dour counterparts. Keep your chin up, baby!
 
4. Learn the Value of Money and How to Use It
This was another whammy for many Crisis twentysomethings.  Many had never held a job until they graduated from college.  They experienced a big transition between school and work.  The hours and pay were very different from what they'd expected.  They racked up debt along with student loans because they didn't know about compound interest.  Here's a tip: read any contract before you sign it. And if you don't know what something in the contract means — ask! 

I will do my best to teach my child to save money.  He will have to spend his own money on things he wants (if it's not his birthday or another gift-giving holiday).  He will have a job while he is in high school, and certainly one while he is in college.  He may even have to pay his own way to college (as The Millionaire Next Door points out, this is a common theme for the wealthy who care).
 
5. Don't Count on Mom and Dad
This may seem obvious, but many of these interviews that were conducted from a parent's basement!  These young folks had hit a bump in the road and went home to recuperate.  While leaning on your parents for emotional support is okay, coming home for financial support should be rare.  I love my little boy very much and as soon as he moves out I am redecorating his room.  I want him to know he is on his own.  “Good luck Sweetheart!  Call anytime!”

6. Give Up Dating
I know that sounds strange.  Dating only covered a portion of this book, but meeting “the one” was a concern.  Apparently there is some pressure to be married by 30.  My advice to my son is: Don't worry about it.  The more you focus on the other important things in your life, the more likely you are to run into love.  Here's an even stranger tip: If you actually decide not to date, when word gets out, there will be a bevy of women who consider your decision a personal challenge.  Be careful!
 
7. Volunteer
There is a time in our lives when our world is the only world. What if I don't get promoted?  What if I never meet anyone in this new town? What if I end up staying in my hometown and all my college friends leave? Guess what? It really doesn't matter much.  Get out of your own head and into someone else's.  Want to meet new people? Visit shut-ins. Serve soup at a homeless shelter. Candy stripe.  Tired of your tiny apartment? It's not like sleeping in a bathroom stall, honey.  Nothing changes perspective on the stress in your life like helping an elderly man check to see if he has enough oxygen in his tank to breathe through the night. 

For more information, visit:

  • quarterlifecrisis.com, the book's official site, has a very active discussion forum.
  • Washington Post: Q&A with author Abby Wilner
  • USA Today: Q&A with author Abby Wilner
  • The official site of co-author Alexandra Robbins (and a companion site, quarterlifecrisis.biz)

Abby Wilner has also written The Quarterlifer's Companion. Alexandra Robbins also wrote Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived. It sounds as if the former may actually offer the advice that was lacking in Quarterlife Crisis.

Thanks to Laura for her honest review. If you would like to review a book for Get Rich Slowly, or to contribute in any other way, please drop me a line.

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Sandy J
Sandy J
13 years ago

Interesting review – made me think this book is probably not for me as well. I am 24 myself and sometimes feel like I am facing a “quarter life crisis” – although I laughed the first time I heard the term :). I have worked in my current job (a good job) for coming up on three years, and I’m starting to ask myself “Is this really what I want my life to be?” I have to disagree with the author, though, that her steps to diverting a crisis are all you need. I “fit” pretty much all of the… Read more »

Emile
Emile
13 years ago

About the first point: I’d like to point out that I’m an atheist and was raised in a respectable nothing-fearing atheist family, and am now 25; I started working a few months ago, don’t have any credit card or student debt, and didn’t have to rely too heavily on my parents for my studies (admittedly more do to public schools and scholarships than working).

So, a strong faith is not a prequisite to a balanced life (though I understand that churches can provide some support, especially if you’re alone in a faraway place, which is good).

Ben
Ben
13 years ago

Speaking as a 22-year-old who’s actually going through all this, I can’t help but want to respond to tip 6. “Some” pressure to marry by 30? I’m male and it’s not insignificant; for my female peers, it’s a massive social force. Besides, who says it’s about marrying? I enjoy being in a relationship, period. It makes me happy. Why should I just “give up” on looking for one? It’s good advice to not stress about it, and focus on the thing you enjoy while hoping/expecting to find someone in the course of doing those things. But for some of us,… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

Just a reminder: Get Rich Slowly has no official religion or political viewpoint. Privately, I have plenty of opinions, but I don’t intend for this site ever to cling dogmatically to any one belief. However, that’s not going to prevent topics from being discussed now-and-then. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Laura’s points, but I appreciate her position, and the time she took to formulate these ideas. I think that any parent who is this intent on providing a good start for her children is going to see them grow in to fine, strong adults. In particular, I too,… Read more »

pts
pts
13 years ago

Regarding point 1 — I don’t see how “having a strong faith” is so essential, especially so essential that it’s the very first point. The religious faith that I had been raised with turned on me in a variety of ways in my early twenties; one of the major challenges I had in my “quarterlife crisis” was coming to the realization that there was no Authority who was responsible for my life other than myself. Now 28, I’m generally happier than I’ve ever been before. “Clinging to something eternal” is a nonsense phrase. I’m prudent, both morally and financially, but… Read more »

2 Pennies Earned
2 Pennies Earned
13 years ago

I read this book a few months ago. If it is supposed to help me, as a twentysomething, feel better about this stage of my life, then it failed miserably (judging by resale value of this book–about 75 cents–I’m not the only one who feels this way). If anything, reading so many tales of lost young adults just made me depressed. The book is somewhat interesting if you read it from the perspective of exploring a social phenomenon, but for anyone actually looking to avoid or escape a quarterlife crisis, this is that last thing you should read.

sfmoneygal
sfmoneygal
13 years ago

I read one of those books last year during one of my real quarter-life crisis. And it made me think alot about if I was doing enough or what I wasn’t doing to change things around or reach out to mentors for help. I’m in a weird spot right now in my life … living and working in the bay area having grown up here. part of me is tired of it but i’m going to be patient, work hard and get out there and challenge myself. But tip #7 is really great. i’ve been volunteering a bit as a… Read more »

cephyn
cephyn
13 years ago

I’ve read it. It was a fun little “you’re not alone feeling this way” book, but really all I got out of it was a “be at the right place at the right time” kind of feeling. Fantastic.

And in my experience, deciding not to date doesn’t lead to hordes of women clamoring for a challenge, it just leads to a lot of lonely nights. Crap advice.

Russell Heimlich
Russell Heimlich
13 years ago

I read the Quarterlifers Companion (note the orange cover) and foundit very helpful for getting out in the real world. I think the author of this post would much rather pick up this copy rather than the one she did.

http://www.quarterlifecrisis.com/QLCompanion/index.shtml

Angela
Angela
13 years ago

I think that Lara’s point that many of the interviewees had only a strong faith in their friends/family/college and this contributed to their feeling of crisis is a good one. If you broaden the word ‘faith’ outside of its religious context then its a useful concept. Believing that something is important (like world peace for example) would probably help with the ‘what do I do now?’ feeling. At least it helps me. Relating all this back to personal finance. Lots of people’s overspending has an emotional element to it. Seeking ways to overcome dependency on retail therapy is likely to… Read more »

Broke College Student
Broke College Student
13 years ago

I’m 25 now, but was about 22 when I read this book. I didn’t really identify with the folks in the book who were having their existential crises about the “Real World”…my father died when I was 15 and thanks to a mother who has the WORST financial sense ever, my sister and I have been managing our own finances and lives ever since. I thought the book would have more advice than it did; while it’s nice to see one is not alone in their thinking, I was looking for a little more of a structured approach. Worth reading… Read more »

Penelope Trunk
Penelope Trunk
13 years ago

I write a column for the Boston Globe. My column starts with the idea that we know there is a quarterlife crisis and asks the question, What to do about it?

I interview hundreds of people a year about this topic, including Alexandra Robbins.

(In fact, I read this blog because the advice is so much more relevant to young people than the finance advice from book authors who pitch ideas to me.)

Anyway, the advice I find, once compiled, is sometimes surprising. Here are some examples:

Skip grad school
http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2005/08/01/is-grad-school-right-for-you/

Job hop
http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/12/24/good-news-for-job-hoppers-frequent-change-maintains-passion/

Move to a smaller city
http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/11/12/how-to-decide-where-to-live/

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