Like many things in my life, I happened to stumble upon a book while browsing the shelves of a library: 20 Something Manifesto: Quarter-Lifers Speak Out about Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Get It, by Christine Hassler. As I’ve been fascinated with my own life, I now have complete evidence that people around the world face an uncanny, similar sense of bewilderment over where their lives are going, identifying what it is that they actually want, and how they’re going to get whatever it is that they’ve identified.

I asked myself if this searching and questioning is different in our thirties, and whether or not this particular decade of one’s life offers any different wisdom or questions. I would argue it does.

In our thirties, we might have met our life partner, and to that, might have had children together. These two life occasions tend to stabilize a lot of the confusion that we felt in our twenties: who will I marry, will I have kids, where will we live. I certainly don’t mean to say that marriage and family are immediate stabilizers in our lives; rather, I am suggesting that our questioning turns to something else. (My last posting about Chinese Gen X’ers makes this point: as we mature, our search pattern changes.)

Christine Hassler uses a particularly clever descriptor of the twenty-something generation: the expectation hangover. In one sense, this is the comparative to an alcohol hangover where the body is physically trying to expel alcohol and replenish cells to a normal state. Our expectation hangovers have a physiological element to it in that we can feel lethargic, irritable, nostalgic, sentimental, resentful, and generally depressed. I find this so clever because I can see the similarities. Clouded thoughts, grey and overcast, thinking of what could have been rather than what will be, sleepy, social avoidance. 

That feeling that we can never pinpoint, that inner struggle of comparing life milestones with peers, and the ensuing let down, is all part of Hassler’s expectations hangover.