When quarter-life crisis strikes
We live in an age of over-reaching ambition, with the desire for instant success and of killing deadlines and high expectations. Thanks to our instant virtual ‘status update’ there is no place to hide! In this “40-is-the-new-30” era; mid-life crisis has now advanced to one’s early adulthood
Swati Rai

THE signs and symptoms of quarter-life crisis are akin to those of the more usual, midlife crisis. This phenomenon is characterised by disenchantment, insecurities, disappointments, loneliness and depression. “Fast results faster” has become the motto of the present generation gasping to catch up with the latest technology, fad and trends!If you are fat you’re no good, if you don’t pocket a fat pay you are an outcast and if you aren’t fluent in English, then God save you!

Simmi Waraich, Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Mohali informs, “Youngsters grow up wanting to be the cool people they see on youth channels. Be it the travellers circumnavigating the world, or the trim figures moving around with glitterati. Many youngsters at this age now innately yearn to be ‘successful’ in their fields early; many are doubtful of their career choice and want to explore more options. This, more often than not, leads to a crisis situation”

So what is it that makes the youth tick? Rhea Mukherjee, 23, working with a top-notch public relations company in Delhi gives a feel of what the youth want, “Most of us are in a tearing hurry to grow up, earn well and of course to ‘make it’!” Exactly what is it that we want, we are quite clueless about! ”ShefaliArora, 23, working with an ace Delhi-based advertising agency says, “Being a DJ, biking, music or even being a bartender has become an oft-heard career choice these days. We start young and are open to exploring the many professional and personal choices life offers us! We want to live it up before practical problems of life pin us down!” Now, there’s a thought in there!

Professional hazard

This period of transition into the professional world when the youth, armed with one’s degrees or even without them too; enter the “real world”. They encounter anxieties unknown till then, marking the beginning of quarter-life crisis. Professionally, what exacerbates this crisis is the fact that hard skills learnt in school and college are not enough to tackle the real-time problems such as the issue of diplomacy, office ethics or even the tact of handling annoying colleagues! As young professionals, beginning of the corporate rat-race and the urge to climb up the promotion ladder leads them to the path of self-questioning and anxiety. Trying to fit in to the expected gender roles after the supposed social freedom in college can also play a role in this crisis. Such a situation leaves a person with the continuous feeling of dissatisfaction and constant insecurity. Delhi-based sociologist and educational advisor, Zafeena Suresh elaborates, “In the professional world, there is a need for adaptation to a new environment which may not allow for intellectual freedom. During this phase of life, there is also a slight shift in the support systems as individuals enter a phase of financial independence.” Simmi adds, “Competition in most fields, the pressure of being an only child or one of two siblings, unsure and a fluid job market and pressure of peers to do well early in life leads to increased conflict.”

It’s personal

This confusion also takes root in personal life, when the youth discover a relationship not necessarily the “death-do-us-part” variety. Parental pressure, overt or covert to get “settled,” all add to psychological pressures that most are not equipped to handle. Zafeena adds, “Paucity of time to build new relationships may also delay entering into intimate relationships causing insecurity and comparisons with peers.”

Rhea explains, “I am quite realistic in setting my goals and do not shy away from career counselling at the right time. I realised that there are several options for a person but surely all can’t be exercised!” Shefali adds, “There are many of us who wish to make a statement, be it with technology or apparels or even careers! I feel I could make the right personal and professional choices because I am confident of myself and what I am glad is that I didn’t jump onto the bandwagon!”

Road to recovery

There exists a large gap between the reality of quarter-life crisis and the admission of it in India. To tackle this crisis, a step at the right time in the right direction, can save many lives and hopes. Zafeena advises, “At the micro-level, support in the private sphere in the form of space to grow and understand the ‘self’ is going to play a significant role. The rush to achieve and settle in life without understanding that “settlement in life is also a state of flux” is another factor that needs to be understood. Only with social environments that allows de-stressing and to space a life based on personal needs, can one counter the quarter-life crisis among youth.”

To paint the picture black and white would be an error of judgement. There are many savvy youngsters who at a young age are trendsetters, leaders and successful entrepreneurs. Simmi elaborates, “Those people with an understanding family, one that is there without putting undue pressure, one that listens, gives advice and then lets the children make their own decisions and those with a good set of friends never face such a situation. 

Quarter-life crisis has become a part of the angst of youth- it may lead to spiritual growth and a self-realisation. Ultimately it is about taking responsibility for our choices and an acceptance of reality.” Zafeena avers, “To deal with this crisis, one needs to have a plan but also remember not all plans may work out. So don’t let time-bound plans bog you down. ‘Spacing’ events in life is going to be important to make your plan succeed without undergoing undue stress.”

Adolescence and adulthood as our parents or we knew has now advanced. Quarter-life crisis is staring us in our faces and it is time to take cognisance of this phenomenon. 

When going gets tough, toughen up

l Parents can instil good EQ habits in a child. This will give an edge to the child to overcome stress in life.
l Have a constructive outlet for pent-up emotions. Following a creative hobby can help one express oneself in more ways than one!
l Ascertain short-term goals as the resultant feeling of achievement can do wonders for one’s confidence.
l Do something altruistic, without expecting rewards. This will help in thinking globally and thus shift the focus from your own supposed problems.
l Consciously renew and rejuvenate your relationship; give it time as we tend to take relations for granted. 
l Do something that you have always longed to do, learn a new language or a musical instrument.
l Spend time with friends, without expecting any favours or help. This will lead to disinterested warm communication.
l Make small yet significant innovations in your routine job. Pose challenges to your-self, set targets that are difficult, yet achievable.
l Connect with nature which is a great way of recharging your mind. Take a break to demolish the monotony of routine.
l To avoid discontentment and disillusionment choose a career that suits your aptitude & attitude.
l When in doubt, don’t shy away from career and personal counselling!
dr vasantha r patri, chairperson, indian institute of counselling, new delhi