WWW

The Quarter-Life Crisis and Sports: While We’re Waiting…

eBay/ernieatqrstuv

Happy Thursday, Cleveland. The Indians added another bat to the lineup, the Cavaliers’ offseason continues to have me drinking Maalox straight from the bottle, and the Browns are mere hours from playing a real live-action football game on Thursday night. But while we’re waiting…

Everyone is well-aware of the “midlife crisis.” The midlife crisis is a persistent presence in American culture as a plot device and a recognized psychological phenomenon. One doesn’t need to see American Beauty, Office Space, or any Wes Anderson movie to be familiar with the more contagious cliches: the torrid extramarital love affair with the poolboy/yoga instructor, the frivolous sportscar purchase, the explosive professional meltdown, the self-destructive bender. The midlife crisis is so prevalent that it’s less an affliction than a celebrated rite of passage and voyage to self-discovery: rebirth at midlife.

Although my propensity for outright stupidity has me skeptical that I’ll reach 50, I still think I’m ineligible for a midlife crisis at 28 years old. A term I hadn’t heard but assumed existed (it does) was the “quarter-life crisis.” I didn’t invent the periodic episode of reflection, doubt, restlessness, apathy or yearning. Nor am I the first 28-year-old to ask “big questions” or sit outside and think how the stars are profound or briefly turn into a vegetable during “staff meetings.”

My quarter-life crisis has primarily been a twofold plight of identity and time. For students, time is short yet feels slow because you’re postponing “real life” and want it to end. Later in one’s 20s, the days can still feel long but the weeks, months, and years rapidly speed up without relent. There’s no way to stop it. You get a job, you get a second job, you try to jam some hobbies and a social life in there, and the time disappears like the space in a suitcase. Trying to add kickboxing or painting to your life is like trying to fit that last shirt in your luggage just in case you drip mustard on your shirt or you’re just “not feeling that color” of your other shirts.1

We’re defined by the things we do, but there’s not enough time to do all the things we want — eventually we start to lose control over our own identity. The more I learn about the world, the more I want to experience it. But there’s never enough time. I don’t read enough, exercise enough, cook enough, clean enough, write enough, travel enough, sleep enough, socialize enough, listen enough, explore enough, tweet enough, “engage” enough, practice guitar enough, talk to my family enough, go to enough concerts, fix my bike enough, work enough, or play enough.

When am I going to learn how to surf, catch up on Game of Thrones, or read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? When am I going to learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube? I want to own a dog, learn Python, buy a photography book, and visit all the national parks. When? There are movies on the AFI 100 I haven’t seen, and highly touted burritos I haven’t eaten. I haven’t played video games in years, and I love video games.

And as much as I’d like it to, a quarter-life crisis can’t be solved by sabotaging a relationship, moving cross country, taking a trip to Europe, reading Infinite Jest, developing a drinking problem, or getting a gig writing for a sports blog.

This isn’t meant to be depressing. But there is an anxiety associated with being unable to slow the roll of time. It’s like we spend so many years biking uphill, so desperate to get to the top, only to find that just over the crest of the hill is a steep decline and there are no brakes on the bike — we’re just rapidly accelerating toward the bottom

This is a good problem to have. It’s like I’m at an all-you-can eat buffet, with my biggest regret is that my stomach isn’t big enough to eat everything. Sure, I had soup, salad, steak, potatoes, broccoli, garlic bread, and that Nilla wafer banana dessert pudding that they have at every mediocre buffet. But … I want lobster too. It’s a small price to pay for curiosity with a strong appetite.

And my life is spectacularly easy and wonderful, all things considered. I’m guessing all my problems of a time deficit are compounded times ten for people with children. (Which I can’t even comprehend.)2 Maybe it’s a uniquely American impulse to always feel torn between working too hard and not working hard enough. Maybe I should feel so lucky to live in a time in a place to have the luxury of being discontented.

I thought the midlife crisis had an elevated place in American pop culture, perhaps because it’s more dramatically interesting to watch something unravel than something that was never raveled to begin with. But giving it more thought, I realized that’s not necessarily true. The quarter-life crisis has a place in culture and art, if less so than its more mature predecessor. There are entire genres of music based on late-20s malaise, and Clerks, Reality Bites, The Graduate, and several Noah Baumbach movies3 typify what one of Baumbach’s characters called an “emotional paralysis” of post-college life. Go even further back, and Catcher in the Rye and every John Hughes movie captured a similar identity crisis for younger people. One psychologist suggested there are eight crises humans face over the course of their psychological development. Summarily, no one has any idea what the hell they’re doing at any age.

And where do sports fit into all of this? Well, they help navigate our lives for a few reasons. 1. Most good art — including that about sports — is about this internal struggle for identity (watch a 30 for 30 doc if you don’t believe me); 2. Nearly all people participate in sports when they’re coming of age as a kind of competitive crash course for life lessons; and 3. Sports have become an international shorthand for self-identity. In many ways, the third reason is the most important. Life is hard, so watch the Indians. Talking to your dad about life is hard, so talk about the Browns. Confronting the meaninglessness of life is hard, so argue about the Cavaliers.

Much has been written about sports as a form of escapism. Which it is. But it’s also a form of realism — a powerful grounding force when reckoning with the unreality of a warped existence. Sports are an anchor in time: in the past, present, and future. Memories of 1995 and 2007 and 2016 are etched in the past, lending context to everything that happened in my life around that time. While a Tuesday at work in June 2014 is indistinguishable from a Tuesday at work in June 2016, the Cavs’ championship run in 2016 sharpens and colors what otherwise would be a blurry picture. Watching a game live is dropping an anchor in the river of time, mooring me in the present for three hours. The infinity of the future is overwhelming, and while my head hurts thinking about 2023 in the abstract, the knowledge that Jose Ramirez could still be under contract with the Indians and that the Browns will be on only their third or fourth regime change from now makes life’s possibilities more manageable.

The certainty of sports lends comfort. Even more than weather’s seasons, sports seasons are excellent for marking time and slowing its passing by orienting us and reminding us when and where we are. It’s not just some week in October, it’s Week 6 of the NFL season. It’s not just Thursday, but the day RGB posts a picture that there are 0 days remaining until the start of the preseason.

Some may find that our reliance on sports to define our identities retards development, but I disagree. Sports aren’t an excuse to abdicate self-improvement, but they fill in the blanks when that process is especially challenging. Whether it’s because you’re thousands of miles from home, or dissatisfied with your job, or can’t sustain a successful relationship — on a Saturday in fall you can find someone nearly anywhere in the world with a Buckeye jersey who’s willing to be your friend. So whether you’re 28, 17, 35, or 65, grab a seat, order a beer, split a pizza with me, and tell me again why the Browns will win the Super Bowl this year.

Your Calvin and Hobbes strip of the day. Today, the 2017 Browns have that New Year spirit. They stride forward with confidence and determination! They challenge! They imagine! They invent! They start Brock Osweiler!

And now for the random 90s song of the day. I wanted the R90sSotD to be an upbeat feel-good song, but unfortunately the song’s subject matter and its writer’s fate betray a darker truth than the peppy bassline and sunshiny chords would indicate. Nevertheless, the Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy” is a great single that could never reach popularity in the post-rock world we now inhabit. Also, the music video appears to have inspired several Instagram filters and the lyrics contain a lesson for Browns fans to avoid disappointment. I’m almost positive that the Gin Blossoms played at a Fourth of July festival in Jackson Township, Ohio, in the mid-2000s, but that seems absurd so it’s possible I fabricated that memory.

You can trust me not to think
And not to sleep around
If you don’t expect too much from me
You might not be let down

  1. Editor’s note: Those of us that had three kids while still in their 20s are turning their heads like a puzzled hound dog. []
  2. Editor’s note: See! []
  3. In particular, Frances Ha, Mistress America, and Kicking and Screaming. []

  • RGB

    https://i.imgflip.com/1tvb7p.jpg

    #TeamSnark in da house!

  • RGB

    Answer to yesterday’s bonus tidbit: The only other Brown to wear #1 was Homer Jordan. He was a replacement backup QB on the 1987 strike team.

  • MartyDaVille

    Epic fail by Cody Allen yesterday. Okay, every closer is allowed to blow a save now and then. But not yesterday. Consider:

    Bauer had pitched another really good game. The erratic offense is in one of its protracted funks. The Tribe was in game 2 of 23 straight games without a day off. They were leaving after the game for an 11-day road trip.

    Allen had to salt this game away. He had to pick up his team. He had to pitch some hero ball. And he gagged.

    Epicurean, epicardial, epicene, epicranial fail.

  • MartyDaVille

    I went to a replacement game (I must have bought the tickets before the strike). We lost to the Houston Oilers 15-10 before 39,000 fans on a chilly October afternoon. It was a pretty dismal day all around.

  • RGB

    Speaking of Houston. They lost last night. I know it’s a preseason game, but hopefully it’s a harbinger of their upcoming season, since we have their first and second round draft picks.

  • jpftribe

    Nice piece Kyle. I watched a youth to adulthood crisis this summer.

    Oldest son turned 20 this summer. Home from college, he got his first real job. The kind where you have to be on time, work late when they tell you, punch a clock and hit your numbers everyday or you’re fired. It was glorious to watch the euphoria of “I have my own money to spend now on anything I want” change to “My boss is a jerk. He hates me. I’m not good at this. They are doing this all wrong, if only I could show them how. I’m going to quit.”

    Which brought about the second revelation when Dad won’t let me quit until I find another job. A profound dilemma. I am an adult and can do whatever I want, but I also need to eat, sleep and finish college.

    The “I have an interview tomorrow” turns into the inevitable “It was a temp agency and they’ll get back to me”. And two months later he is still packing his lunch everyday before making the trek in to punch the clock, and he learns the days go by a lot faster when you work hard. And he gets to quit because school is 500 miles away, but he gives a proper 2 weeks notice.

  • jpftribe

    I like our odds on this.

  • RGB

    Unfortunately, the Jets are in full-on Suck For Sam mode

  • JNeids

    And to Lucroy, of all people.

  • RGB

    Millennials reactions to life in the real world is markedly different than ours was.
    I find it irritating and amusing at the same time.

  • jpftribe

    Top 10 would be just fine. If they really want to go up to No 1, no one else will have the assets to compete.

  • jpftribe

    I get the ole’ I had it a lot harder thoughts/attitude, but he also makes much better decisions than I did at his age. He pulled better grades in uni than HS, and earned a transfer scholarship to another school on his own. And some lessons, such as above, are universal.

    Yes, they live in a different world than we did, but so it is with every generation.

  • jpftribe

    Don’t worry, our leadoff hitter is just a little rusty and will return to All-Star form any minute.

    #TeamSnarkInvadesTribeThread

  • BenRM

    YAAAAAS!

    Great work on these by the way.

  • BenRM

    “Summarily, no one has any idea what the hell they’re doing at any age.”

    This is basically me. Although, admittedly at 28-29, I quit my job and moved to a new city where I didn’t have a job waiting for me. That was pretty quarter-life crisis-y.

    In fairness to younger Ben, the job I had and the city I lived in sucked.

  • Garry_Owen

    Again, though, if Zimmer plays that ball cleanly, Allen gets to keep the save opportunity alive – and he finished the inning strongly. Pitchers get too much blame. Zimmer’s a rookie that often looks and plays a lot like a rookie. That hurt yesterday as much as anything Allen did or didn’t do.

  • Garry_Owen

    That’s a pretty broad brush. I remember feeling/thinking those things in my 20s. Some issues and angsts are cross-generational.

  • Garry_Owen

    Well said. For all of their flaws, this generation brings a lot of positives – as with every generation.

  • jpftribe

    If the Yankees and Rockies proved anything, it was the best defense wins.

  • Garry_Owen

    Especially against equally good teams with equally good pitching. I was at Game 6, and will never forget Naquin’s . . . “thing.” To me, even though it was very early, that was the Series.

  • Chris
  • mgbode

    Every generation attempts to make it better/easier for the next generation and have them avoid some of the mis-steps they made, then complain that the younger generation has it better/easier w/o noting they are also avoiding some of those mis-steps (and focusing on the news ones they make).

  • mgbode

    Kyle, I got married right out of college, then we started having kids. I’ll say in my case that I didn’t have a quarter-life crisis because I didn’t have time to think about things beyond how to raise the kids (ongoing). But, especially the initial “Oh snap, I have no idea what I’m doing” parlays EXTREMELY well to new parents (at any age). Also, to parents who have been doing it for awhile (we just get less freaked out because we know we don’t know what we are doing rather than panicked because we think we should know.)

  • mgbode

    If there is a player truly worth selecting at No. 1 overall, then that pick is not getting traded.

  • mgbode

    More on this in the Indians thread – but look at the bases loaded equalling no runs too.

  • mgbode

    Remember when the Indians traded V-Mart? It would be similar in Texas if they traded Beltre.

  • mgbode

    I still blame the Ghost of Mesa on that one.

  • Chris

    From a fan-favorite perspective, sure. No comparison though regarding their points in career. Also, Beltre had his 3000th hit at home a couple days before the deadline… would have been an awesome farewell.

  • RGB

    We didn’t have anyone who wore zero but, that dude, wellllll…
    Thanks Ray.

  • Chris

    Speaking of Beltre… is there more to the Joe West story beyond responding to a question with his honest opinion? What a load of BS. Beltre probably wears that as a badge of honor.

  • Chris

    Bingo. Tough to hold a team to two runs in 11+ innings, especially the Rockies. Offense has got to do a better job.

  • mgbode

    I do think there might be more history behind the scenes that MLB is not sharing, but I do not know what it might be.

  • mgbode

    Ranger fans love Beltre so much. It would destroy them to trade him away even though it would have made some sense for their organization from a future competitive standpoint.

  • Garry_Owen

    Again, though, (and I know I’ve said this too many times) I think Mesa gets way too much blame for that. Those were good pitches. The swings were better.

  • mgbode

    I didn’t blame Mesa for Naquin, I blamed his ghost.

  • Garry_Owen

    I did pretty well with my kids until they hit 13 and 11. Now I have no idea what I’m doing.

  • Garry_Owen
  • Harv

    This summer my 24 year old abruptly internalized economics, just months after finishing school and starting a great first job. Nothing like the snip-snip of purse strings to focus the mind (he’s relocating to Chicago from Manhattan this month, where his rent his halved and space doubled). He’s still on my phone plan, but he’s voluntarily paying his share. It’s a beautiful thing.

    My father bestowed a great kindness by putting my 14 year old butt to work doing manual labor all summer, full time in a factory warehouse without air conditioning. It made the subsequent string of restaurant and bartending jobs feel cushy, and made the choice to embrace higher education and a physically easier life inevitable.

  • mgbode
  • mgbode

    I don’t have any teenagers yet, so I’m assuming I get to go on auto-pilot once they reach that age until they get there.

  • jpftribe

    Maybe that lousy Umps shouldn’t be celebrities just because they’re umps?

  • jpftribe

    They are still in a window next year, which makes the price pretty high to get them to move him.

  • nj0

    Or that there’s plenty of legitimate reasons that sport officials should not share candid opinions about players?

  • nj0

    Hey, you had a good run. I say late them walk.

  • Garry_Owen

    Good plan. The family needs to get younger, anyway. It’s time to rebuild.

  • nj0

    Ah, crappy summer jobs in a warehouse somewhere! I never minded the work so much (granted, I was tasked with the easiest, most menial work). No, what really convinced me that college was the right move were the full-time guys. They weren’t all bad, but a few were. Some were downright scary. Most just seemed beaten down and bitter. The thought of having to talk to those guys every day, of spending 40 hours a week with them for decades, of that being my life… it’s depressing just remembering it. Which isn’t to speak ill of blue-collar work. I know there’s good people out there working at great places. I just never got a summer job at one of those places.

  • tsm

    You probably didn’t watch the recent special on MLB about this. Hargrove called for an inside fastball and said that Charles Johnson was looking outside and would strike out. Mesa shook him off, and his ego told the camera that Hargrove had not called a pitch all year, and Mesa knew best. They will probably replay this again, so please watch it. I am so sick of athletes and their egos ignoring their coaches-managers. This is why those exist, to think rationally in the heat of battle.

  • tsm

    Same here. I worked in a factory all 4 summers I was in college. Great motivation for an education. One of my sons worked for a landscaper a few summers during his college days. They would work 7 days sunup to sundown. At the end of the first summer, i asked him if he wanted to keep working and drop out of college since he seemed to enjoy the money. He packed for school so fast my head was spinning!

  • tsm

    Nothing gets you out of your self-centered thoughts like having kids. You now have responsibilities and obligations, and the family must come first. MY 4 sons are now all adults, and there is no adventure, travel, career nor anything else I would trade for the years with them as children. I have spent time with a few older folks near the end, and none ever expressed regret over lack of accomplishments. All that mattered was faith and family.

  • nj0

    Parenting: The Belichick Way

    Bill Belichick, the gridiron guru that won five Super Bowls, shares how his secrets to success on-the-field can help you mold a better family off of it. This modern classic from America’s best-loved and most successful coach holds the key to turning a failing family into one you can win with. From getting younger to trading down to wire-tapping, Bill’s patented “Ten Steps to Touchdowns” takes his stoic brand of wisdom out of the draft room and into your living room. Providing you a straightforward, easy-to-implement game plan, Parenting: The Belichick Way will let you craft a playoff-bound roster of relations that any monosyllabic disciplinarian would be proud to coach.