Chronic sense of dissatisfaction? Nagging and pervasive ennui hanging over your head like a storm cloud over sunny picnics? Crippling feelings of negativity regarding self worth and constant comparison to others? Check check check. Nothing really to feel that bad about, and yet somehow loads of stuff to feel bad about?
It’s the quarter-life crisis. And, knock knock, here it is. Right on time.
A lot of my friends aren’t happy right now. Not unhappy in the classic sense of grieving for something, or someone. It’s the everyday thud of anxiety, the subtle feeling of malcontent, the every day stresses of struggling to establish ourselves that are taking their toll.
We think of the quarter-life-crisis as something symptomatic purely of modern life. But I think Sylvia Plath put it best in The Bell Jar.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
Everything for our generation comes as a trade off. If you want money – not a lot, but enough – you must work around the clock to the point you have no time to spend it. If you want to enjoy your job, you must trade this against being able to buy your own home before 40. If you want to be married, accept that this probably means moving back home with your parents, rather than into your first home together to begin your wedded life. Gone are the days where you could bed down in an organisation for twenty years, safe in the knowledge that simply by dint of being good at your job, you’d receive steady promotions as a reward. These days, employees are expendable to organisations because there are thousands of over-qualified job-hunters waiting in the wings to take your place. If you want to see any real success, you must change your job on an almost yearly basis, or risk seeing your earning potential stagnate. And the job search is exhausting. As soon as you get to grips with one new office, you’re being forced to look for the next.
As Generation Y, we’ve been performance-graded pretty much since the moment we slipped out of a vagina. SATs at primary school, yearly exams in secondary school, GCSEs, AS Levels, A Levels, university assignments, finals, further education once we realise our degree isn’t enough, workplace assessments in most careers. I figured out recently that last year was the first in fifteen years where I hadn’t had some sort of exam to revise for. Is it any wonder Millennials can’t get away from the feeling we are constantly being assessed on our skill set for merely existing?
We compare ourselves relentlessly to others, and women are worse at it. Whereby we used to gain a skewed sense of self-worth by exam results, cup size and how many boys we’d kissed, we now tot up our failures against the perceived successes of others, shown almost exclusively via a screen – rarely the real world. We look at everybody else’s highlight moments, and can’t help but compare them to our own ‘behind the scenes’. And, of course, we pale in comparison. Because who wouldn’t? Real life never emulates art.
Anyone over fifty will probably tell us all we need to do is get our heads out of our own squat-trained arses and just start existing. That’s easy for them to say. In comparison, they seemingly bought their first house at age 8 for about £5, were married and in their chosen career by 17, with no huge uni debts looming over them, and never had to deal with wondering if their friend was pissed off at them because there were two blue ticks next to their latest Whatsapp message, but no reply for two days.
Everyone is panicking that they will never afford a house, never keep a relationship alight long enough to actually find ‘the one’, and will die still paying off the student loan that proved absolutely useless in the first place. And, as if to rub our noses in it, celebrities are now just a scroll away from us, serving as a not-so-gentle reminder of what ‘achievement’ looks like in 2016.
I think any Millennial who isn’t feeling this sort of displacement is a very rare person. That sense that, somehow, you have not turned into the person you were supposed to be at this age. Everywhere I look, my clever, beautiful, talented, hard-working friends are struggling. The ones with successful jobs in the City are quietly suffocating under guilt for the ultimately meaningless, and frankly somewhat mercenary machine they are now a cog in. The ones with utterly acceptable, nicely-paid, comfortable jobs are lamenting the boredom associated with them. The ones who are doing yet another Masters degree are necking anxiety pills to cover up the fact they are terrified of the real world. Close friends are having panic attacks over the pattern of ‘engaged-promoted-new-house-exotic-holiday’ on their Facebook feed.
Suddenly, I’m feeling kind of sympathetic to all those 45 year old men frittering their eldest’s uni fund on a motorbike and trying to chat up girls half their age. Because I’m starting to understand what that feeling of entrapment and panic feels like. The only problem is, it’s hit us 20 years too early.
Feature image taken from @quarterlifepoetry