Guest Post: Anwen Hayward

Sometimes a minor quarter-life crisis can come from your lack of one. Sound confusing? Anwen Hayward of lacreativitea.wordpress.com explains.

anwen

Photo courtesy of Anwen Hayward

Historically speaking, my family have always been good at quarter life crises. My mother got married to a man with ringlets. My great-grandfather joined the Australian navy and got so many tattoos that he made his wife cry.

There’s even a rumour that a great-great-uncle developed a sudden lifelong whim to be a horse and cart driver, spending his family’s life savings on a cart pony and old wagon before falling into destitute alcoholism. I don’t know what happened to the horse.

So, with that information to hand, I rather expected that my own quarter life crisis would be the thing of legend. I was almost looking forward to it. I wondered what I’d do when I hit the sensible wall of my 20s and dived into the uncharted waters of quarter life rebellion.

Would I spend all my savings on designer clothing and taxidermied fish? Perhaps I’d develop a glamorous cocaine habit and start frequenting soho bars, or run off to Cambodia with a younger gentleman (although not too much younger, of course; I’d be a rebel, not a monster).

I had no idea what I’d do when the big 2-0 hit, but I knew it would be phenomenal. They’d commemorate my story to myth, write odes and ballads about me and get funny men in tights to sing them with lyre accompaniments. They would. I knew it.

“I rather expected that my own quarter life crisis would be the thing of legend”

Only it didn’t quite happen like that.

Last week, I reached the grand old age of 22, and to date the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done is dine and dash in a cafe in Paris, swindling the owner of a massive 1.50€. I lost sleep for days over that, before rationalising that the pubic hair I’d found in my pain au chocolat would cost me far more than 1.50€ in therapy in the years to come. Since then, I’d never had any desire to do anything more avant-garde than that. Not once in the 700 days since I’d hit 20 had I had any desire to change my life on a whim, or reevaluate my life goals on a gondola in Vienna.

In 365 days, at the age of 23, my mother would have been married to a man with ringlets. 365 days ago, at the age of 21, my great-grandfather would have got a tattoo of a mermaid with phenomenally large breasts on his bicep. 365 days ago, I was sitting in my office, typing away contendedly at a petty cash spreadsheet and daydreaming about books I’d never write. I fully expected to be doing the same thing in 365 days’ time. Hardly the stuff of legend.

“To date the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done is dine and dash in a cafe in Paris”

On the morning of my 22nd birthday, I sat in my bedroom in my parents’ house and ruminated about the crisis that I hadn’t had. Where was my revelation? What had happened to my epiphany? I was 22, for God’s sake. I was supposed to have realised that my life was fruitless and heading in an undesirable direction, catapulting me fast into the void of vain attempts at changing the pattern of my existence. I was supposed to have had some sort of realisation, some sort of sudden and undeniable proof that I should be angry with the way my life was going, and yet I hadn’t. I’d just sort of plodded along, completely content with the fact that I had an English degree and yet I’d been an assistant accountant for the past seven years.

At first, I wondered if perhaps I’d been brainwashed by the patriarchy. Perhaps I’d just been gradually pushed into not questioning my admittedly boring life. Perhaps my total and peaceful acceptance of my lot was not just my natural optimism, but a symptom of a systematic and total brainwashing by the system into deciding not to protest my ill luck.

“Where was my revelation? What had happened to my epiphany?”

And then I had an epiphany. In an ideal world, I would have had this revelation against the backdrop of a red-raw sunset over an African plain, but in reality, I was eating lunch at my office desk (the same lunch I have every day, packed in a pink lunchbox and devoured at the chime of 1pm). The revelation? That I was content. I just was. I hadn’t had a crisis because I didn’t need one. My brain wasn’t addled by a totalitarian state. It was just happy. I was just happy.

The revelation was a mildly shocking one. As a more creative person, I’d always expected to rue the monotony of working life. I knew that I was supposed to loathe the grind of the 9-5 workday. I was supposed to be young and angry with the system that forced me out of bed at 7.30 on weekdays. Yet, for now, I wasn’t. I quite enjoyed getting the same bus every day, learning about the lives and idiosyncracies of my fellow commuters. I even looked forward to the client review meetings on Friday afternoons.

I’m still not sure what my crisis will be, if it ever happens. Perhaps in 3 years’ time I’ll have a sudden desire to drop everything and become a graphic designer in Norway, or I’ll hit 26 and realise that my lifelong goal was always to become a Conservative politician, but for now, my only revelation to date has been that I don’t need a crisis or a turning point to bring my life into focus. All I need is some feeling of contentment, something to look forward to and a reason to be happy, and that as long as I have that, I’m quite happy to live in the moment and put the crisis off. At least until I’m 40, anyway.

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The Quarter-life crisis in words

QLC word cloud

“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go

What does this guy know anyway? Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

What does this guy know anyway? Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Well hold on there F. Scott Fitzgerald (#namedrop), you haven’t even seen what we’re going to do with them yet! Jeez, this guy.

In a previous post, we looked at how the quarter-life crisis was represented in news media, and now we’ve gone back to the features, news stories and guides to the quarter-life crisis to look at the words it’s couched in.

For our purposes, these word clouds pull out the most frequently used terms – the bigger the word, the more times it was used in the original articles. In this first overall word cloud (above), there’s a lot of peripheral information to sift through, particularly irrelevant numbering.

The themes that pop out (aside from obvious terms like ‘crisis’) aren’t that surprising; ‘work’ and ‘jobs’ were used frequently enough to correlate them with QLCs. However, some are more interesting. ‘Parents’ would seem to reflect on both a comparison with previous generations and a need to live at home for financial reasons.

If we break it down further, we can see trends more clearly. For example, if we focus only on the long-form news feature articles and raise the bar for times a word is used, a slightly clearer picture emerges. We combined this guardian article, this telegraph article and this msn article to create this:

QLC feature word cloud

Again, we see ‘parents’, ‘jobs’ and ‘career’  are frequently used, but so are more personal terms: ‘trapped’, ‘depressed’, ‘feeling(s)’ , fear, ‘age’, ’25’ (a key age as opposed to the spectrum of numbers in the first word cloud), ‘want’, ‘phase’ and many others that display the universal feelings of distress that people can feel in these situations (incidentally Damian Barr, previously interviewed on this blog, also pops up a few times).

Blimey, this is getting a bit depressing; are all QLC articles this gloomy? Well, no; as any of our regular readers can attest, the rib-tickling levels of fun and hilarity that can be squeezed from the QLC knows no bounds; but what do these funnier articles on the topic from Metro, Buzzfeed and our very own Alex Horne (in this post) tell us?

QLC funny

Well, possibly slightly less. Although things are a bit less doom and gloom in these articles (as you might imagine), they also tend to gloss over key parts of the QLC experience (except the one from us, of course. We’re amazing). There are still trends that emerge, however; education, careers and emotional themes keep rising to the fore.

But perhaps you want something a little more helpful, and so for this last word cloud we’ve drawn together some articles which offer practical advice:

QLC helpful articles

It’s essentially what you’d expect. Keep your ‘faith’; one ‘stage’ at a time. ‘QLCs’ can make your ‘twenties’ intolerable, but ‘even’ during them, you must know they’re ‘just’ a ‘stage’.

That might seem pat and cheap, but it’s true. The language of the QLC is as universal as the experience – but also as the simple techniques to get past it are. So that’s what the investigations, the lists and the advice tell you.

As the last word cloud says: Your Move.

(Well, technically it says ‘youre’ and ‘MOVE’ separately, but it’s close enough. Ssh. And Robinson.)

With thanks to www.jasondavies.com for the word cloud programme.

Full list of articles:

The quarterlife crisis: young, insecure and depressed (The Guardian)

Quarter-life crisis: Find me a twentysomething who isn’t having one (The Telegraph)

20-something and stressed? How the quarter-life crisis got worse (MSN News)

Feeling depressed? It may be your quarter-life crisis (New Scientist)

‘Quarter-life’ crisis hits three in four of those aged 26 to 30 (Daily Mail)

10 Signs You’re Having Your Quarter-Life Crisis (Buzzfeed)

6 signs you’re suffering from a quarter-life crisis (Metro)

How to Survive a Quarter-Life Crisis (Self)

7 Cures for Your Quarter-life Crisis (Relevant magazine)

My 20s Weren’t Supposed to Be Like This: Getting Through the Quarter-Life Crisis (The Huffington Post)

Are You Having a Mid-twenties Crisis? (The Huffington Post)

 

Guest post: Dr Oliver Robinson

The Clueless team has only gone and snagged Dr Oliver Robinson for a bit of academic, incisive QLC discussion – lucky us! Doc Robinson is Programme Leader for the BSc Hons Psychology with Counselling degree at the University of Greenwich. He’s something of a QLC expert, and his research has been published in the New Scientist, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4, The Telegraph and The Times (Wow. We actually are lucky). Today he’s going to wax lyrical on the basics – what is a QLC, and where does it come from? This is the kind of guy who has many leather bound books and a Rolodex, so listen up people…

Dr Oliver Robinson. Photograph courtesy of The University of Greenwich

Dr Oliver Robinson. Photograph courtesy of The University of Greenwich

What is the quarter-life crisis? After all, traditionally the period of midlife has been most strongly associated with having a crisis in adulthood, but it is now widely accepted that they are just as likely in the first decade of adult life. A quarter-life crisis is a period of stress, instability and major life change that occurs when a person is either in their twenties or early thirties.  Such a period typically occurs when a person has entered a job, relationship or marriage, or has developed an adult lifestyle, which they then realise they no longer want because it is causing them distress or preventing their personal growth. The crisis period acts as a turning point during which old commitments are ended, new ones are begun, and many strong emotions are experienced.  Crisis episodes are often reflected on as developmental important periods, during which much personality development and emotional development occurs.

“A quarter-life crisis is a period of stress, instability and major life change that occurs when a person is either in their twenties or early thirties”

My research has investigated the quarter-life crisis using questionnaires and interviews, and I’ve found it is quite a common phenomenon – about one third of British adults aged 30 and over reflect on having a crisis in their twenties.

However, there are good arguments that the quarter-life crisis is more common now than in the past.

Firstly, adults in their twenties report higher levels of stress than any other adult age group.  It is a time during which major decisions are made that shape the remaining decades of adult life – this is a source of pressure and anxiety and one that is increasingly complicated in the modern world as there are more kinds of job, more possible identities and a wider set of options for relationships.

An additional challenge for young adults is changing roles from being a dependent child who lives at home and is financially supported, to being an independent adult. This transition to adulthood can take many years to achieve in full due to longer periods studying and the high price of property.

While age 18 is the commencement of legal adulthood in the UK (and many other countries), most young adults do not actually think of themselves as adults for some years after that.  This is referred to as the stage of ‘emerging adulthood’ – when a young adult is neither fully adolescent nor fully adult.

In the past, the start of adult commitments such as marriage, parenthood and career occurred earlier, so by the age of 25 a young person would quickly be embedded in adult society through entering these social roles. Now, in the UK, the average age for first marriage is approximately 30, and parenthood also starts at this age on average.

This delay of commitments means that a young person has more freedom to explore and be educated than ever before; it means that major life changes are more possible and manageable. For example, a career change is easier if the person does not have financial responsibilities towards children and so has the capacity to re-train for a period of their young adult life, while a relationship change is also easier if the relationship in non-marital and does not involve children.  These are the kinds of changes that make quarter-life crisis a more common phenomenon than in the past.

A quarter-life crisis is an episode in life that typically lasts a year or two, and includes a number of recognisable features.  All episodes start with Phase 1. This involves a life situation that is causing the person stress, dissatisfaction, a deep sense that their development is not progressing healthily and optimally, and feeling trapped in a set of commitments that have been made but are no longer wanted.  This is often accompanied by not feeling in control– of being pushed around by circumstance and other people.  The negative emotions that characterise Phase 1 are often held within, and not expressed outwardly.

Phase 2A brings with it a greater desire for change, and a belief that change can occur. During this phase, a person separates from a relationship, social group or job to search for a new path into adult life. This is a distressing period, for it brings a sense of loss, confusion and a sense of anxiety about the future.

“Rather than living with a routine and automatically, life in Phase 3 is experimental and spontaneous”

Phase 2B is a time of questioning and self-examination. One of our participants said of this period: ‘‘I had to reflect, I had to see about the past and what went wrong, why things went wrong”. This emphasises the nature of this period – a time to reflect on why their life had led to a crisis and how to move forward.

Rather than living with a routine and automatically, life in Phase 3 is experimental and spontaneous. New ideas, identities and commitments are then tried and a person looks at options available to them for the future. The aim of Phase 3 is to search for a career or relationship that is more closely aligned with their ‘core self’ – they values, aspirations and deep sense ‘who I am’ than before.

Phase 4 is termed the ‘rebuilding phase’ and it involves active steps towards building a new adult ‘life structure’ – an integrated set of commitments that can stand the test of time and act as the foundation for the decades of adult life to come.

To read more of Doc Robinson’s work on the QLC and coping with adulthood, check out his book Development through Adulthood: An Integrative Sourcebook. You can also catch excerpts of his keynote speech at Mind The Gap’s launch party in March on our liveblog coverage of the event.

Liveblog: Mind The Gap launch party – what you missed

Happen to miss out on last night’s Mind The Gap launch party liveblog, or wondering how Mind The Gap can help you get through your quarter-life crisis? Catch up here with Clueless’s breakdown to your soon-to-be favourite life coaches…

At a glance:

  • New lifecoaching organisation, Mind The Gap, launches
  • MTG aims to solve the problems of todays 20 and 30-somethings, like the QLC
  • Renowned life coach and psychologist Dr Oliver Robinson talks about the reasons for the rise in QLC-ers
  • “MTG is a genuine niche for QLC support and discussion”, says Doc Robinson
  • mtgcoaching.co.uk/

8.34pm: The chief culprits…

Courtesy of Mind The Gap

8.24pm: But after getting together with her friend Emily, they turned their hobby and passion – bringing music to life – into a business…

MindTheGap-49

8.06pm: Check out the Mind The Gap team here

7.55pm: Really great speech by Dr Robinson. If you want to check out his research, start here. It’s all very sciency.

psych-oliver-Olly-Robinson

Courtesy of Oliver Robinson

7.38pm: The unveiling of the MTG logo! MTG coach Alice Stapleton (who we interviewed here) says the logo “reflects the gaps we all stumble into in life – whether in relationships, careers, or finances – and is a warning for this generation. We’re here to guide you round them.”

mind the gap