In a small corner in a college library, Lisa sat quietly, eyes glued to the screen, her fingers constantly rolled on the mouse pad of her Macbook. There was a slight frown on her forehead as she concentrated on reading the job descriptions on Glassdoor, Indeed, Craigslist and a bunch of other job search platforms. 20-something-who-knows-how-many open tabs sat on the top of her screen. She let out a heavy sigh as her eyes fixated on the line: “successful candidate possesses at least two years of experience in related field”.
Her eyelids drooped as she closed the tab. She thought to herself she doesn’t want to work at McDonald’s or any other fast food chains. She is 21 and is now supposed to be in her senior year. She needs to get herself together. She needs experience. She could do unpaid internship but she is broke. She’s been eating plain bread and canned food for months now. She stared at her blurry reflection on the dimmed laptop screen. Emotionless.
She opened her Facebook and Instagram. Stories after stories of her friends and acquaintances flashed before her eyes. Some were having a blast at a party, a rave, a bar or a pub. Some, more fortunate, were touring through Europe. Some of her close friends landed a well-paid full-time job right after their graduation. Their stories must be interesting and eventful, she thought to herself. A sense of insecurity invaded her. Is she missing out? Is she on the right path? What has she accomplished this year? Is she exceptional at what she wants to pursue? She was suddenly afraid of the uncertainty of her future.
“Single people want relationships, settled people wonder if they’re missing out on something, traveling types miss stability, stable ones are restless, old friends want new friends, new friends miss old friends, and basically almost everyone my age has some dangling worry trailing around after them everywhere that they’re somehow not doing everything, that what they’re doing is not altogether the right thing, that they are missing out.” – Lillian Schneider, the Huffpost contributor expressed.
This feeling of unsettling is titled the Quarter-life Crisis. Of course there are many types of discontent. One can be discontent with the food you just ordered, the grade you receive on your exam or the quality of the clothes you bought online. But Quarter-life Crisis is more complex and constant than that. It is defined by clinical psychologist Alex Fowke as “a period of insecurity, doubt and disappointment surrounding your career, relationships and financial situation.”
Some studies suggest that today’s twenty-somethings suffer more than did previous generations, says Harvard Business Review. Especially, in the golden time of technology and social media, it is irresistible to compare yourself to other people you encounter online, let alone in person. But the thing is what people on social media want you to see is just an aspect of their life – specifically the happy ones. People are more likely to share peak experiences and flattering news about themselves—what University of Houston psychologist Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers calls “everyone else’s highlights reel”—and tech companies, furthermore, use algorithms to prioritize that very information in social media feeds. The narrow, distorted slice of reality displayed on social media is almost perfectly constructed to make viewers feel deficient and discouraged.
When we encounter people around our own age who appear more contentedly creative or professional or in love than we are, the doubt is like a passing “Ahem”. It’s light enough to carry in a briefcase. We confront it in the pages of our empty notebooks. In moments of sleepless worry we wrest the blanket away from it, feel it in the heat of our own faces. This is the doubt that drips steadily from the computer screen as we scan Facebook and watch what our contemporaries are up to.
Just imagine being born and raised in a place and rarely get to see the world outside, don’t tons of travelling pictures on Instagram or travelling brochures evoke that yearning to explore inside of you? Then you contemplate on your own situation and realize everywhere you turn to are people that you know, places that you have been to, the same streets you take to school or work and the same routines.
Of course, you would want to pack your luggage and hop on a plane to your desired destinations right away. But this is simply impossible because you are bound by obligations and financially limited. Hence this unfulfilled desire slowly turns into a sense of unsettling that piles up inside us and resurfaces whenever we encounter difficulties and failures.
But even the drifters are restless at the absence of home, routines and stabilities. Caroline Makepeace, a travel blogger expresses in one of her blogs:
“I’d love to live in Chicago for the summer.
Sri Lanka is HOT this year, I must get there.
God I’d love to go back to South Africa. Buy a 4WD and get lost.
What about a road trip around Oz?
And then the garden re-enters my head, along with delicious recipes perfected by me in my spacious kitchen, and parties I host with my friends and their children. My family, the school mums, old friends, and the neighbors. Sweet smelling vanilla candles, pumpkin pie baking and mojitos lined up on the kitchen bench.”
Almost anyone in their early twenties is worried about their choices, no matter how successful or happy that person appears to be, because doubt is an inevitable part of life. When you are in college, you wonder whether your chosen career is the right fit for you, whether you are going to get a well-paid job after graduation and stay with it forever. Tons of questions and doubts wander in your mind and keep you up at night. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson once said, “If people in their late stages ask themselves “is it ok to have been me?”, then young people nowadays often find themselves wondering, “is it ok to be who I am about to be?”.
All I want to say is that, to whoever is reading this or going through a quarter-life crisis, don’t be ashamed of yourself for feeling the way you feel. Quarter-life crisis happens to almost anyone. No matter how successful and happy a person appears to be, because doubt is an inevitable part of life. The good thing is, you can get so much out of it. Breathe and allow it to help you explore different paths. One day when you get older and ready to settle, you will look back and reminisce about that tragically beautiful crisis period of your life.
Article: Uyen Nguyễen | Editor: Rosie | Design: Vy Le