Is 26 the Worst Age in America?

John Roach

John Roach

A recent article I stumbled upon stated that the worst age in a person’s life in America is twenty-six.

It is a notion worth pondering. Face it. The mid-twenties are a weird time.  You are caught between adolescence and adulthood.

If you went to college, you’re out. Your schedule goes from partying until 2 a.m., getting up late and sleepwalking your way to lecture in an outfit that is barely not pajamas to the life of a working stiff, where the alarm calls to you five days a week at 6:30 and demands that you pull yourself from the sheets regardless of what you did last night. And no matter what, you have to comb your hair and put on ironed clothing because sweats and a baseball hat no longer suffice.

In fact, your first job is a bit of a worst-case scenario: You are an adolescent with money! Yet twenty-six today is hardly the twenty-six of a generation ago. College debt looms over today’s twenty-somethings in a way it never has before. Combine that debt with the worst economy in eighty years and you begin to understand how twenty-six can be called the toughest year these days.

But if you do have work, you realize that instead of paying that heavy tuition bill to do papers for a professor, someone is now paying you to do papers. You get an actual paycheck. And amazingly, two weeks later, you get another one! Every night is a party with money, with the only rule being that you have to drag yourself to work the next day.

Assuming you actually care about your job. Which is another issue with Year Twenty-Six.

In your mid-twenties, you have to confront stark occupational realities. You must determine if your job is actually a career. Meaning, is the task you perform for pay an actual passion, or just a way to pass time, hide in a godawful cubicle and accrue cash?

More than a few people have eagerly started jobs out of college only to find they were utterly miserable. They discover they didn’t want to carry a briefcase. Or wear a suit. Or smile at a moronic boss. Or be imprisoned inside three walls of carpet-covered partition with only the saddest relics of their life perched on a small shelf just above their eyeline in a vain attempt at some sort of personal statement in the midst of a whole room of partitions with similar sad attempts at individualism.

I know one person, fresh from college, who got a sales job and within a month was having panic attacks at the notion that this would be his life stretching out before him until the end of time.  Fortunately, he was able to change course, but the anecdote offers proof of The Theory of Twenty-Six.

Personally, I resisted maturity and graduation for a year trying to be a singer in a band before I realized I was my generation’s answer to Willy Loman. Luckily, I stumbled into work that was who I am.

And finally, there is romance. Through the adolescent years there are first loves, second loves and third loves. Bad dates and worse dates. There are romantic adventures on nights when the world is alive and someone will actually carry you home. It’s all a glorious and strange process of spousal elimination. But as your twenties tick down, you enter an era of ambiguous relationships, where it is difficult to determine if feelings are adolescent or adult.

Eventually for most, things get serious. You might even get married.

And even then you act like an adolescent.

Until you have a child.

And then, whether you like it or not … you’re an adult.

Or should be.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com

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