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Welcoming Your Quarterlife Crisis

April 9, 2012

The first time I read, now defunct, Toronto newspaper Eye Weekly’s article “Welcome To Your Quarterlife Crisis” by Kate Carraway, it seemed like someone had dropped me the perfect “How To” manual on how not to live life. I was a third-year university student organized to the hilt and possessed at least three notebooks filled with goals. One focused on academics: my primary goal was to get a Master of Education. But then I started to question my decision. Would a Master of Arts in Education a better fit for me? Maybe a Master in Public Service or Master of Teaching would be more practical. Or perhaps a Master of Public Policy be the most career opening option? I had also considered further education in public relations, East Asian studies, political science, and social work. Overwhelming myself, in the end I decided to apply for just one program at the one school I was most excited about attending. Luckily, I got in. I thought my situation was perfect. As I had also accepted a research internship abroad, my plan was to defer school for one year in order to gain international work experience. I felt I was in control, and being able to foresee the next three years of my life felt good. Then I moved abroad, became saturated in new experiences, and saw my carefully curated plan fall to shreds. Was I headed for a quarter-life crisis despite my best efforts?

A common theme I have noticed amongst my peers – either discussed through conversations or read through articles – is that a lack of ambition is not necessarily a reason twenty something’s go through a quarter life crisis. Often times, the possibilities seem endless and they want to try on multiple hats before they pick one. Describing a typical 27-year old urban male, Carraway’s opening narrative reads “He doesn’t really hate his job, but feels as if his skin is crawling with vermin most of the time he’s there, so he has a plan to move to Thailand, or to maybe write a book. Or go to law school.” I can confess that I have wanted, and still want, all three of these things. Well, maybe not law school anymore but I do entertain the idea from time to time. What this man wants is satisfaction, but has no idea what that means so he hopes any one of his vague aspirations will be “it.”

I view this dilemma as bohemia versus convention. Raised during the height of Western superiority, North American and European twenty-somethings, especially, have been consuming diet rich in dreams and salient expectations. Expecting them to settle into their dream career immediately after graduation is unrealistic. They may want a conventional job down the road, but not before they have really lived. Perhaps this la vie boheme 2.0 is what Fast Company is terming Generation Flux. This umbrella term does not refer to a certain demographic like ‘millenial’ does, but to those who live and work with haphazard focus. Their resumes look random with work and volunteer experiences that differ from each other with seemingly no relation, but they are, perhaps, most in tune with how to live in this 21st century. Constant innovation and reinvention is necessary in all fields from academia to the global start-up scene. Nothing remains the same for long, anymore.

The importance of hard work and perseverance is what has remained the same over time. It might seem exciting to move to Thailand when reality is the daily grind of an unsatisfying entry-level job, but be sure of a purpose. Maybe that book will finally get written. Perhaps your dream job opening will present itself at a café in Siam Square when you least expect it. Or maybe you’ll realize that the entry-level job you gave up could have been a great segue into your dream managerial position. There is no certainty anymore, but what is life without a little struggle. Carraway offers that this crisis will resolve itself by “hooking itself into a plan.” But how can twenty somethings today be expected to curate such a thing without having fleshed out more of their interests? Take the good with the bad, be spontaneous but responsible, and always keep your eye on the prize of permanent employment…with benefits.

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