by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 7-8, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- You've heard of midlife crisis, that point when you hit 50 and generally freak out. Now, in this accelerated age we are living in, there's a new malady: The quarterlife crisis.
That's right, twenty-somethings are now having the kind of emotional freakouts once associated with people a couple of decades older - or so say Abby Wilner and Alexandra Robbins, a couple of 25-year-olds who've recently written a book called "Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties."
Wilner and Robbins have garnered a lot of press for their discovery that - surprise! - the years after graduating from college can be difficult ones. This isn't exactly news. Finding your way in the world is never easy, especially when you're out on your own for the first time. But when I was 25, I wasn't having any sort of crisis. I was too busy having fun as a newspaperman.
I always think of 1986 as my favorite year. After five years of struggling and failing in radio news, I decided to take a chance as a newspaper reporter. The Worcester Telegram & Evening Gazette needed a correspondent in the town where I made my last stop in radio, Ware, Mass. I was out of work in October 1985, working as a substitute teacher and wondering where I could get some cash. A $90 a month gig as a stringer sounded promising. Who knows? Maybe I could get a full-time job. It certainly was better than just stewing over the apparent end of my radio career.
When I discovered they'd pay me $35 a story, $8 a photo and mileage in addition to my $90 stipend, I hustled to get every assignment I could. That's how 1986 became my favorite year. The phone would ring and I could be anywhere - in court covering a police brutality case or a murder trial, racing to a fire or car crash, off doing an interview for a feature story or covering other selectmen and school board meetings in neighboring towns. Quarterlife crisis? Hell, no. I was learning how to be a newspaperman on the job, story by story, the old fashioned way. I wasn't making big money, but I sure was having a good time.
My latent interest in photography turned into an obsession, as I taught myself through much trial and error to become a news photographer. My writing and reporting improved through the sheer act of getting a chance to do it. And I was fortunate to have good people at the T & G to learn from.
By the end of that year, I had three jobs with the T & G -- working in the morgue as a library assistant, working as a news correspondent and photographer and writing pieces for the Sunday magazine. I never did get the full-time job at the T & G. The papers were sold and the staff contracted rather than expanded. I eventually was laid off on the last wee of 1988. But I learned what it was like to work for a newspaper and knew I had no desire to do anything else. The twenties can be a disappointing time. I certainly saw enough disappointment in my career struggles during the 1980s. But I wanted to be a journalist and the constant hustling was the price that had to be paid. I truly believed I would succeed.
Fifteen years later, as I stand on the edge of 40, the successes and failures have come in equal measure. When life knocked me on my butt, I got up and pressed forward. From the Army, I learned the acronym for dealing with disappointments - FIDO (the G-rated translation being Forget It and Drive On). Every young person eventually learns about FIDO and the need to get up when you get knocked down. You learn which dreams to discard and which to hang on to. You learn where to make your stands and when to walk away. You learn whom you can trust and love and who will backstab you. And the lessons that stay with you the longest are the ones that hurt the most to learn. These are the realities of growing up. They haven't changed much over the years, and every generation has to discover them for themselves.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).