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