I’m sure you’ve been hearing about the Quarter Life Crisis (“QLC”) all over the place. I’ve touched on it, my favorite blog Hello Giggles has written about it, heck, Huffington Post has an entire page dedicated to it. And apart from reading about it, I know that at least I have spent a lot of time thinking about a lot of the questions that come up with having such a crisis, and discussing this with my friends.
So before diving deeper into what the QLC really is, while a lot of people I know agree that they either went through a QLC or are going through it now, I was surprised to hear several Millennials say that they’ve either never experienced a QLC or vehemently oppose its existence, arguing that having such a crisis is just being overly dramatic or fussing over something that really doesn’t need to be over-analyzed. I’ve noticed that the general theme for those who do not believe in the QLC is that they don’t think that having an outward crisis is something they’ve ever had.
So I wanted to dispel the myth that the QLC needs to be a full-out crisis, or a dramatic period in our lives. Sure, in my life the period where I had a very dramatic QLC was very turbulent. But I would not say it was an outward crisis. I was still a fully functioning adult. I was paying my bills. I was exercising. I hadn’t stopped doing the things that mattered to me. Instead, the crisis was in internal one that really took over my identity. I was constantly trying to figure out my place in society, what my values were, whether I was going to make something of myself, whether I was a complete failure.
And also, it’s important to note that as a phenomenon, the definition of the QLC that is most commonly discussed, and to which I am referring really applies to Millennials, not to previous generations. As my favorite article on the matter describes: “If the baby boomers who created the “swinging sixties” became known as the “me” generation, their offspring have had to make do with living in the “oughty noughties.”” Our parents and grandparents experienced other challenging phenomena. But ours is unique to our generation. So don’t expect your parents to understand what you’re going through as they may not have gone through this particular strain of identity crisis. I do think that our twenties are universally a time to find ourselves, no matter our generation, but given the unique circumstances that we Millennials face (from the economy, the unique attitudes of our parents and those who raised us, and all the other circumstances that formed us as outward-minded individuals), we alone experience a true Quarter Life Crisis.
Forbes defined the Quarter Life Crisis in a way that I really agree with:
“The struggle to live up to our parents expectations, define ourselves career-wise and identify what our real values are, as we move from our 20s into our 30’s, has become known as the “Quarter Life Crisis.” Like many conditions it affects some of us more than others, often causing depression and anxiety, preventing us from getting the best out of ourselves. But, with the right coaching and approach, it can also be a positive and transformational experience.”
Everyone experiences this differently, and I believe that some people might have experienced it without even knowing it, whereas some experienced it so strongly that the QLC caused them to fall into a pretty serious depression or caused them a great deal of anxiety.
If you’re curious to know if you’ve ever experienced the QLC (or if what’s going now is in fact the QLC), I recommend these two humorous tidbits on the ten signs that you’re having a QLC and twenty five more detailed signs that you’re going through a QLC!
Surprisingly, my brand of the QLC really involved comparing myself to other friends whom I thought had achieved everything, and wondering, why can’t that be me? I’d see a really smart and hardworking accountant friend living the life in the city, or my doctor friends who would have job stability and a career that would enable them to help others, getting promotions and getting increasing responsibility and opportunities to grow, and wondering, how come I only have temporary job upon temporary job? First off, this is ridiculous because I was always happy for my friends, but also this really didn’t take into account the hard work and PLANNING they put into the track they were on. (See Monday’s blog about why it’s ridiculous to compare yourself to others!)
And the second part of my QLC was that I was comparing myself to individuals the generation above me. How come they had found an amazing job straight out of college? And became the director of something, or made so much money that they paid off all their loans? Or were able to balance a really successful career and having a huge beautiful family? Why wasn’t I married with children and a rewarding career by age twenty-five? This is a trickier one because after putting some thought into things, I realized it wasn’t just my own predispositions, but also came with the expectations that “adults” had of me. While the world transformed in many, many ways from my parents’ generation to mine, expectations seemed to apply to an outdated model. The expectation that Millennials find a rewarding career straight out of college, and get married, and have 2.5 kids, and buy a house became unrealistic for many reasons. Sure, this happens to people, but you are the fortunate exception if you achieve all four things by twenty-five or even thirty, whereas this seemed to be the rule for the generations before us. While not everyone went to college, the expectation was that you got what you paid for if you spent the time and money on attending a university. And the same thing with your first job. If you landed a job out of college, this would become a path towards a career. Well, that’s not so today either – many, many studies show that Millennials hold several jobs in furtherance of their career, as opposed to staying in just one place for a long time. And I can tell you that in my circumstances, I would give a lot to have a stable career, and not have to change employers, but unfortunately employers are less willing to compensate Millennials fairly, or offer different opportunities in rising up through the ranks. So I would agree with the Millennials who say that the economy and other larger circumstances make it impossible, if not insane, for them to hold onto the same job that does not allow them to develop their careers in a positive way, or that does not offer the same benefits our parents might have had (like health insurance, or holiday or sick pay). Let’s face it, you’re not going to be loyal to an employer that doesn’t treat you fairly, or expects you to be grateful to just have a job, so shut up and quit whining about having to pay for your own health insurance.
As you may have seen, there are many varieties of the QLC, many struggles and diverse values that we are willing to fight for. But I personally believe that Millennials either have or should experience some form of the QLC to grow up and transform into adults.
So as for the three types of people I’ve noticed do not believe in the QLC or say that they haven’t had it, I think there’s a very tiny number who genuinely haven’t experienced the QLC yet, but are about to.
Then there’s the group of those that believe they haven’t because they may not have gone through a full-out crisis. Their growth was steady and they didn’t really think too much about the questions they had. They thought about what they wanted, thought about how to get there, and took the steps they needed to get there. They didn’t really over-think the thought process they went through to get from Point A to Point B, they just did it. While this doesn’t seem very dramatic, in my opinion this is still a QLC, just on the opposite end of the spectrum from those who suffer depression or anxiety from the phenomenon. I believe this because we all went through challenges given the circumstances we face. You don’t just get your dream job out of college. Or if you do, you’re very, very rare. As a Millennial, you’re likely to consider, is this what I want? What are my values? Do I want to spend sixty or forty hours at my desk? Do I even want to sit at a desk? These questions that often come with our first jobs are the very questions that we ask ourselves in defining ourselves in our careers and figuring out what our values are. These are the questions of the QLC. Even if you don’t define the challenges and questions you’ve had as a crisis, they are part of a QLC because you are trying to find yourself as an adult, no longer reliant on our parents or employers or friends, but a self-sufficient adult.
Then there’s the final grouping that I find particularly worrisome, those who genuinely are not experiencing a QLC, who are content enough in an imperfect situation that they’re ok to settle because they fear all the changes and tough questions they’d have to face in order to grow and achieve their dreams. I recently heard a Millennial say that he not only doesn’t believe in the QLC, but he thinks it’s ridiculous that anyone would experience a crisis. I listened to him saying some things about his situation, and agreed, “Nope, you definitely didn’t go through a QLC, but is not necessarily a good thing.” Maybe it’s just me, but I cringe at having seen the older generations of people who have settled into the contrived comfort with the kind of temporary work that I’ve been doing for the last year+. I know that I don’t want to be there when I’m in my thirties, or forties, or fifties, or sixties. Those who have settled in this situation don’t have a life savings, they don’t have anything saved for retirement, they face daily fear of being laid off from one job and depending on the economy and luck to find the next job. They’ve gone through periods of unemployment every year where everything they fought hard to save up had to go towards paying off their mortgage or utilities, or unexpected medical operations. Their employers haven’t paid for their health insurance ever. They’ve never been able to take holidays off without worrying about their bills because they aren’t getting pay for holidays or sick day. And every month, we all receive emails and read articles about how high tech computer programs are going to make this job disappear in the next few years. Sure, there might be a couple of document reviewer fossils from the Jurassic Era in the next five years, but they will be the exception. And the scaries part is that they truly believe that because they’ve been working exclusively in document reviews as temporary attorneys for five, ten, fifteen years, that they will never be able to get out.
WHAT ABOUT THIS SITUATION IS POSITIVE? I personally found it scary. I found it scary to see people get comfortable here. And I found it scary to see that people weren’t willing to apply to a single permanent job in one, two, three, five years. No wonder you think you’re not getting out of these circumstances, you’re not DOING anything!
My first order of business was to diversify my skill-set when I realized that the work I was doing on a day-to-day basis might not be giving me many valuable skills to land the next job. I learned coding basics, I started a blog, I volunteered to do something more rewarding that clicking on documents with my time. But I didn’t just stop applying to jobs because I thought I wouldn’t land a job. What kind of defeatist attitude is that? I’m not going to lie, I doubted myself, doubted the economy, doubted employers ever giving me a chance, but I didn’t just give up. I will tell you that I work almost double the hours of the majority of what I respectfully call Jurassic Era fossils who have settled in their jobs. I have a lot less time to apply for jobs. They get home by four or 5pm – they have hours they could dedicate to outside hobbies that will get them new skills, or applying for jobs. I do that while still balancing a sixty or seventy hour workweek. Despite the sweat and tears, I picked myself up countless times, asked myself tough questions and moved myself forward instead of becoming frozen in time. I’m not saying all this to brag, I’m just saying that if I can do it, so can anyone else. And definitely so can a twenty-something Millennial living at home with less worries about taking a gamble on a new career. I would give so much to not have to worry about rent or food or my cellphone for even just a month! I had to say no to several opportunities because I knew that I couldn’t pay my rent in order to do them. And yet, it’s so disappointing to see someone with so many fallbacks and safety cushions to be too afraid to look over the edge, let alone stand on the edge and take a leap. This is the person who needs to have a QLC more than the rest of us! Don’t be complacent, or you’ll turn into one of the fossils, and it won’t happen while you’re living at home, you might move out one day and the job structure that is failing today will completely collapse. And then what skills will you have to fall back on? What new things have you learned that will lift you up?
As you can tell, the situation of the complacent Millennials infuriates me! It’s not like the forty or fifty year old who got stuck in a situation, maybe without warning. But we Millennials can see concrete examples of what happens when you don’t change, grow or transform. And the picture I painted above ain’t pretty. Sure you can pay the bills, or pay for all your computer games since you’re living at home and your parents still pay the bills, but this won’t last. Your salary will never go up, in fact every year temp agencies are paying less per hour for this work since temporary attorneys are becoming replaced at an increasing rate by machines.
So this third category of Millennials really infuriate me. I just want to shake them – wake up! Pick yourself up! Acknowledge the reality that you find yourself in! Your parents can’t support you forever!
I don’t mean to single out people living at home. Far from it. Most people I know did live at home to get themselves started. Some of my most go-gettery friends lived at home for a year or two, went through true QLCs where they faced all the questions they had head on, took major risks, and came out to amazingly rewarding careers! My dear friend came home after completing grad school, worked her butt off to network, get experience and truly fight for a career. Instead of getting complacent, she took some pretty daring risks in putting herself (and her well-planned CV out there), and guess what? She landed a cool job that will put her on the career in publishing that she’s dreamed about. Most of my law school friends had to move back home after taking their respective bar exams because they didn’t have a job waiting for them after law school. And this gave them the freedom to volunteer in interesting areas of the law they might never have explored, or focus on hobbies that they were then able to develop into careers. And yes, most of them landed really awesome jobs, or jobs that will get them to their awesome jobs. They lived at home, but were able to avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve seen in anyone (living on their own, or at home, alike!) that ended up complacent.
Unlike these amazing success stories, what I’ve found as a pattern in all those who become complacent is that things don’t get bad enough for them to really fear for their futures, and so it’s easy to become blind to the facts. And I have found that in general, but not as a rule, those who find themselves stuck in the complacency cycle are not completely independent for more than just the one or two years that most Millennials need to pick themselves out of a rut and become completely independent.
What I’m saying isn’t, don’t live at home, or don’t let your parents or grandparents help with your rent. By all means, use all the resources available to you! But use those resources to take risks or get out of your comfort zone. And most importantly, never stop thinking about where you are and where you’re going. Because when you get too comfortable in something being relatively easy or that doesn’t challenge you, that’s when you truly risk being complacent.
So, my biased (duh, I’m human!) opinion is that not only should we all experience challenges (and more specifically some form of Quarter Life Crisis if you’re a Millennial), but that these obstacles and growing pains are the best way to achieve our dreams. For it’s impossible to get the things we dream about if we don’t examine ourselves and our circumstances. So if you’re in a rut, it’s not too late! Pick yourself up, get yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to fall or get bruised up a little. You’re not living if you’re not living!
Tell us about your Quarter Life Crisis! Or if you don’t believe in it, what do you find hard to believe about a Quarter Life Crisis? Do you think I was overly narrow in my categories, or do you agree?
Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!
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