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Feel like life is ticking away?

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February 24, 2005 Feel like life is ticking away? Some adults are in a hurry to grow up -- others aren't. By Kimiko L. Martinez Tears were trickling down Tiffany Brown's face. It was her 26th birthday. And as family and friends gathered around the dim light of birthday candles on a cake, while singing "Happy Birthday," Brown lost it. "I spent the first 22 years of my life with this mental checklist -- get out of college, get into my career," Brown said. "I graduated and then three years later, I'm still in the same job and not at all satisfied with that. That's really where I was on my birthday, thinking, 'In four years, I'm going to be 30. Oh my gosh.' " People who've long-since passed 30 roll their eyes when they think of a 26-year-old fretting about turning 30. But Brown

Make a wish: When Tiffany Brown turned 26, she realized she had only four years left to achieve her pre-30 goals. She, like many other 20-somethings, are feeling the effects of the quarter-life crisis, a term for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. -- Pond Thaiprasithiporn / INtake

isn't alone. "People at 22 can have the same panic about hitting 30 as people who are 29 because they feel they have to plan for it," said Alexandra Robbins, author of "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived." "The 20s are not the easy time that older people assume it is."

Related content • Feel like life is ticking away? • Solving the quarter-life crisis

At 26, Brown is facing the same issues that an entire generation of 20- and early 30-somethings are dealing with. It's been dubbed the "quarter-life crisis." You're not the only one As the transition to adulthood becomes increasingly tumultuous, it's created a slew of new identity issues and inner turmoil that some liken to a midlife crisis. According to many of the new quarter-life crisis books, making the leap from adolescence to adulthood has become more complicated and stressful than it was for, say, our parents' generation. "I would venture to say that the quarter-life crisis -- the response to reaching the transition between adolescence and adulthood -- is one of the biggest (life transitions)," Robbins said. "We saw our parents' generation suffer through careers

What is the quarter-life crisis? We asked the authors of several recent quarter-life crisis books to explain exactly what the quarter-life crisis is and how it affects 20- and 30-somethings. Abby Wilner, co-author of 'Quarterlife Crisis': The quarter-life crisis has always existed as long as recent graduates have transitioned from school to

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that didn't satisfy them and a 50 percent divorce rate, and we do not want to make the same mistakes. Here, the older adults are calling us lazy and that we're stuck in an extended adolescence simply because we're not settling down when they did." Robbins points out that in addition to a tougher job market, the skyrocketing cost of tuition and the weight of student loans after graduation can make it difficult for young adults to "find their footing." "We can't afford the things that our parents were able to afford right out of college," Robbins said. "And when we're not able to afford them, other generations are quick to brand us as failures. It's ridiculous that older people believe that as soon as we turn our tassels on graduation day, we're equipped to make all those decisions associated with adulthood." Experts say there are major societal forces that are making this generations' coming of age experience more difficult than in the past. "I think, for women, that these expectations are an unfortunate fallout from the successes of the feminist movement," said Victoria Dickerson, clinical psychologist and co-author of "Who Cares What You're Supposed to Do: Breaking the Rules to Get What You Want in Love, Life and Work." "In the '60s, women couldn't easily be as independent as they are now asked to be, so what feminism created was wonderful options for women -- options that are too often experienced as expectations," she said. "The legacy of feminism has morphed from 'women can do anything' to 'women have to do everything.' " According to Dickerson, women are increasingly pressured to become the Supermom who juggles motherhood, a meaningful career, being the perfect wife and having a great circle of friends, all while maintaining that size 6 physique. And all by age 30. "And, mostly," Dickerson said, "young women aren't prepared to do all of those things." Great expectations Women aren't the only ones dealing with unrealistic expectations. The American dream of hard work leading to success combined with the influence of the Internet, drive-thrus and all the other developments that have contributed to an instant gratification society, has made for a generation of young adults who not only want it all, but expect it all, and expect it all now. "We have a sense of entitlement," said Christine Hassler, author of the upcoming book "20-Something, 20-Everything: A Young Woman's Guide to Balance and Direction During Her

the working world, only the experience today is more significant, and often more turbulent than in the past. Today, we are faced with a multitude of career options, for which we do not feel prepared. Christine Hassler, author of '20-Something, 20-Everything': Symptoms of the quarter-life crisis include a general sense of angst, constantly competing against other people, not liking who you are or where you are in life, anxiety, feeling unmotivated and kind of lazy, but feeling totally stressed out, overwhelmed and overextended, and not being able to do it all. Alexandra Robbins, author of 'Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis': I define the quarter-life crisis as the response to reaching the transition between young adulthood and adulthood . . . and can involve anything from simple self-doubt to clinical depression. It's generally a time of uncertainty, instability and insecurity, and it's often accompanied by a fear of failure, a feeling of pressure to meet others' expectations, waffling over having to make decisions, a tendency to compare yourself to others and a sense that you don't know what you want. Victoria Dickerson, co-author of 'Who Cares What You're Supposed to Do?': I think the transition to adulthood and all the responsibilities that entails has always been difficult, as

Quarter-Life Crisis."

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"It's this stupid myth of having it all, which I absolutely hate. What does having it all mean to you? What is having everything?" Advertising and TV shows seem to tout the perfect life as having a job you absolutely love and making tons of money doing, a hot spouse who worships the ground you walk on, a high-priced house in the hills (or swanky downtown loft), and maybe those 2.5 kids and a pet or two.

most transitions are, but I think at this particular juncture in our history, the young adult experiences a plethora of expectations that up-the-ante, so to speak, making it even more difficult to navigate this time in life.

It's no wonder 20- and 30-somethings are driving themselves crazy. Most post-grads feel lucky to have even found a job and to be able to pay most of their bills. But the dream of owning a home and making the big bucks are still too far down the line to even imagine, since most of that revolves around moving up. Many 20-somethings early in their careers are finding it hard to deal with that sense of stagnancy that comes after putting in long hours and not seeing the rewards. All through school you learn to work hard, get the grade and move up to the next level. But it doesn't always work that way in the "real world." Brown said she has high expectations for career growth but hasn't seen the upward mobility she'd like. "People say this generation is much more demanding in terms of acceleration in our careers," Brown said. "We want to do in three years what it took others 10 years to do. When (an employer says) it's going to take five or 10 years to move up and be where you want to be, that kind of blows your plans." Opportunity knocks Like Brown, Melvin Jackson II wants more opportunities. As a communications coordinator for USA Track & Field, with former positions with the NFL and an NBA minor-league team, Jackson's career revolves around sports. But at 31, even though he's managed to move up within his field, he's anxious to advance faster. Looking at peers from college and grad school, he sees colleagues who have become managers, directors and news anchors, and others who have even started their own businesses and are now president/CEOs. And that's a level where Jackson feels he should be, too. "I don't think I should be at that level, I know I should be at that level," Jackson said. "I could be at that level now." But opportunities just aren't forthcoming. And Jackson partly blames the downsizing trend for his not being able to excel as quickly as he'd like. "The three- and five-year plans have to be readjusted," he said. "It's just the way the economy is, I guess."

FAST FACTS • Parents provide, on average, $38,000 in material assistance, or about $2,200 for every year between ages 18 and 34 -- considerably more than in the past. • Since the 1970s, there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of youths living at home, which alone has led to a 19 percent increase in parental time and money contributions. • Although slightly more than half of men and nearly two-thirds of women have left their parents' homes by age 22, 16 percent of both returned home at some point before age 35. • Among youth aged 18 to 24 in 1973, 1985 and 1997, earnings in 1997 were the lowest of all three time periods. • Thirty percent of young adults aged 18 and 24 were living below the poverty line in 2000, a rate about double that of 25- to 34-year-olds, and triple that of middle-aged adults (35 to 64). • People hold an average of 8.6 jobs between the ages of 18 and 32. • More than 40 percent of college graduates now leave their campuses owing more than $20,000 in student loans. Among those earning

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Having a twin sister who's a medical doctor and about to complete a three-year fellowship in gastroenterology doesn't help. "When I think about where she is within her career, as well as the opportunities for quick advancement once she finishes her fellowship next year," Jackson said, "it gives me more incentive to aggressively crack the upper management ranks." Sense of purpose When parents, teachers, coaches and just about every other authority figure told us we could do anything we wanted if we worked hard enough, we believed them. So when it comes time to choose a career path, many young adults have this ideal of somehow fusing work with what they love -- be it playing in a rock band, writing poetry or shopping. "How much time is too much time to be spending doing something you don't love?" questioned Stevi Stoesz, who runs her own marketing/public relations/special events company called Blue Moon. "Thirty seconds? Ten years? A

doctoral degrees, more than 60 percent leave with more than $30,000 in student-loan debt. The State Public Interest Research Groups' Higher Education Project reports that 39 percent of student borrowers leave academia with unmanageable debt (loan payments in excess of 8 percent of monthly income are considered unmanageable). • Student loan debt has nearly doubled over the past eight years to $16,928. Sources: MacArthur Foundation's Network on Transitions to Adulthood and Bureau of Labor Statistics

nanosecond. You spend too much time doing it. If you don't love it, that's a long life of hating something." After years of climbing the corporate ladder at City Market, Stoesz finally made it to the top and hated it. Though she loved where she worked, the people she worked with and the positions she'd held along the way, landing the executive director position, just wasn't what she wanted. "Within days of holding that top executive position, I knew I wouldn't be there long," Stoesz said. But there was nowhere else to go. At 31, she was already at the top. Taking mental stock of her talents and abilities, Stoesz decided to venture out on her own and opened Blue Moon Marketing in February 2001. Like Stoesz, Sang Kwon had a similar experience of working at a place he loved but in a job he just couldn't see himself doing for the next 30 years. As a clinical capacity planner at Eli Lilly, doing clinical trial data analysis and database design, Kwon spent most of his time at work behind a computer in a cubicle. While renovating his second home, Kwon read a profile about dentists and realized that was what he wanted to do. "What I really needed to do in life was work with my hands . . . specifically with power tools," said Kwon, 31. "It felt like a natural fit to me." He continued to work full-time while completing the 12 credit hours of prerequisites he needed for dental school. He read the Kaplan entrance exam book cover-to-cover to prepare for the Dental Admission Test. "It had been nearly nine years since I touched an organic or general chemistry course," Kwon said. "But somehow, I knew that I had to become a dentist. And after completing my first semester of dental school, I absolutely know that I made the right choice. It's nice to not only feel like that's what you want to do, but you have an aptitude for it." Passions and priorities Both Stoesz and Kwon found their passions, though, after years of working in jobs that helped clarify what they wanted out of life. Many 20-somethings are disappointed when, shortly after college, they haven't found that passion yet -- or when they realize they may not be able to make a living doing some of the things they love.

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Though Stoesz hit her career transition period right around 30, she said the challenge of searching for passion and purpose didn't end when she started her own company. "As much as I love what I do, it's still not my ideal, perfect job," said Stoesz, now 36. Her innate curiosity and love for animals has her itching for new experiences and ways to apply her skills. Though she dreams of running a doggie daycare or something similar, Stoesz doesn't plan on changing careers anytime soon. "I'm beyond taking a job that isn't the right fit. It needs to be something that will stir my soul." Experts say that mentality, as great as it is for those who can find the right fit, can create unrealistic expectations for those still trying to figure out careers, passions and life paths. "There are big misconceptions about the idea of purpose and passion," Hassler said. "What if your purpose is to be a mom, or to make someone smile everyday? It doesn't have to be to cure cancer." Abby Milner, who co-authored "Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Your Twenties" with Robbins, the book that popularized the term and brought the quarter-life crisis to light, said 20-somethings need a backup plan. "I do think that it's important for 20-somethings to realize that they may never be able to make a living out of their 'passion,' " Milner said. But that's not to say your passion can't still be a part of your life, Milner said. It may just have to be in the form of hobbies or volunteer work. Flying solo Though Jackson is another one of those lucky few who seems to have found a way to mesh what he loves with what he does, the nature of his job -- frequent travel and the necessity of moving cities to move up in the field -- has made maintaining a relationship practically impossible. To make matters worse, he tends to feel like he's behind in the game here in Indianapolis, after having lived in big cities like Philadelphia and New York. "I hate to say it, but that mentality seems to be the opposite here compared to the East Coast," Jackson said. "It seems like too many people here are in a rush, at 22 years old, to be married with kids. Here, people look at me and say, 'You're 31, not married? No kids? You should have had one or the other by now.' " He's got the job and the house, but Jackson said relationships aren't even really on the radar right now. "Finding the right person is really hard because of constant travel for work and to see my family on the East Coast," he said. "You try the long-distance relationship, but it doesn't work." Brown said she had a great time dating and making friends a year ago, but uncertainty about what her next career move may be and where she might end up have put things on hold. After reading the recent hit relationship advice book "He's Just Not That into You," Brown said her perspective changed. "It really opened my eyes about relationships," she said. "Like, don't waste your time. Right now, I have no relative idea of when I'd want to be dating again or seriously involved. I feel a lot less pressure as a result of that book." She also doesn't want to be one of those people who makes dating a priority simply so she can be married by 30. "My aunt got married by 30, just because it was on the checklist of things to do," said Brown, whose aunt is now divorced. "Don't be making the wrong decisions just because you have a checklist." Look before you leap

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Though it may seem like many in the Midwest are bucking the trend, nationally, people are waiting longer to get married, which "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis" author Robbins said is healthy. Addressing those key identity issues before making the marriage leap can be key to making the relationship stick, experts say. "I think that taking our time to confront our identity issues now is a good thing, because our parents jumped into those things and only now, 30 years later, are experiencing the midlife crisis and regretting those things," Robbins said. "We're taking our time making that leap. I don't think our generation is going to have a midlife crisis because we're dealing with our issues early." Women, especially, need to be careful not to lose themselves in the multiple roles they take on. "If we don't establish a secure identity in our 20s, then, of course, when we have our children, we might lose that," said "20-Something" author Hassler. "We need to learn who we are on our own, and then that strong identity carries forward." Too often, women end up identifying themselves strictly through those roles of wife, mother or whatever job title they hold, experts say, and lose that sense of self. You'll get over it For many, the realization that they've moved from young adult or adolescent to adulthood can be pretty frightening. Hassler, who had left a prestigious Hollywood job and jumped from Chinese herbalism to personal training while trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, ended up unemployed and alone after her live-in fiancĂŠ called off the wedding. "I had no career, no money, I got very depressed," Hassler said. On top of all that, she had pretty much cut ties with her family when she'd decided to move in with her boyfriend. And when the reality of the situation started to set in, Hassler began to recognize she was on her own. "It was this sense of, 'Oh my gosh. I'm a grown up,' " Hassler said. " 'I'm not tied to my parents anymore.' " The progression from young adult to actual grown-up woman has helped Brown be more open to now listening to her mother's advice. She likes to think of her mom as an adviser. "That was one of the biggest changes between 18 and 20-something," Brown said. "I'm OK with my mom being right. And when she talks to me, I'm more inclined to listen." Finding friend and family support during the transitional years is a crucial step in overcoming the obstacle a quarter-life crisis can throw in your way, experts say. After working through the quarter-life issues developing a support network is the final step, psychologist Dickerson said. "The expectations don't go away," she said. "Young women can challenge them and create a life of their own choosing, often doing many of the things society expects from them, but in their own way."

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2/25/2009 12:13 PM

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Make a wish: When Tiffany Brown turned 26, she realized she had only four years left to achieve her pre-30 goals. She, like many other 20-so...

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