You’ll want to ignore it, but don’t.
I’m from the ‘generation’ before this one that had it pretty good. We had £30/week EMA payments while we were at secondary school, we paid £3000 uni fees rather than £9000, and we lived in a simpler time before everyone was plugged into technology 24/7.
A lot of us feel like we peaked too early; now, anyone and their dog can become rich and famous and viral if they have the right skillset, which tends not to include the old type of skills that we were told were so important. The job market is so competitive, with everyone jostling to stand out, new job roles with impossibly vague titles, vast technological skill requirements, and a need to have a perfect online persona. We’re encouraged to be selfish, chase our dreams…but how we gonna pay for it when everything’s so expensive? We end up feeling cheated. That degree didn’t get us a dream job. Leaving higher education leaves us standing at the edge of a very steep cliff.
We now live in the age of the selfie (which, arguably, we started in front of mirrors with flip phones), meaning that every inch of our bodies is up for scrutiny, and our daily self worth is often dictated by how good our selfies were that day and how many likes they raked in.
If this sounds the like the perfect environment for a quarter-life crisis to fester in, then you’d be right.
The world is exhausting and fast and ruthless right now. We’re being sold broken promises. We’re trying to buy happiness. We don’t know what we really want. We have other people’s ‘perfect’ lives shoved in our faces all the time. We’re being told to remain young (keep having fun, keep spending money like a 5 year old with a stolen credit card, don’t age or get wrinkles, dress like a teen for as long as you can, 90’s revival WOOO), and yet be grown up at the same time (you gotta look hot and sexy and have perfect makeup, you gotta have a well paid job and your own house by age 20, be super fit and healthy, isn’t the world a shitty place look at the news LOOK AT IT, learn some life hacks and get your shit together and start a business already), which is obviously really confusing and can cause a lot of internal conflict.
Now, your quarter-life crisis might present differently. But you’re probably going to recognise yourself in some of the following symptoms.
- You haven’t really changed in the last 5 years. You keep the same bad habits, and have the same problems and dilemmas over and over again. You also wear the same clothes and make-up, and you might still be in education, prolonging the safe sameness of your young life using postgraduate study.
You seem to be having a second childhood. You were all about that independent life, but now that adulthood is looming, you suddenly want to rely on other people again. You go home to your parents for your birthday, to eat, and to do laundry. ALL THE TIME. And your room’s messy and you’re not gonna tidy it OK?? You’re hanging out with people younger than you (say, 18 -21), and its not even consciously, you’re just hanging out where they are hanging out and doing the things they do…is that bad?? Also, for some reason, you seem to be attracting a lot of motherly figures/carer-type friends into your life. That’s probably not a coincidence tbh.
You are doing everything you can to escape those feelings of lostness, rather than dealing with them. You’ve travelled extensively, but you’re still no closer to knowing what the fuck your life is about. Better book another ticket, then. You just keep skipping from job to job, idea to idea, dream to dream. You might be partying a lot as well; you refuse to say goodbye to your raving days. Fuck an early bedtime! You might also be exercising excessively, or spending too much time on Netflix and social media – anything to make you feel busy.
You feel like a small fish in a big pond. And you keep beating yourself up for it. It’s like Year 7 again – you’ve gone from being oldest in your school to youngest in a new school, and it doesn’t feel good. You might panic about feeling inexperienced and like your CV is meaningless. You keep comparing yourself to you at 17 – you were so much smarter and more diligent and together and prettier back then, right? Basically, you’re plagued by self-doubt. You don’t think you’re up to the job of ADULTING.
Your relationships are all over the shop. You’re either committing too soon; settling down for the sake of it because you’re scared and you have a five year plan which you need to stick to…or you refuse to get close to the people you’re seeing because there are so many fish in the sea and feelings are scary and deciding is hard.
You feel really fucking down all the time. Maybe you’re even a little bit depressed. Being direction-less does that to a person. You just don’t care about anything as much.
Inertia. You’re stuck. You can’t make decisions. You make plans but then don’t act. You are scared to be spontaneous. You are still mourning the loss of old friendships and relationships (you probs drifted apart) without making up with them or moving on with your life.
The way to deal with all the issues is to find yourself – find out who you are, what you like and don’t like, and what you truly want out of life.
You will need to develop strength, independence, and resilience. This comes from practice, doing things that scare you, and celebrating your achievements, however small, to increase your confidence.
If you need it, get help. Don’t feel weak for seeking advice. You might need a mentor, a counsellor, or someone older who’s been where you are now.
Don’t isolate yourself. Its OK to need your friends and family.
Apply for jobs that interest you. Believe that you can make a living doing something you want to do. Don’t worry about what other people think, you’re the one who’s going to have to be there 7 hours a day.
Stop comparing yourself to other people, its not a race and everyone is different. There’s no set timeline for what you should have achieved each year like there is in school. Bin those to-do and to-achieve lists.
Try not to let capitalism, racism, ableism, sexism and homophobia get you down. Its everywhere and its nowhere. Its embedded in lots of systems and mediums of communication we encounter every day. Educate yourself. Stand up for your (and other people’s) rights. If the media is irritating you, you don’t have to read or watch. Find your own credible sources of entertainment, or write/make something yourself. Keep believing we can change things in some small way.
Build some kind of stable home. You need your own space, whether its just a room or you have the whole house. It won’t be perfect or what you always wanted, but do the best you can with it and decorate!
Be nice. Try and project your energy outwards rather than focusing on yourself and what others may think of you. In reality, they have their own problems. Too much inward thinking equals death.