Twenties not always a roaring success
Back in July 2009, being young was fun. Joseph Oliver graduated from a top ten university with a 2.1 in English, and celebrated his 21st birthday in the same week. He partied for seven days: eating, drinking and dancing till sunrise. He felt sure his dream job was just around the corner.
Four years later Joseph Oliver turned a quarter of a century in the same city. He still lived with his best friend from 2006, who refused to wash-up, take the rubbish outside, or change out of his pyjamas. Joseph had a dead-end job in hospitality, involving early mornings, late nights and rude customers. His 1,067 Facebook friends were scattered across six continents, and his long-term girlfriend – who had recently secured her dream job teaching English in China – was a distant memory. He felt stuck, but was running out of escape routes...
Young adults often assume their 20s will be the best years of their life: a time of opportunity and adventure before marriage and children. But for many it is an age of anxiety, with worries over jobs, money and relationships blighting the idyllic myth. The quarter-life crisis bears many of the hallmarks of the one affecting middle-aged adults – characterised by insecurity, loneliness, disappointment and depression.
"Being twentysomething now is scary – fighting millions of other graduates for your first job, struggling to raise a mortgage deposit and finding time to juggle all relationships," said Damian Barr, author of Get it Together: A Guide to Surviving Your Quarterlife Crisis. A survey by Gumtree found 86 per cent of 1,100 young people felt under pressure to succeed in relationships, finances and jobs before hitting 30.
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Barr added: "If, as we're constantly told, the world is our oyster, it's definitely a dodgy one. Unlike the midlife crisis, the quarterlife crisis is not widely recognised. There are no experts to help us. We have no support apart from each other."
Another recent poll of 2,000 people carried out by media company Entertainment One found rising numbers of young people were turning to professional help for their problems, with a third having undertaken therapy and a quarter having been prescribed antidepressants.
Neil Shah, director of The Stress Management Society, said: "The pressures a modern twenty-something faces are very different to their counterparts from 20 or 30 years ago. It is the hardest time to set out in the world, leave home and establish your career. Today, they have financial concerns and struggle to get on the housing ladder, compared to those currently in their 50s who were able to get settled and secure during a time when it was easier to do so."
The transition from student life to the "real world" is tough for many people, with friends disappearing to start work, move abroad or even get married. Few are prepared for the post-university reality that debt is hard to erase, finding your "dream job" is very hard, and meeting "the one" is virtually impossible.
Tom Richards, 24, who graduated three years ago from the University of Exeter and now works in NHS administration support, says: "Work can be dull, money can be tight and job applications unsuccessful. Time moves on, and it can seem like I'm treading water while people around me are getting married, starting families and settling into their ideal careers."
Getting the balance between work and life can be hard, especially for those who succeed in getting a "prestigious" job they desperately want to keep.
"Twentysomethings might appear to have it all, said Alexandra Robbins, who co-wrote the book, Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties. "But there is often a disparity between the impressive trappings around them and their inner emptiness. She added: "The Quarterlife Crisis is a response to instability, constant change, too many choices, and a panicked sense of helplessness."
The search for contentment when circumstances are less than ideal may lead to a fight or flight mentality. Many will actively challenge their state of affairs by exploring new possibilities and trying to rebuild their life. Some will happily admit their struggles, knowing they are not alone and realising their problems are normal.
"One of the great things about being a Christian is that it enables me to be honest about how I feel," said Tom Richards. "I don't need to pretend that I'm perfectly sorted. The Bible shows me that a failure to be content is a common human problem. I know in my relationship with God, I have everything I need."
And almost everyone will eventually manage to turn a corner. Joseph Oliver received a call out-of-the blue from his girlfriend. A fortnight later he boarded a plane to Beijing to begin teaching English at a school near where she worked. Balancing the hotel job with an intensive teacher-training course had paid-off.