Comment has been following a generational dilemma that some are calling the “quarterlife crisis.” Like the old midlife crisis, it seems to have two main phases.
The first phase is what Steven Garber talks about in The Fabric of Faithfulness and what Jedd Medefind, in this issue, calls finding (or not finding) the relevance of our lives to the world. If I’m suffering a quarterlife crisis, I find that the way I do things doesn’t seem to connect to my deep passions. My work seems to yield little (or no) result. Proximate justice (or whatever good I am trying to approximate, vocationally) begins to look like stagnation. I succumb to disillusionment and depression. I know the theoretical answers to the big questions of life, but I feel unable to practically connect to those questions.
The second phase comes after successive practical failures. I start to wonder whether the things that I care about are really all I thought they were. Maybe my big questions, big ideals, big dreams blinded me to the harder truths of material and relational success? My vocations and identities are painfully ground down by perplexity.
You don’t have to be 25 to hit this wall. (You used to have to be 55.) The generational expectations of millennials yield impatience—we have been raised to expect the money, power, choices, and comforts that used to come only with an empty nest and a corner office at an earlier age than previous generations. But the pace of vocation and culture is slower than we imagined, and produces a malaise in what used to be the most energetic and engaged demographic. Our emptiness simply used to be masked by the socialized goals of things like marriage and family. But when even those start to disappoint, or are delayed, we experience crisis.
The quarterlife crisis is an opportunity to deconstruct and undo the self-indulgent, self-creative narcissism with which everyone—particularly the thoughtfully creative—lives. But with our goals never more chimerical and our identities never more fluid, this crisis offers an opportunity to press beyond who we are and into who made us. We can move past self-creative entrepreneurialism and get back to creaturely culture-making.
Comment readers and writers are seeking answers to the big questions of life with requisite fear and trembling. We need to answer our big questions in ways that are more than merely relevant, that are prophetic—not simply enough for today, but enough for what tomorrow may bring. We need what one author calls plausibility structures, or what the rest of us might just call good examples: folks who are doing it with difficulty, but with the best integrity they can muster.
We need images and practices of God that are sufficient for the world in which we live.