Why Your Quarter Life is Like Middle School All Over Again

The Developmental Characteristics of Middle School Students:

“Students in grades six through eight are changing physically, socially, emotionally, 
and intellectually. During this time, children are struggling to define themselves as individuals and in relation to others. They begin to question the role of adults in their lives, and their peers take on increasing importance. They face many unique challenges as they struggle to find themselves in this transition between childhood and adulthood.

Many of them find it difficult to cope with the many changes taking place in them and compare themselves unfavorably to their peers.”


1. You don’t know anything about anything. The first time I had the lightbulb moment that told me my twenties are much like being in middle school again was at my first job post-college. I felt like it was the first day of school every single day for a good six months. Different teachers to try and impress, multiple classes, new information, and new students to try and befriend. My company was like a clique I so desperately wanted to be a part of, but the harder I tried, the less I succeeded. It seemed as though everything college had “prepared” me for had been for nothing – I didn’t know anything about the working world. About meetings. E-mails. Phone conferences. How to not screw up an excel spreadsheet. That crying in your morning meetings with your boss is generally frowned upon. I got home each night mentally and emotionally exhausted, much like middle school.

But I was learning a ton. And the accompanying growing pains (similar to those awkward years) were only short-term side effects. I’m not at that job anymore, but I learned more there in a year than I think I would have at any other job in three or four.

2. You have to make friends all over again. Unless you are lucky enough to be in the same city with your college or high school friends, being in your twenties means making friends all over again. I moved to a new city after I graduated and didn’t know anyone. Luckily, and often times unconventionally (hello, my roommate is a guy who I met on a dating site), I was able to form some amazing friendships in this strange city. But it was hard in the beginning and I definitely felt lonely at times.

3. You’re insecure.  In middle school, it was all about which Abercrombie and Fitch shirt to buy to appear “cool,” what table to sit at during lunch, and how to convince your mom to go bra shopping with you so you don’t completely embarrass yourself in the gym locker room. Now we are equally as insecure. We think about how much money our friends make, what they are doing with their lives, who they are getting married to, and how much more “on track” they seem to be. We compared ourselves to our friends then and we’re doing the same thing now.

4. You’re going through heartache. Remember how much it stung when what’s-his-face ditched you at the 8th grade dance to hook up with that other slore? Well chances are you have experienced some heartache in your twenties , and if you haven’t yet, you will. But this is a good thing, because you are learning about yourself and what you want in someone. Or at least that’s what I tell myself after a year of dating someone with a girlfriend. Kidding. Kind of.

5. You’re struggling to find your voice. In your awkward developmental years you are still discovering who you are. What am I good at? What clubs should I join? Do I really like tennis or am I just doing it because my best friend is doing it? Likewise, now, I am still finding my voice. Both in writing and in life. I’m learning what I am good at and what I need to work on. I’m developing new passions and re-discovering old ones. I’m slowly figuring out the qualities that I have inherited from my parents, and that I have the power to grow and relish in the good and re-shape the bad. I may have not found all of my voice yet, but each day I am less scared to show what I have discovered so far.

6. You want to be older. Of course when you are in middle school, you want to be in high school. You want more independence and you want to stay out past 10. You want to learn how to drive. Maybe I am speaking for myself here, but I often want to fast-forward the next five years. Or ten years. I know where I want to be and I’m slowly getting there, but that doesn’t mean the process of getting there isn’t unsettling. Everyone says your 30s are so much better than your 20s because everything is “figured out.” I’m trying to (ugh, I seriously hate cliches, so I apologize for this) “live in the moment” and appreciate where I am now and what I’ve accomplished. It takes effort, but I think it’s important to be a little kinder to yourself during this transitory time.

Can you think of any other middle school comparisons?

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4 Responses to Why Your Quarter Life is Like Middle School All Over Again

  1. Oooh, I agree with a lot of this! Another comparison I might make is the whole thinking you know it all thing. I know as a middle schooler I thought I knew everything about everything, and it was always a bit of a blow to the ego to find out I was wrong. Ditto that with being in the real world. I think coming out of college it’s easy to think you have it all together, but the more time I spend being a “grown up,” the more I realize I don’t know anything. Lots of learning to be done in both stages of life! I think in both cases, really, the biggest issue is transitioning. It can be really hard to find your feet when your whole world is ripped out from under you (going from elementary school–which is probably all of your life you remember–to middle school, or going from school–which again, is probably all of your life you remember–to the working world), and that transition and learning period can be rough in both situations.

    Good to see you blogging again, by the way! It’s nice to hear from you 🙂

  2. Mom says:

    Nicely written, Mal. Just so you know, those struggles that you describe as middle school characteristics creep up in your 30s, 40s, and surprisingly even in your 50s!

  3. Oh my gosh, yes! I always compare this time in life to high school. In high school, people are catty, judgemental, trying to figure themselves out. In college, everyone is in the same boat, so everyone comes together and will be your best friend. Then in “real life,” everyone acts like they’re back in high school again. They’re trying to work their way to the top of their career, make the most money, making comparisons, etc., sometimes pushing other people aside. I wish that real life were like college. Everyone could just get along.

  4. emiliemarie says:

    I think the comparisons are WORSE now than in middle school. The decisions we make affect our lives on a deeper level – like the jobs or spouses we choose – they have longer lasting effects than the dress we wore to the 8th grade dance. And picking up the pieces from mistakes is often harder, more complicated and takes a lot longer. I honestly think middle school was easier than my early 20s. And YESSS to wanting to be older. It’s tough when you know what you want but you don’t quite have the means to get there quite yet.

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