"It’s a First World Problem but its real" ~ Amy Remekis; Brisbane Times 07MAY’12
In the 1600s, when educated youngsters threw it all in, it was called a Grand Tour.
These days, it’s better known as the quarter-life crisis that is overwhelmingly affecting those spoilt for choice.
“When I was in high school, I told everyone I was going to change the world. I was going to be a human rights lawyer, I was going to work for the United Nations and I was going to bring war criminals to justice,” 27-year-old Caroline Rawlings says.Advertisement: Story continues below
“I spent six years at uni learning to do just that. And then all of a sudden I was 24 years old with two degrees and not a single ounce of enthusiasm to use either.
”I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I hated law. I hated the thought of being in an office all day. My entire life to that point had been geared to achieving the dream I always thought I wanted but when it came right down to it, I didn’t want it any more.
”And with that, came guilt. So much guilt. And then, depression.”
It’s by no means a new phenomenon and even its moniker, the quarter-life crisis, borrows from its mid-life counterpart.
But it’s real and there is an increasing body of research exploring it, according to Associate Professor Evonne Miller, a social psychologist at the Queensland University of Technology.
“When people hit their mid-20s and they start to realise that the careers or the lives they might have picked when they were 17 or 18, that they decided to study something or they made a choice to do something and it is not turning out how they thought it would [that’s a quarter-life crisis],” Ms Miller said.
“It is just like a mid-life crisis, a time when an increasing number of people are starting to talk about a time when they might make a change, significant changes, in their life path.”
The global financial crisis has not helped matters.
Ms Miller said for some young people, emerging from university and discovering the job they’ve aimed and trained for is no longer available can result in feelings of loss and disillusionment.
“I think in some fields, architecture and the building industries for example, people have trained for a long time for their jobs, five years-plus and they have graduated and all of a sudden, the jobs they were told were going to be there for them, aren’t there,” she said.
“And it’s a real reality check, because they want to do what they’ve trained to do, that is their passion and unfortunately, currently some people just can’t get that job.”
Part of the reason an increasing number of people in their mid-twenties are - anecdotally at least - reporting disatisfaction with their lives is that they are making choices which can impact the rest of their lives when they are just teenagers.
Ms Miller said changes in work habits also meant a job was no longer for life.
“I think it is really difficult to make the right choice,” Ms Miller said.
“But I think it is really important to make our choice and to explore options but we need to realise that we are living longer, now an average of 82 to 85 years and that has shown us that you are likely to have three or four significant or different careers throughout your life.”
Which means, Ms Miller said, if you no longer want to be a lawyer, it is not the end of the world.
“It is important to acknowledge while some of your peers might be lawyers and loving it, it is OK to make a change now and go and do something completely different and start that coffee shop, if that is now your dream.”
Ms Rawlings said after six months of “wallowing and moping about my first-world problems” she decided to make a complete break and after volunteering overseas realised she wanted to work with aid agencies.
“Just nowhere near the legal side of things,” she laughed.
Which is how Ms Miller said was the best way to move through a crisis.
“You have to treat it as an opportunity,” she said.
“It is all about how you approach it and react to it. Treat it as a challenge you are going to have to get through and make the most of it.
“Let’s say you are a graduate and you can’t get a job, then go explore other opportunities.
“It is a cliché, but there is a lot of truth in it: you have to turn a crisis into opportunity.”
Just as long as it is kept in perspective.
“We have the luxury to even worry about these things and to some extent, it is an educated or affluent worry,” Ms Miller said.
“Some people don’t have the luxury to worry about whether they are feeling fulfilled in their roles or in their jobs, they are working any job to pay the rent, to pay bills or pay the mortgage.”
What we dream of doing requires a specialised, expensive education. Expensive in terms of financial cost and time committed. Or worse when there is no goal and several short learning experiences are followed by short stints in the workplace that demonstrate a lack of commitment & self-management
It occurs during at significant life transition stage ( reference to impact on mental health)
Why didn’t it turn out like as planned. Is it because our view of the world changes so much between the idealistic high school years and the reality that comes with graduation.
Another example of this is the current batch of IT graduates that have no jobs to go to upon graduating. A career in IT was always expected to come with an employment guarantee. If the pursuit of an IT career included the dream of creating 3D graphics and animation there was a course tailor-made for you but without jobs at the end of it, well not in this country anyway.