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Sequel Aims to Quell the 'Quarterlife Crisis'

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page K01

Alexandra Robbins admits that she left us hanging.

As an apology, she offers "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice From Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived." (Perigee Books, $14.95)

It's a follow-up to "Quarterlife Crisis," the 2001 bestseller she co-wrote with Abby Wilner -- a book that dared to put a name on our post-graduation angst, but did not offer any guidance on how to handle it.

Not that Robbins could have told us if she wanted to -- she was only 23 herself. "I thought it would be presumptuous to offer my peers suggestions for how to fix their lives when I was so frustrated with my own," she explains in the introduction to the new book.

"Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis" shares its predecessor's breezy style, as well as its reliance on third-party anecdotes. This time around, though, Robbins pairs the problems with answers -- her own as well as advice from fellow twenty- and thirtysomething "mentors" who have successfully worked through the issues.

The anecdotes are also very . . . earnest, and many of the people quoted in the book sound downright flaky. Even the people presented as well-adjusted are hung up on the idea that you must be making a living at your "passion" or there's no reason to get out of bed in the morning. And passions, of course, are things like writing, yoga and the culinary arts. (Speaking of "culinary artists," doesn't anyone work as a "cook" anymore?)

A handful of the examples in the book are of people who took a more balanced approach, recognizing that it's generally more practical -- and often more satisfying -- to separate their job from their creative work.

Despite that quibble, there's a lot of good career advice here for struggling twentysomethings. Here are a few highlights:

Take risks. Move somewhere you have never been before. Take a job just because it would give you funny stories to tell at parties. Do not trap yourself with the notion that there is only one path to a successful life. "We follow paths that seem familiar because we're scared of the unknown and the uncertain," Robbins writes. "But if you aren't going to take risks in your twenties, when are you going to? When are you going to grow?"

It's healthy to change your mind. And your major. Even your career. "No experience is a waste, unless you refuse to learn something from it," Robbins writes. "Learning what you don't want to do at least narrows down the multitude of endless options that can seem so daunting. Figuring out what you don't like is just as important as figuring out what you do."

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