Monday, 13 October 2014

The Rise of the Quarter Life Crisis

We've all known someone who seems to be having a mid-life crisis - you know the sort, doesn't want to leave his wife so decides to go to college and change career at the age of 40, or feels undervalued at work so buys a snazzy new car. It's something of a cliche nowadays, but the mid-life crisis is widely accepted as A Real Thing. Looking around me recently though it seems as though it's the 20-somethings who are suffering from an epidemic. The rise of the Quarter Life Crisis.

As a teenager I knew exactly what I wanted from life: I was going to go to the University of Edinburgh, train to be a vet, meet a dashing fellow academic, buy a beautiful house and be happily married by the time I was 25. Has any of that happened? Well, not exactly. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy with how my life is and will be ever-grateful for the opportunities I have had, but isn't it funny how young adulthood does little to prepare you for the real thing?

I don't know about you, but no-one ever told me just how soul-destroying it is to look at your payslips and see that most of the money you've made by working gruelling overtime has been eaten into by the tax man (and those pesky Student Loan repayments which creepily automatically start being deducted the minute you start earning more than £15,000) and that the month you receive your hard-earned bonus, you actually receive less money because it temporarily moved you up a tax bracket. Once you've factored in rent that really ought not to be so high considering the presence of silver fish in your bathroom and a malfunctioning washing machine, council tax (for schools you send your non-existent children to and rubbish collection that happens so seldom it feels like Christmas when your bins are actually empty), extortionate energy bills (I like warm towels, so sue me), travel to and from work on peasant wagons busses that make you want to claw your own eyes out every Monday morning and all those little things that you didn't realise people actually had to pay for, you're really not left with much money for, you know, doing stuff with.

With the government pushing for more and more young people to go to university, entry level jobs are becoming harder to come by. I look around the office I work in and the vast majority of those under 30 now have degrees - 10 years ago, that would probably not have been the case. This makes for some really interesting discussions in the canteen at lunch - everything from politics to linguistics to astrophysics - but it doesn't half make getting a job, and a good job at that, rather difficult. The careers advisor at my school (grey haired, pleated skirt-wearing old lady) seemed determined to fit me into a box. She didn't seem to understand that my only career dream had been crushed by a) my school refusing to let me study all 3 sciences, even if I did one of them in my spare time and b) the level to which I vehemently sucked at maths. As a last-ditch resort she tried getting me to apply to music college the day before applications closed. Needless to say, I didn't get in. How on earth is a 16-year old, who has had relatively little life experience and minimal work experience supposed to know what they want to do for the rest of their life? It's ridiculous to think that the average school leaver has an idea of what they want to do for the next 40 years, and I think this unrealistic expectation is partly to blame for the Quarter Life Crisis.

Then there are relationships. Whatever you do, you just can't win.. Here are just 2 possible scenarios: Option 1- Happily single, enjoying nights out with friends, living alone (when eventually earning enough to leave the family home), no ties and free to travel if so desired. This person will be perpetually nagged by their concerned Grandmother as to when they're going to "settle down" as if their biological clock is going to suddenly stop ticking at the tender age of 25. Option 2 - In a relationship with boy/girl they met as a teenager. Told time and time again that it would "never last" and that "first love is never true love" yet when they get to their mid-twenties suddenly every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to know why they're not married yet. Maybe because weddings are so bloody expensive!

From talking to my female friends though, it seems we all feel similarly. I'm in a relatively long term relationship. I have a good job and earn enough to rent a nice house and be tentatively considering stepping on the property ladder next year. I've been on holiday this year and will be going abroad again next month. Admittedly, I'm a little bit on the chubby side (although have made significant progress in this area this year!) and my health isn't fantastic but could be much worse. So why do I sometimes feel a prevailing sense of emptiness?

Put simply, being an adult isn't quite what I expected it to be. Some people would probably blame this on the seemingly-evil media. Really, it doesn't matter where it's come from. I was never under any disillusion that life in  my twenties would be easy - I have more or less financially supported myself since I left home at 18, I had part-time jobs whilst at university and I started full-time work before I even had a chance to graduate. Yet still, once reality hits that you only have 4 weeks a year in which to explore the world, and that Monday rolls around every single week without fail (and as positive as you might try to be, it's always a bit rubbish) you can't help but hanker after the easiness of the past and wonder why you stressed over half an hour of algebra homework and French verb patterns as an angsty 14-year old.

That said, I don't know what I did expect from adulthood. Perhaps I watched too many Disney films as a child, or perhaps it's the idyllic-seeming lifestyle blogs I'm so fond of reading which portray a blissful scene of constant domestic harmony. Let's face it though, who's going to write a blog post about the argument you had with your other half about him putting on a load of washing containing only 4 pairs of pants and a jumper. For me it's important to look at the bigger picture; to consider how relatively fortunate I am to have all that I do, to have been able to forge myself some incredible experiences and, more than anything, to not compare myself to other people.

So if you, like me and like so many others out there, feel like you're stuck in a bit of a rut and seem to have arrived at the quarter of a century mark feeling a tad discontented and unsettled, perhaps it will set your mind at ease a little to know you're not alone. We're the children of the 90s; we grew up trying to breed aliens by pressing their tummies together, the Spice Girls were our role models (I totally coveted Baby Spice), we wore skorts the first time around and experienced extreme excitement when our parents eventually gave in and got dial-up internet, allowing us to send song lyrics and ask 'WUU2?" "NM, U?" on MSN. We have so much to be thankful for, and the next quarter century to look forward to, so who cares if we're not exactly where we wanted to be right now - we've (hopefully!) got another three quarters of our lives to continue on the path to getting there - and like all good journeys, taking what initially feels like a wrong turn could lead us on the most incredible detour.