Forget the Quarter-Life Crisis, This Is the 26 Year Hump
I Googled “26 years old” and one of the very first links returned was an Onion article entitled, “26-Year-Old To See Every Asshole He Ever Went to High School With On Night Before Thanksgiving.” The very next result: “26-Year-Old Unmarried Cosmo Girl Worries About Becoming a Cougar.” Well, phewf. The worst that can happen to me after I turn 26 this May is that I have a whole lot of unwanted social interactions and feel insecure and lonely, right?
I’m so over the quarter-life crisis (sorry, John Mayer) and right smack in the middle of the 26-year hump. 25 was totally anti-climactic for me. I had already been living by myself in the LES for a year, had just gotten promoted to a manager-level position, and despite having just gotten braces for the second time a few weeks before my 25th birthday, I looked hot in my mini American Apparel black spandex dress due to the fact that I hadn’t eaten for days because of my sore teeth. I was feeling pretty damn good all around, to be honest. For me and many of my friends, 25 meant changing age brackets on surveys, balancing hard work and play (but still living out both), promotions and raises, and the passionate beginnings of true love (or relationships lasting more than 2 months). 26, in contrast, is giving me pause. It means not hiding behind the “I’m too young to know better” excuse, but also not having it all figured out either. Awk.
By this point, lots of us have enough experience and skill to do more than simply execute and are no longer limited by the dreaded “3-4 years of experience” prereq for many of the jobs we feel entitled to. There’s also the breed of 26-yr-old that has spent a few years committed to TFA, Peace Corps, or some other intense effort that accelerates maturity and personal responsibility. For some, hefty bonuses, emails from corporate recruiters, grad school opportunities, or independent ventures are the reality now. To others, though, it seems like everyone else is doing better – making more money, managing more people, having more of a say.
Once upon a time, I was going to go into editing & publishing for a travel mag or work in the music industry. Then I joined staff at TFA and was only going to do that for a year before moving on to PR. When I fell in love with my job and colleagues, I stayed at TFA for 4 years. Last year around this time, I was sure I’d be in business school next year, and now I’m helping to launch a startup (www.keeprecipes.com) and am convinced that the NY tech and innovation community is the one for me. Many of my “By the Time I’m 25” promises have come and gone, for better or for worse, but I can tell you that I’m wholeheartedly embracing the uncertainty, the shift in priorities, the steep learning curve, and the potential I know I have to do more and better.
If I read “I love to go out, but I also enjoy a night in” on one more dating profile, I might scream. And yet…I get it. At 22, I was working damn hard but also going to Freestyle Mondays in the LES every Monday night at Midnight and considered Thurs. the start of my 3-day weekend. Since I know my family members and the college student interns whom I manage read this, I won’t get too detailed, but I was also pretty open to “meeting” new people. Now, though, I relish sunny Sat. mornings when I can get up whenever I want (or, more honestly, at 10 or 10:30 AM when my 26-year-old body wakes me up, no matter how much I’d love to sleep off my hangover from just a few glasses of wine), read the New Yorker or HBR that I didn’t have time to skim over the week, and cook up some shakshouka. Alone!
I actually enjoy staying home and catching up on my Netflix or Hulu queues every few Friday nights and I’m readily willing to admit that I sometimes need alone time, but I’m also starting to get a little impatient for my NYC male counterparts to turn 29 (didn”t you know? that’s the earliest they’ll put a relationship ahead of 90-hr work weeks and 3 or 4 roommates). To me, 26 means being mature enough to value commitment, but not yet ready to leave behind my to-the-bone work ethic, 4 AM Sat. night dance parties, and the occasional one-night stand.
Some 26-year-olds are married and already thinking about babies. Others are single and loving it (and also probably secretly wishing they had someone to share their knowledge, financial success, and time with). Now is the time when we’ll start seeing differences between ourselves and our peers, and we’ll just have to figure out what’s right.
And Everything Else
So, if we know enough to start profitable companies, teach others, and wait at least a few dates before going home together, but we still feel like we have lots to prove and aren’t all (*ahem* boys) ready to close the door on playing the field, personally and professionally, then what’s next?
- Do something good. Take your money (because I know there are lots of us out there who are making decent green) and do something productive with it. Be a philanthropist now. Especially since you probably don’t have time to volunteer on a regular basis (or aren’t ready to prioritize doing so).
- Take smart risks. If you’ve got an idea, there’s truly no time better than now to grab its hand and sprint off into the sunset together. You’ve got lots of smart friends with know-how, funds, and bottomless work ethics. You also probably don’t have a spouse and/or kids to take care of just yet, so you can take big risks without much consequence to anyone other than you…and you’ve got plenty of time to pick yourself back up from “failure” (whatever that is).
- Hold your horses. Don’t freak out about the title you should have or the responsibilities you deserve. While you’ve probably got a lot of what it takes to run a (if not the) show, 26 is still damn young, and there’s serious value in patience – work your hardest, don’t be greedy, and you will absolutely be rewarded with personal and professional growth.
Oh, and the fourth result that came up when I Googled “26 years old” was an article about a 26-year-old becoming the Managing Editor of The New Yorker. Natch.