Review of Quarterlife by Satya Doyle Byock – Not Enough, Not Early Enough for Young Adults
The term “quarterlife” was first used over 20 years ago by Abby Wilner, who co-wrote Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties with Alexandra Robbins. While psychotherapist Satya Doyle Byock credits Wilner for creating the term, her book Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood sometimes gives the impression that the struggle and search for purpose in early adulthood is a discovery of the author’s own, rather than a common experience of uncertainty that can be found in religious texts such as the Bible.
The author, who practices in Portland, Oregon, argues that quarterlife is not given enough attention and is not thoroughly explored. The promotional description states that her focus is on an area that has been neglected by popular culture and psychology. However, this claim is quickly disproved when considering the success of cultural works such as Girls, Fleabag, and The Bear which all delve into this topic. Additionally, there are numerous “adulting” memes and Taylor Swift’s insightful commentary on growing up has propelled her to global fame. Even the NBC sitcom Quarterlife was centered around twentysomethings.
Doyle Byock’s assertion of a new phase in development psychology is at odds with his references to a Bildungsroman and a philosopher that contradict it. While her book stands out from typical professional discussions and a modern tendency to use “snowflake” as an insult, Byock is firmly supportive of quarterlifers (defined here as individuals between the ages of 16 and 36, though in a NPR interview, he extended the range to 20 to 40).
Her kindness, warmth and empathy frequently come across. She’s bang on about how woefully underprepared many young people are for life admin, and the spiral of shame to which this can lead. And, at 40 – an upper-end millennial – she gets it, and that’s a validating thing for readers who have become accustomed to brickbats from their elders.
Doyle Byock categorizes Quarterlifers into two categories: those focused on finding meaning and those focused on stability. The former are typically more daring, imaginative, and spiritual, often pursuing careers as artists or traveling. However, they may struggle with mundane responsibilities and lack grounding. The latter are more likely to have steady jobs and relationships, but may question if there is more to life, as Peggy Lee famously sang.
Although the binary may seem oversimplified, it still holds some truth and practicality. The author’s approach with clients and in her writing is to determine which type resonates more and strive for a better balance between them, ultimately leading to a more harmonious and fulfilled life.
This procedure involves progressing through four main areas of development, known as the “four pillars of growth”: detachment (from controlling parents or a significant other); self-awareness (listening to one’s own desires and needs); creation (planning and striving towards personal goals); and implementation (putting all of these steps into action to bring about positive change).
The expository narrative is based on four imaginary case studies. These include Conner, a college drop-out who abuses Adderall; Grace, a lesbian who ran away and is in a co-dependent relationship; Mira, a married and successful lawyer who feels unfulfilled; and Danny, a writer who is struggling with a porn addiction. Some may find these characters reminiscent of a young adult novel.
The book falls in between the genres of self-help and academic writing. Some readers may be disappointed if they were expecting a workbook component with specific exercises, as the author Doyle Byock only mentions techniques used in therapy sessions. However, Quarterlife cannot be considered a thorough academic work due to its limited discussion of historical, economic, and societal factors. The author acknowledges multiple times that individuals and their issues are not isolated from their surroundings.
Doyle Byock’s intention to convey that the quarterlife stage is not confined to a specific time period may be the reason for the limited information provided. Due to the vague nature of her criteria, the concept of the “teenager” being created by marketers after World War II and G Stanley Hall’s theory on maturation (neither of which are explored in this text) is not considered. However, it can be argued that individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 have always been present.
It doesn’t make sense for Doyle Byock to acknowledge, for instance, the high cost of living, or the rapid pace of technological change, or issues of race and gender, which affect present-day quarterlifers… and then not examine any of it properly.
Instead of briefly mentioning the quarterlifers’ relationship with digital devices at the end of the book, why not explore more in depth topics such as Meta’s algorithmic experiments to manipulate emotions and the intentional design of products to create dependency in young users?
Instead of vaguely mentioning low wages and delayed home leaving, why not discuss the late-00s global recession, which greatly impacted the economic situation of the exact audience this book is targeting?
Likewise, if you plan to state that “overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression are commonly experienced,” in your opening statement, you must support your claim with credible evidence and also make an effort to understand and clarify the reasons and mechanisms behind it. (Ideally, also analyze the distinction between mental health issues and mental illness.)
There are no statistics or clinical studies available and there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Mainstream publishers are likely aware of the “Stephen Hawking rule” (that including equations can decrease sales), and at times, I felt like a math teacher asking for students to show their work in the margins.
The final chapter is quite disappointing as it seems to be a rough draft for a more impressive book. The author briefly touches on all the topics they have neglected, with only one mention of neurodivergence and a hint at climate anxiety. It’s almost like a literary reminder of what could have been achieved. Sadly, it’s too little too late.