Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quarter life crisis?

It's been way to long since I posted last. I can officially blame it on deadlines for school and moving into a new apartment, but that's not at the heart of the issue. I'm convinced that I've been in somewhat of a quarter-life crisis. And after talking with some of my close friends, I realized that it's something that we all basically hit around our mid-twenties. So let me attempt to define it a little better.

Most of us grew up with our futures sketched out for us to some extent: you graduate high school, go to college, graduate with a degree that gets you a highly interesting and successful job, and then.... and then what? I mean, hopefully somewhere along the line we get married and have a family of our own but until then, what do we do? What kind of job do we get? What makes our lives fulfilling? I'll touch on the doctoral research route a little later, but my point is that after undergrad we get thrown out in the real world to fend for ourselves, to figure out who we are, and what we want to do with our lives. Stuck somewhere between leaving our parents' care and taking care of others, we have our work cut out for us just figuring out how to take care of us.

For those like me who are used to defining our lives based on our success at one thing or another, grad school is particularly challenging. For those not familiar with it, the main goal of a science or engineering doctoral program is for students to be able to define a research problem or question, design a path for answering/solving it, and at the end of it all be able to reach some conclusions/answers. There's just one catch, and the reason such degrees take so long (try anywhere from 4.5-10 years). You're going to take a lot of wrong turns, reach a lot of dead-ends, and stumble numerous times along the way, because, well, the course is uncharted. It's all part of the learning process, but is a source of major frustration when that success by which we're used to defining ourselves isn't always imminent. I'm sure some of my readers fully in the real world can make parallels with their own jobs as well.

As frustrating as it can get, I think there is a good deal of silver lining (as always) for our age demographic. Part of the reason figuring out our lives is so difficult right now is because there is so much opportunity. We're at the stage in our lives where not much ties us to any one place/career/lifestyle. We can pick up and work in a medical clinic in a third world country for a time, get involved in a political campaign, or vigorously climb to the top of a corporate ladder. And perhaps most importantly, we can move on from our failures, change our minds repeatedly, and start anew down a totally different path.

Thus, after much introspection over the past few months, I'm back in action. Which, of course, means you can expect to hear from me more frequently from here on out :)

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