Sara Freedman has recently been dreaming of a life as a country club mom in the suburbs of Atlanta. After four years in the workplace, the thrill of buying "work" pants and standing in the Starbucks line is gone.
"I keep thinking I'm just in a rut and I'll grow out of it, but thinking about doing this the rest of my life … wow. Enter country club mom daydreams," the 26-year-old half-joked.
For millions of 20-somethings, Freedman's dilemma, commonly known as the Quarterlife Crisis, rings true. The spring, with its memories of high school and college graduations, is a natural time for reflection.
"This time of year is a yardstick," said Alexandra Robbins, author of "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived." "Not only do you have graduation as a trigger for current students, it's the anniversary of many of the most significant milestones for a 20-something."
While cutesy names have been suggested for these very real feelings, like the twixter (they're 'betwixt and between') or the adultolescent, scholars and sociologists recognize this period as a legitimate developmental stage.
"It's 'real' in the sense that many young Americans feel anxiety when faced with a wide range of opportunities in their 20s and are unsure of how to choose from among them," said Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, author of "Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through The Twenties." Arnett prefers to call these 20-somethings emerging adults.
"They have grown up as the most affluent generation in American [or world] history, so they have high expectations for life," Arnett said. "They all expect to find a job that not only pays well, but is enjoyable, and they all expect to find their 'soul mate.' "
Once past the honeymoon period with their first real job, their minds often begin to wander. With the excuse of being a "recent graduate" no longer viable, the search for a more permanent career, relationship and place to live begins. Many are stuck in front of a computer screen for hours, often posting online to pass the time.
"What the hell do I do? Is there anyone else who can relate? What is my passion? Will I ever meet the One" are among the refrains on www.quarterlifecrisis.com. With 10,000 registered users and 1 million hits per month, it's a place to meet, gripe and help each other out.
"The transition to adulthood today is a much more complex, prolonged process than it was for our parents," said Abby Wilner, who runs the site and has a career advice manual coming out called "The Quarterlifer's Companion." "According to the many 20-somethings who visit my Web site, they want nothing more than to figure everything out, move up in the world and eventually settle down, but external circumstances do not allow that to happen, and they are not properly equipped with the skills and resources to make that happen."
The statistics seem to support Wilner's views.