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My Quarter Life Crisis

  1. May 4, 2009 #1
    My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    I have no idea what I want to do. As a kid I attended several summer gifted programs for physics/math/astronomy (believe it or not), and I always thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do: study astrophysics. But I also liked studying everything else. And I do mean everything. Every field of science, or language, or anything at all really. I always thought I was go to school for astrophysics and that the rest were just hobbies.

    Then I started college and the first year and a half or so this seemed to hold true (I started college very young), but by the time I finished my degrees I wasn't sure anymore. It wasn't that I didn't like or wasn't good at theory anymore (save for thermo...), but it just wasn't the same. When you're a kid and in "nerd camp" it's all about the science/math/learning experience, but when you're an adult it's not. And that reality was unpleasant.

    After I finished my degrees (last year) I continued working with computers (which I did through undergrad) while beginning to try to figure out what I do and do not like...trying to figure out what I like enough to do 40 or more hours per week and what I like to do as a class or hobby. I just was wondering if anyone has any advice about how to figure it out, or if there are any places that are good for online classes for me to just play around with so I do something besides eat, sleep, take care of my crazy home life (my girlfriend is very ill), and go to work.

    Thanks for reading, any advice appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 4, 2009 #2

    Choppy

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    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    Personally I think there's a bit of a misconception out there, that people are all destined to one day stumble on the careers they are destined for and that those who don't figure this out before they turn twenty one are somehow missing out.

    To this, all I can say is that there are good paths out there and many people have more than one good option.

    But if I understand what you're asking, it more about what to do when you're not happy with the path you're on.

    Unfortunately, the physics you learn in science camp isn't exactly the same as the science you write your Ph.D. thesis on. Somewhere between high school and the thesis defence just about every physicist figures out that he or she is likely not going to discover the secrets of time travel or wake up one moring and scribble the 'theory of everything' on a bedroom mirror. Unfortunately it is far too common to wake up and realize that the problem he or she is working on, really isn't that exciting.

    The best way I know to figure out what to do with your life is to keep exploring. There are lots of online classes, but you have to figure out which one you want to take. If you're disillusioned with most of what you've done so far, why not shake things up? Enroll in something that's a little off the wall for your background - perhaps drama, journalism, or business management? Last year my wife built a cedar-strip canoe and loved it. Another option is to try job-shadowing someone to investigate a new career and make some connections.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  4. May 5, 2009 #3
    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    Choppy: Thanks for the response :)

    Actually I found that I was happiest at SSP (which I've mentioned elsewhere), even though we were writing our own programs to do asteroid orbital determinations (nothing "glitzy" that involved quantum mechanics or etc.) I didn't even mind my REU where I doing solar physics. Just something about the physics environment, in general, seemed to really start to depress me. (Minor edit: Basically I like science for science, not the thought of fighting for tenure, fighting for money, fighting for...anything else besides scholarly debate, honestly.)

    I have been thinking about archaeology as I've been teaching myself Egyptian hieroglyphs and studying various cultural myths (not all Western) since I was small. But I also think it would be awesome to do is work with bones either ancient or modern, or even work as a lawyer and help people out.

    Although I agree that I don't need one track in life, I would be really happy if I could stay in a career for at least a decade after I finished grad school rather than going in blind. The only thing I know I like are puzzles, I like the process of converting what I don't know to what I do know, which is probably why I like studying archaic languages and some of the stuff I mentioned before. I just don't have a clue how to choose a major or career as "puzzle-solver". Does that make more sense?
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  5. May 8, 2009 #4
    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    you have to accept that life is disappointing. when you're a kid everything is magical and fun and exciting. then you grow up and things really aren't like that. it's a cynical person who expects more from something than it has to offer.

    in a certain sense looking for something as exciting as you expected it would when you were a kid is the same thing as looking for meaning in life. it doesn't exist. you have to create it. hence you have to make it exciting by which i mean you really have to convince yourself what you're doing is exciting.
     
  6. May 8, 2009 #5

    Choppy

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    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    Ice109 - I think your definition of cynical is a little off. Cynics are those who expect the worst, in spite of higher potential.

    I would also argue that while life certainly has disappointments, defining it entirely as disappointing only sets one up for disappointment and depression. Something I've come to realise is that in order to be happy, one needs to be open to life's pleasant suprises.
     
  7. May 8, 2009 #6
    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    I can certainly relate to you. I have numerous interests in diverse areas, mathematics and logic, philosophy, language, art and music to name the few that I have devoted a great amount of time to.

    I think that the only way to survive without becoming a depressed, misanthropic cynic is to continue to hold some sort of goal that is not necessarily impossible to reach but so difficult or unlikely that it will become a lifelong pursuit.

    Also, simply continue to challenge yourself with everything you can. Take time out of your day to contemplate on the problems you observe and keep some sort of notebook to catalog your thoughts in. I think that a meaningful traversal through your thoughts and perceptions may elucidate the direction you need to go in. I know that long introspection has helped me to cope with the abrupt change at least to some extent.
     
  8. May 8, 2009 #7
    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    Every job has boring parts. You aren't going to avoid it. You just have to take the good with the bad.
     
  9. May 8, 2009 #8

    turbo

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    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    Here you go! Knock yourself out! I especially like the videos of presentations at the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Perimeter Institute.

    http://web.mit.edu/people/cabi/Links/physics_seminar_videos.htm

    You can also pick up a very mundane, but under-studied subject and mine publicly-available databases for information. I'm interested in astronomy, and because of some quirks in the redshift distribution of loosely-bound clusters, I decided to do a study on redshift distributions on apparently-interacting galaxy associations of the M51 type. I was soon joined by two very sharp collaborators (one in Finland and one in NY state), and after a couple of years of grinding work (stuff normally foisted off on grad-students) our paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal. I had never bothered getting a degree, so getting published at the age of 56 was kind of a kick.

    Tip: try not to define yourself in terms of the job that you do to earn a living, and keep learning new things every day.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  10. May 8, 2009 #9

    chroot

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    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    When I'm feeling down about the dull reality of the world, I try to focus on small joys, like making a good meal, learning a new song on my guitar, or curling up with my girlfriend.

    When you're a kid, the concept of being a working physicist or engineer or whatever is so alien, so far above you, that it seems almost magical. The media has a hand in this, too, because it portrays intellectuals so strangely. I once had a conversation with a young boy who had the impression that physicists spend their days sitting in elaborate wood-paneled lounges, smoking pipes and philosophizing about worm holes.

    In reality, life (for all of us, including physicists) is mostly a series of similar events. You eat, you go places, you sleep, you eat again. Because of their familiarity, most people try to minimize the amount of time they spend doing these everyday things, as though they are beneath us. We turn our meals into fast-food binges, we drive cars everywhere, we set alarm clocks to force us awake early and become addicted to caffeine to let us stay up late.

    If you want to find happiness, try slowing down. We're just animals, after all. Learn to wring every last bit of pleasure from your most basic activities. Open a bottle of wine, put on some music, and spend a few hours really enjoying the preparation of a meal. Savor the experience -- the smells, the tastes of individual ingredients. Take your time; there's a lot to enjoy. Walk around your neighborhood frequently; enjoy watching children play in the evening twilight. Watch the trees bloom and change. Take photos, write sonnets, play games with friends. Go to farmer's markets, smile at children, send random greeting cards to friends. You'll find the greatest joy in the smallest details, if you just let it in.

    - Warren
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2009
  11. May 9, 2009 #10

    G01

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    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    I love physics, but I also find that if I spend too much time doing nothing but physics, I get very disillusioned and depressed about it.

    I found that I need to make sure I leave a little time for other aspects of life. For scientists, this can seem hard, but I assure you it's doable. You should try to find something else you can enjoy. Join a book club. Learn an instrument. Take up a hobby. Start training in a sport or martial art. Do something different. I find when my life doesn't revolve only around physics, I appreciate physics a lot more.
     
  12. May 11, 2009 #11
    Re: My "Quarter Life Crisis" :(

    That was beautiful...
     
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