Quarter Life Crisis

quarter life crisis

At UCSB, I grew out my hair, lost my virginity, experienced drug-induced mind altering states, befriended inspiring mentors and friends, relaxed with the coastal elements, played chess at cafes, read novels, and discovered the world. Suddenly life sprang forth, the richness of humanity glowing beyond the brown Bakersfield Crayola I once almost despised. Yearning for knowledge and experience was met with opportunity and a culture which valued the same. If only I could study at UCSB for the rest of my life, I often thought, thriving (in some ways) in the melange of growth, fitness, beaches, and hot chicks.

Flirting with the bio department for two years, there were only so many mathematical formulas or periodic elements I found compelling or useful in daily life. I fell in love with the humanities after writing my first essay on a subject I could care less about. Enter the Global Studies Department. The beauty of human nature and potential excited me to no end and, having recently done some modeling, the head of the department made me it’s first poster child.


I wanted to explore the richness of what it meant to be human on this planet and to discover the zenith of experience in head, heart and body.


Before the start of my senior year, I was introduced to the travails of poverty, disease and corruption during a visit to my parent’s new home in Nigeria. My heart cracked at the site of skinny women carrying heavy buckets of drinking water to their homes, shifting their gazes from decomposing bodies in the gutter to look at me, a young white man escorted by machine-gun toting officials in a Land Rover worth more than they would ever see in their whole life. It was an intense time for me when the joys of my open curiosity for the world met the sorrows that lie within it. Reading about the world is much different than experiencing it. My dad was almost kidnapped three times and my mom’s safety in public was in a constant state of high risk.


Things got real, so I did something.


I founded an on-campus organization that met every week to discuss and organize teachings about global concerns. The Global Studies Youth Initiative attracted ongoing 35 UCSB student members who actively used their latest passions and research to promote solutions for humanitarian and environmental causes. It not only felt great to contribute, but to also for the first time to actively address something unpleasant. Upon graduating from UCSB, the chair of the Global Peace and Security Department awarded me their 1st Annual Outstanding Community Service Award along with a $1000 grand prize. Not that I worked hard for recognition, but it felt really good to feel ‘validated’ by my mentors in such a public way.


All my life I have aimed to achieve, to challenge myself in relatively bold circumstances. So upon graduating college, I looked for my next bold step, but to no avail. What did I want to do with my life?


Floundering. This was my new major after college. With no passion or zeal, desperate for community and purpose, confused by my life’s meaning, I kept waiting for some grand opportunity to strike. I actually felt entitled to be given something. I moved to San Francisco and got a job at Merrill Lynch with the promise of full time work if I liked it. By worldly standards, it was a good gig. Full time work, great benefits, solid company. They even let me use a vacant corner office in the bustling business district, overlooking other skyscrapers from all of my windows. The man who I reported to was middle-aged, but dead as a doornail. Spending all day in front of spreadsheets, collecting and organizing data into charts and reports, his sunken eyes contained no sign of life in them. Others on our floor had more energy, but it seemed frantic and superficial. I felt lost and scared, even angry at the prospect of ‘wasting my life’ in a stack of concrete, wearing ties every day. In retrospect, I can now articulate that what was missing for me was heart and a feeling of direct contribution to the quality of people’s lives.


But at the time, I felt small, weak and fearful.


Entering into this fog of disillusion, seeing my hopes for global grandeur give way to feeling like a cog in a giant machine, my ability to synthesize observations into a coherent understanding and to see possibilities for action was greatly compromised. This continued for several years.

The other day I came across this wonderful synopsis of what I was feeling:

“More recently, some researchers have distinguished a “quarter life crisis”. This is when people in their early twenties become emotionally, relationally, cognitively, and existentially paralyzed. They somehow project themselves into the choices and roles ahead of them and preemptively feel the emptiness and drudgery that frequently follows. Perhaps they have looked closely into the lives of their parents and their parent’s friends or had to face the daunting challenge of selecting what graduate program to to or where in the world to live. Our post-modern western world provides us with almost nearly endless possibilities. This seems like a good thing, except the culture has simultaneously taken away all criteria by which a choice could be made. Once all values are seen to be historically and culturally biased, it is easy for folks to throw up their hands in despair, not knowing what to do or even how to go about figuring out what to do. More information only makes the situation words. Like the mid-life crisis, this one can be a tremendous opening to deeply question our relationship with life and to unfold into something more authentic.” – James Flaherty


I want to explore this period of my life in more depth and detail. There was a lot of suffering during this time that I never really think about…


I remember pretending that I wasn’t miserable. At the encouragement of a friend, I rented a small room in a four bedroom house in the fog capital of the universe: Daly City. To enter or leave my room, I had to walk through someone else’s bedroom. My housemates all seemed ego driven (wasn’t I?), and I remember actually trying to hit one of them in the face because he was so stubborn. I walked a mile to the nearest Bart station to go to work every morning, and walked a mile back home every night. I would read the New York Times and stare out the windows, wondering if my time studying political struggles or world atrocities would ever amount to anything.


None of my friends lived in San Francisco. Being a young single heterosexual guy with no money felt like a big stigma. I would ask the occasional girl for her phone number, but their wealthy boyfriends or hot girlfriends ‘would probably object’.


Exercise was the only way for me to burn off steam, so I ran and lifted weights often. That combined with my long hair and nice work clothes, many gay men would take notice, asking me out. One guy offered to sail me to Japan and boink me on his yacht every day. No thanks. I don’t like sushi.


One day on the street someone recruited me for an international modeling agency. After some photo shoots and practice on the runway, I was awarded ‘best male runway’ after a large fashion show. “Oh you should go to New York – you’ll do so well there”. Suddenly, after several months of trying it out and finding some success, I made a conscious choice to disappear from it completely. It felt icky to be using appearance for money, prostituting my soul for people I couldn’t care less about. I wanted to be seen for who I was, even though I had no idea who that was. My foundation was too weak to allow myself to more fully enter the world of professional vanity. Retreating from it altogether seemed like the best option. So I moved to the woods.


Relying mostly on my rank as an Eagle Scout, I got a job in the Sequoia’s teaching 6th graders about the environment for a year. Living in my own pimped out cabin with a beautiful view of the mountains, I lead little munchkins on hikes through various ecosystems during their weeklong stays 100 miles away from their homes in the nearby valleys. Free from the city, computers, and commutes, I began to rediscover myself. Seeing kid’s faces light up when they saw a raptor for the first time, inviting them to journal alone next to the tree, and encouraging them to use nature as a place of refuge – it felt so good to be contributing again, to be helping the world in these small ways. A sense of happiness was rising out of the ashes, being expressed in myriad ways.


I wrote and performed blues songs at campfires. I sang in the shower. I cooked breakfast naked. I marveled at the mysteries of the Tao Te Ching. Small potent seeds were spreading around my consciousness, like the cones of the Sequoia’s outside my bedroom window.


Author: Sean Fargo
About Sean Fargo At the peak of his career as Director of Asian Operations for AsiaEXP, Sean Fargo traded in his worldly aspirations to explore the inner life by ordaining as a Buddhist monk for two years in the Thai Theravada tradition. Since disrobing in 2010, he has supported thousands of meditation practitioners at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, facilitated mindfulness classes in San Quentin and Solano State Prisons, and has lead several workshops at Inward Bound Mindfulness Education teen retreats. A dedicated student of spirituality and mindfulness, he has studied with Jack Kornfield, Analayo Bhikkhu, Phillip Moffitt, and many other teachers in the US and Asia. His teaching path is guided by Guy Armstrong, Senior Teachers Council member for both Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Insight Meditation Society. Founder of MindfulnessExercises.com, he offers secular mindfulness e-courses with certifications available for personal and professional skill sets. Enrolled in New Ventures West's Coaching Certification Program, Sean expects to certify as an Integral Life Coach in November 2014. He graduated with honors from University of California at Santa Barbara’s Global Studies Department in 2000. Sean offers private instruction to adults, teens, companies, and organizations. Contact Sean Fargo for more info.


  • Everyone has their own path in life, and you should focus on yours, not someone else’s. DeGroat notes that this time of your life also means becoming more aware of what you’re interests are, rather than the interests others might have in you. So when you find something you like, go with it. The sooner you let go of what others expect of you the better.

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