The conventional wisdom on work, house, and kids doesn’t necessarily fit today’s quarter-life lifestyles.
I find myself right at the crossroads of quarter-life. This past year I’ve been confronted with some of the biggest decisions of my life. Some moments have felt like jubilation while others have undoubtedly felt like crisis. Anytime you’re at points of crucial decisions, the people that surround you feel obligated to provide their input. While these people may have the best intentions, discernment is often needed when listening to all the voices in your ear. What follows are situations that I, along with my wife, have faced in the past year. Before each one is well-intentioned advice. In quarter-life, it seems choosing the advice to take and the advice to leave can make all the difference.
“You just need to find a job….any job.”
I didn’t stop going to school from kindergarten through obtaining my master’s degree just over a year ago. I then worked as a researcher in the university setting as well as for other independent organizations. I was getting paid from grant money and limited funding for temporary projects, sometimes hour to hour. I knew this wouldn’t last and when an end to the grant money was in sight I started job searching. Then the money ran out. Then the search became a struggle. I was right a middle of quarter-life, a time when people seem expected to be rooted in a career, owning a home, starting to have kids, living the dream. I felt like I was on a different planet from those things with no way of getting there in sight. But I still had my standards. Despite voices here and there telling me otherwise, I wasn’t going to just settle for a job that I didn’t want to do, that I couldn’t wait to leave before even getting started. So I held out and the search continued.
“You have a job—what’s the problem?”
In the meantime, my wife was in the midst of seeking to change jobs. She was doing something that she never really set out to do. It was in her general field, but definitely not lining up with the goals she had for herself. She wasn’t content to keep doing this and was ready to walk away entirely, giving up the security, if she didn’t find what she was looking for. People didn’t understand this. They either thought that just having a job should be good enough or that leaving a job without the certainty of another was simply not done. It was difficult to find support, particularly from those who had held the same job for 40 years and those who didn’t like their jobs either, but felt obligated to continue doing them anyway. So she continued searching for what she really wanted.
“When are you going to start having kids?”
The expectation is that you find a significant other, get married, and have kids. I have peers that have followed this progression. Some more than once. My wife and I sometimes get asked when we’re going to start having kids. Our answer: it’s not on our radar. We haven’t even decided if, much less when, we’re going to have kids. Most people we come across act like it’s an obligation. When we mention the alternate possibility of not doing it at all, we’re sometimes met with not just confusion, but resistance. At this quarter-life point, we’re honestly not relegated to one outcome or another when it comes to having kids. But if we do, it will be because we really wanted to, not because of any perceived requirement.
“Why do you want to rent? You’re just losing money.”
The signal that you’ve arrived in quarter-life seems to be the purchase of a home. You’re planting roots, you’ve got long term plans, you’re set. I’ve decided not to do that. When my wife and I tell people that we’ve decided to rent, we’re usually met with opposition. We’re inevitably told all the advantages of buying a home, as if we had never thought of any of that before. Because we’re two career-minded individuals, we would like to remain transient. This doesn’t make sense to some people. It’s almost as if you either have it all figured out so you’re ready to settle down or you’re a drifter with no direction. There seems to be a dissonance in the thought that one could be doing just fine while also remaining mobile.
I am happy to say that although it took longer than what many may have been comfortable with, I found a job that I enjoy and feel accomplishment in doing. I’m even more proud to say that my wife recently found what she was looking for in a start to the career she wanted. Kids are still not on our radar. I’m in quarter-life, there’s no rush. Perhaps most importantly, my wife and I have been able to start careers while still remaining transient. This is important to me because without settling down I have a sense of freedom. There is a multitude of opportunities out there and I don’t want to be closed off to any of them. As someone in his mid-twenties who is still growing up, I feel this gives me the best chance to maximize my potential. What better way is there to be a good man than one just trying to live up to his potential in the midst of quarter-life?
—Image of trajectory of the road courtesy of Shutterstock