24 June 2010

Freedom in Quarterlife

A few days ago, my friend Audrey posted a link to "Welcome to Your Quarterlife Crisis," by Kate Carraway over on eyeweekly.com. 

I once said, "I used to think the quarterlife crisis was my generation's excuse for being lazy. Now I feel like crap."

After reading Ms. Carraway's article, though, that old idea's returned. I still think it's laziness, but in a desperate, M. Scott Peckian sense.

I think the problem of my generation (naks) is that we don't want to commit to any one thing, lest we miss out on something else. We want to be free to investigate all these possiblities, right? Ms. Carraway sums it up really nicely:

"They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want."

One thing that's stuck with me from college theology, though, is that that kind of freedom is actually paralyzing. You get stuck in a chain of superficial relationships because you won't commit to one person. You get stuck in career limbo because you won't settle in any job. You become a chronic dabbler in a series of hobbies because any more advancement in one requires more of your time and effort.

That applies to everything, really--to get anywhere great with anything requires more of your time and effort. That's why the floundering around of quarterlifers strikes me as laziness.

The desperation comes in because people my age are scared of being so devoted, scared that the time and effort we'll put into something might be better spent on something else. There's nothing wrong with that, actually--as long as it's clear to you what that something else is. But most of us at this stage will say that it isn't.

How does it become clear? Well, to spoil the essay a bit, I'm going to quote part of the conclusion:

"Having so much — youth, ability, independence — can feel like the worst possible scenario. What remains, though, is the potential for the years with anxiety and without direction to be reclaimed. [Career counselor Marc] Scheer sees real opportunity here. 'If you feel you’re in crisis, this is a great opportunity to draft a five-year plan with steady concrete goals to help you get to where you want to be. Anyone can transform their life in just a few years.'"

Okay, let's see, five-year plan. I'm going to be a little flexible with myself and just set a few specific goals. What do I want? Not a career; that doesn't really matter to me. I want to settle down and have a family. But plans like that depend on committing to other people, and anyone who's committed themselves to another person will find that you have to make room for their own plans, plus things you can't control.

So my plans look more or less like this:
  1. Wait for Martin's surgery and recovery.
  2. Wait for Martin to complete his master's / plot his own career.
And in the meantime,
  1. Be patient, keep working, and save a lot of money.
  2. Get financial advice and put some of that money in a mutual fund or something, something that matures in three to five years. (The neat things you learn at this job!)
  3. Invest again if Martin needs more time.
That way, however long it takes Martin to do his thing, I'll be ready.

If he goes out of the country for his master's, the plan is
  1. Go on an adventure; leave Manila also.
If in the course of all this, things don't work out between me and Martin--well, God forbid. There's nothing that would make me want out, but to appease you pessimists out there, the plan would be to
  1. Go on an adventure; leave Manila.
Some people (relatives included) think it's silly of me to bind my lifeplans like this and that I should be cavorting in Amsterdam or something; you know, being free. I'm telling you, I am free.

I'm free to work toward what I really want. I'm free from worry about what to do with my life because the above points have me set for the next couple of years at least. I'm actually free to jump from job to job if I want--if I'm only out to save money and not to climb the ladder, then I don't have to stay at any one company for very long. But you know, I'm actually kinda interested to see where the current one will take me, so I'm free to do that, too.

I think that's the bottom line of Ms. Carraway's article, that freedom to choose isn't freedom until it's exercised. I think that paradox of freedom to commit is what has us quarterlifers in crisis. Deep down, we know how precious time is, so we're scared to waste it on the wrong things. The sad thing is that it takes people a while to know the right things.

And for all my talk of lifeplans here, I don't really have an answer for my generation; I can only ask, "Well, what do you want?" In my case, after reading the article, I sat myself down, asked myself where I wanted to be, and traced the simplest path to it. In the process, I saw a path that actually left room for lots of exploring on the way. My two cents is, maybe that'll work for all of us.

And if it doesn't, you're free to try something else, right?

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