Today we have a guest post on a challenging time many 20-somethings face and overcoming the difficulties that come along with it.
We are living in a curious time of uncertainty. In the past, conformity and tradition were valued – there was a process to how a life should develop and it was clear when one has successfully followed it or deviated, and thus, failed. If you weren’t married by a certain age, you were behind. If you didn’t have a certain type of job at a certain time in your life that would allow you certain comforts of an upper middle class existence or better, also #fail. Although the expectations are not as rigid today, I would argue that this makes things more difficult for us twenty-somethings. Let me explain.
Today, we are encouraged to keep exploring, to always tread the line of normalcy and find it in ourselves to cross it into individuality. It is well established knowledge that one’s twenties is supposed to be a time to build an identity, to explore, to learn and eventually settle into the person you’ve always wanted to become (whenever that time may come for you). After all, it’s no longer about societal expectations, it’s about your own vision for you.
However, such expert ability to self-reflect and self-identify requires incredible amounts of perspective, and for a generation that spends a considerable amount of time building our social identities online and focusing on the best ways to share our feelings in 140 characters or less, we lack it. Perspective and the ability to truly know yourself, come from experiencing the world; from being jolted out of your comfort zone, repeatedly and violently; from testing yourself and your own boundaries, while watching other people do the same around you to, eventually (hopefully!), steer your life into a place you like. Sometimes, we are lucky enough that life throws us curveballs and presents us with difficulties that we can learn from, but more often than not, our average first world existence affords us little opportunity to test our true limits. So, we sit there, in front of the computer, completely self absorbed and not even a little bit self aware.
We flail in the wind for a while, struggle “to find our place in the world,” to sort out our priorities: Do I want the job or am I family person? Is this even the job I want? Is this a person I want to spend the rest of my life with? Who am I? Where am I headed? Where SHOULD I be going? These questions eventually get less focused and become vast, to the point of being almost rhetorical. Disorder and panic ensue.
The great thing about this uncertain period of one’s life, is that great change is almost always preceded by chaos.
Enter quarter life crisis.
I spent my late teens and early twenties following a clear path. In High School and college, the big goal is simply getting a diploma. There is an end result and the next steps are clear. While you’re busy achieving that goal, you start testing yourself in little ways: Can I pass this class? Can I tackle a difficult topic for a paper? Can I handle my first serious relationship? Sex? Can I handle the pain of a broken heart? Then, you graduate. And some people start the flailing right then. Some of us, myself included, continue on a path. Can I get my first job? Can I impress my boss? Can I win this client? Can I get my first promotion? Eventually, you prove to yourself that you in fact, can do these things. Check, check, check!
..And then you get to a point where you run out of questions, realize that the goals are not that clear anymore and you’re no longer really working towards anything, you’re just working. You’re just being. I was 23 when this realization first hit me.
I wouldn’t know this for sure, but from what I can see, some people are OK just being. But a lot of us are not and as I mentioned earlier, we are strongly encouraged to seek more, to think bigger. At that point I had a stable job that was surely leading to a successful career, I was living with my long-term boyfriend and our dog, engagement and marriage was probably near and we had already picked out the names of our unborn kids (we were going to have two maybe three). Then, my quarter life crisis hit and I started to slowly remedy my normalcy. I changed roles within my job, which would require me to start from zero and get retrained (could I do it?), my relationship slowly fell apart, and I moved out on my own (could I do it?). Working on getting the “yes” answer to these questions tided me over until I turned 24, when I started looking for bigger challenges and more interesting questions.
That’s precisely when I decided that it’s time to leave the safety of familiarity and move to a different country; landing some place where I knew nobody and had to start from scratch would surely allow me endless self-exploration and offer much needed perspective. I did consider a dramatic change – going to a country where I couldn’t speak the language (France? Japan?) and getting a job I knew nothing about (teaching english? wine-making?). In the end, I ended up in London working for the marketing agency I worked for in NYC.
I’ve been here for a few months now and since I am busy building a whole new life, I finally feel that my quarter life crisis is over. For now, I have many questions to answer and a lot to achieve. The momentum of moving forward is keeping me occupied. However, once I get settled again and once my life goes back to some sort of a state of normal, will wine-making in Japan be the next experience I’ll need to aid it? Probably.
Irina was born in Moscow, grew up in Western Ukraine and then moved to New York for high school and college. She received a degree in Communication, Media and Culture from NYU and currently works at 360i London as a brand strategist. Lover of good food, travel and passionate about romantic comedies.