Is this all there is?

06 December 2013

I AM visiting a company in Brighton, and meeting employees who wish to talk. It is a young company, but a successful one, winning numerous awards in the internet world. It has youthful employees, most of them in their twenties, both internet-savvy and PR-wise. And, today, the same phrase comes up in three of the sessions.

People don't talk much about work when I visit, because work is not that important in their lives. They all need to earn a living - that matters; but, when push comes to shove, most of them do not feel defined by their jobs. They do this today, but they might do something else tomorrow, particularly if it offers more money. And, when they consider their happiness - or lack of it - their job is just one section of a larger tapestry.

So, when people come to see me, they speak of their lives, not their jobs; and, today, three of them mention the "quarter-life crisis."

We are familiar with the mid-life crisis, which, in these live-longer times, can strike as late as 60. Difficult to pin down, it is the attempt to restart a life grown dull: a recognition that personal needs and longings have been forgotten in pursuit of career and commitments.

Symptoms vary, but they may include: a change of hair - shaving of head, pony tail, or changing the colour; depression or listlessness; a desire to get into physical shape; sudden buying of clothes; sudden buying of a motorbike; nostalgic feelings for a golden past; thoughts of an affair, or an actual one; or the desire to run away from everything and start again.

The quarter-life crisis is a younger version, and strikes at about the age of 25. It is the first jolt in life's big adventure. You have left home, set out on your own, and got a job. You are renting your own place, and you have money in the bank (you would like more, but can't complain), and you can afford foreign travel and a "blow-out" every Friday night. In fact, everything you ever promised yourself.

And then, suddenly, you stop and wonder - is this it, until I die?

Until now, everything great lay in the future. But now that the future has arrived, you're here, and it isn't that great; adult life does not come with inbuilt meaning. And, of course, there are worries about relationships, mortgages, and whether I want to do this job for the rest of my life.

At 25, we discover that ways of thinking and being which helped us to survive childhood do not help us to thrive now. The crisis will have started long before the symptoms appear; but the symptoms make it known, make it something we can speak of, and that is all good.

If handled without fear, the quarter-life crisis becomes less of a monster, and more of a reappraisal. And life certainly demands a few of those along the way.

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