Monday, September 26, 2005

5/16 Life Crisis

I am having issues. I wouldn’t call it a mid-life crisis, because God-willing I am nowhere near the middle of my life. I calculated that provided I live around 83 years, my life is 5/16 over. So, I guess I’ll call whatever funk I’m in a “5/16 life crisis.” Basically what it all boils down to is that mid-20s just suck.

I don’t feel as youthful as I used to be. I still have plenty of energy and ambition, but I don’t have the carefree naivetĂ© that comes with inexperience. I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned about the world, which means I can never see the world again through the eyes of a child or even a teenager, free of cynicism and judgment. So what does maturing and growing older mean? Does it mean coming to terms with letting go of your adolescence? Is what we think of as “growing older gracefully” really the ability to do this better than others? Is it graduating from one who receives advice and guidance to one who gives? I don’t feel qualified for that either. I feel like people in that echelon still look down on me as someone who hasn’t earned that right. But yet I find myself walking around campus, seeing freshmen and thinking, “You don’t know anything yet!” Are there still people who think that about me?

I guess I never thought being in your 20s signaled any type of transition. Does it? Okay, here’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s my age that’s getting me down or my occupation. The more time passes (as I result I grow older AND more experienced) the more I see people just not thinking for themselves. I see people believing what’s on TV, what they’re told by authority figures, what’s on the internet rather than forming their own opinions and looking critically at situations. Maybe this is because as a scientist, my number one job requirement is to question. Explore every avenue, keeping an open yet logical mind. Be skeptical, separate what is truth from simply what you want to be true. Because this methodology has been ingrained in me, I can’t help but be judgmental of those who don’t employ this type of thinking. But that doesn’t always allow me to be shed in the best light. In other words, I am terrified that I am becoming the classic intolerant scientist with a massive ego and a superiority complex, vastly removed from the “real world.” And by “real world” I mean the views of everyday people, not real current issues.

What’s worse than being the classic intolerant scientist? Being the classic intolerant female scientist. When I did my internship at a national lab two summers ago, I greatly admired my boss, but swore I’d never be like her. All of her male employees called her a bitch behind her back. She was firm, unrelenting and aggressive. I watched her fight with another lead scientist for the ownership of a $10,000 furnace and she got it. I didn’t want to be like her because I didn’t want my employees to talk about me like that. Two years later and I could care less what people say about me. If they want to call me those names for being what they themselves force me to be through their own double standards, they can bite me. Yes, those double standards are unfair, but the alternative of rolling over and being walked over is unacceptable. Every now and then I still send her an email reminding her that she’s my role model. I know it embarrasses her but it has to make her happy too. So is it an age thing, a work thing or a gender thing I’m going through right now?

When I used to think of myself, it was as a timid, gentle, quiet, patient girl. I know I am not just those things anymore, but am I any of them? And why do I care about words that describe me? If anybody has any answers to these questions, feel free to share!


lefty_grrrl said...

Google 'quarterlife crisis.' You'll turn up some interesting stuff.

The mid-twenties were midlife 150 years ago. Now, many twenty-somethings still live at home with their parents. People wait to get married, have kids, start careers. More and more people are getting college educations, even as the costs are skyrocketing.

For the modern twenty-something, there is always a feeling of being unsettled and unfulfilled. Maybe it's because things change every day. Simple things like songs and books go in and out of fashion over the course of days, weeks, and months. Less than 100 years ago, songs were popular for years!

I think that we grew up in a time that's allowed us to experience diversity and technology like no other time before. This can be jarring and I think a lot of us just feel lost sometimes.

Hence, you have a desire to know yourself. When everything is else is changing rapidly, you can be your constant. The problem with this? As a product of your environment, not a control in a lab experiment, you are always changing. Thus, you struggle to keep up with your ever-changing identity, you desire to know yourself.

I feel a lot more secure when I have a routine of some sort. You have the routine of being a scientist, of looking at everything with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I think this is both a gender and an age thing, as well as a generational thing. There's a lot of pressure on younger women right now to get married and make babies. Even the educated ones are pressured into this. The double standard is a double standard no matter what your age group.

Good luck.

mom said...

lefty grrrl, i couldn't have said it better myself, and i'm her mother

Sylvia said...

Being a scientist you are much "older and wiser" than most people your age. You have questioned and found answers to things some of us don't even know about to question. Hang onto your "Eyes of a Child" as hard as you can. Try to balance your very tough career with as much laughter, goofyness and love as you can. Cuddle with Dean, snuggle the kitties, read a fun book, go to the beach, bake a pie, eat some chocolate. Keep yourself refreshed with the really simple things and the "tough stuff" will be a lot easier to handle. I admire you and all you have accomplished very much. Treat yourself well.

Hairless said...

Things get less interesting as you get older. Like an immunity to violence. Trick is to learn to enjoy mundanity. Why did the chicken cross the road joke should set you rolling.

People are stupid. That includes you and me. Nothing to be done about it.

As for getting older, it happens. Change to studying age biology if you want to stop it. The main purpose of getting older is to become ever more inflexible. By 83 you should be right about everything and be sure to tell anyone who walks by. In the mean time, look forward rather than back. They usually give out nobel prizes a while after the discovery, so you can wait for that. Woot.

Watch out for the tuna fish.

I can use some HTML tags, such as ....

magnetbabe said...

Thanks so much for your insight. You're right about things changing so fast, and as adaptable creatures this must make us change too. My evolving opinions are a direct result of the evolving world. There is a lot of pressure for women to get married and start families. Yet, where does it fit in? We had a discussion in the lab today about the risk employers take hiring women and if it is the employers' business to know ahead of time if the woman will want to take time off to have kids. To us two women in the conversation, we were disappointed in our male colleagues' opinions. So just when are we to find time for all this? I'm earning my PhD during my most biologically favorable years. I dunno. That's a different post I guess. By the way, I googled "quarterlife crisis" and was particularly intrigued by what Wikipedia had to say. Thanks for stopping by and offering you advice. PS-Cute kitty!

Thanks for saying something at all. I was afraid I'd scared you away with this one!

Sometimes it is so hard to just let go of the stress that comes with a demanding job. Luckily, I have somebody that is very good at drawing the child in me back out. He makes sure I don't take myself too seriously or that I have an ice cream cone when I'm inconsolable. And I ALWAYS save at least 15 minutes a night for a novel. It also helps to have the kitties, three beings that I can count on NOT to change anytime soon!

I don't need to be 83 to know I'm right about everything! Usually people in the sciences have a difficult time with mundanity. You should know this, how many times have you switched jobs? Stupidity is relative. You and I are stupid compared to Stephen Hawking. However, there are PLENY of people who are stupid compared to us, some in very powerful positions. I guess I'll just keep waiting for my Nobel.

Braleigh said...

I think it's inevitable that at any stage in life there will be a funk where one will recall past years with fondness while feeling uneasy about current states...

I'm greatful that, though obviously imperfect, today's world is much more accomodating when one is choosing a path that doesn't prescribe to societal ideals.

Scott said...

I know how you feel. I am forty, soon to be forty one, and have gone through quite a few changes since my mid twenties. It's not just that people are stupid, it's that they don't know they are uninformed. I've debated with people about Iraq for instance, and I've read plenty about it, but one guy read about what the radical Muslims want on a jihadist web site and thought everyone who didn't know that they wanted to create a global Caliphate was not qualified to debate with him. I understand why that we should all be more knowlegable, but I spend lots of time pouring over information about it that I find interesting.

Geez, where was I headed with that one? I explained the concept of personal accounts to a couple blue collars at the Social Security Administration. These two thought Bush was trying to steal their money, and both were suprised when I told them the personal accounts would insure that the money couldn't be cherry picked by future politicians in a money crunch to wage war or for any other purpose. Both were stunned. I'm not sticking up for personal accounts; the point is that they didn't even have the foggiest clue about the pros and cons. Not only that, they bought into a government conspiracy theory that wasn't even remotely close to the truth. And these guys are voters.

I'm getting older too, and I was just like these two, so it worries me that our country is directed by people who don't pay attention. I hope I can raise my children to simply think for themselves. I don't want to make them die-hard Republicans (likely the effort would produce the opposite result anyway), I just want them to pay attention and make informed decisions.

Ok, I lost myself. Getting older is quite cool in many ways. I don't obsess about my looks anymore; now I look inward and focus on my goals. I wish I were always like that, but sadly for thirty years I chased some shallow dreams. Now I want to learn and grow. That alone is worth being older.

jenbeauty said...

No answers just a pat on the back to keep moving forward.

brainhell said...

It appears that you are on the right track karma-wise. Have faith.

magnetbabe said...

You are right that society is so accomodating. Of course, if it wasn't accomodating, I wouldn't have the choices I have. I would be barefoot and pregnant having dinner ready when my man got home from work! We are part of an exciting generation where things are changing, which also makes us isolated from many of our elders. Ultimately I know how lucky I am to be in my situation. My advice to you is to take advantage of as many opportunities if you can, even if it makes you confused in 5 years!

Thanks for your, er, tangent ;) You are right, "informed" is definitely a relative term. I think encouraging your children to be free thinkers and not prescribe to labels is the best thing you can do for them. It is great that we live in a nation that allows us access to all sides of an issue, even if some information is more easily available. People have a choice about how much they know, which in itself is a great thing. But like voting, being somewhat informed is a responsibility, and simple regurgitation of media is not sufficient in my opinion. Anyway, I agree that my priorities have changed, for the better. Maybe THAT's the definitation of getting older.
BTW- you mean to say I have MORE growing up to do?

jenbeauty and brainhell-
Thanks for your encouragement.
It means more than I can say.

Scott said...

Believe me, we have more growing up to do. The most dangerous people in my opinion are the ones that think they have it all figured out. Oh, and I know you were joking by the way.

Hairless said...


lefty_grrrl said...

I don't know who hijacked my brain when I wrote that. Some wiser and more secure person, obviously.

P.S. Keep writing, magnetbabe. I like your style.