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)

 

Quarter-Life Crisis Change and Survival – An Interview with writer Damian Barr

 Image courtesy of Daisy Honeybunn

Damian Barr: Writer, columnist, playwright and salonnière.
Image courtesy of Daisy Honeybunn

Back in 2006, Damian Barr was ahead of the curve.

His book Get it together: A Guide to Surviving Your Quarterlife Crisis, inspired by a column he wrote for the Times in 2001-3, was the first book about the Quarter-life crisis to be published in the UK. Now as the QLC becomes more and more of a growing concern, we caught up with Damian to find out his opinions on the QLC and how it can be avoided – or if it even should.

So Damian, you were writing about this quite a while ago, but the Quarter-life crisis seems to be in the media a lot more these days. Do you think things have got worse, or is it an eternal dilemma?

I think that every generation likes to think that they were the first to go through a defining crisis, but I also think that things are definitely different than they were with our parents and grandparents. The economy is very fragmented, a career is very different and the idea of a retirement is very different too.

Education costs a lot more, property costs a lot more, so I think we’ve got a few factors that mean we are facing a unique crisis.

Still, since I started writing about it, in some ways the economic conditions have got worse, and in some ways they’ve got better. In addition, I think social media and the rise of the internet has given people an outlet for those anxieties, and an opportunity to get support. And also a way of doing something about it – finding out about different careers, different places to live, and different people to live with.

How would you define a QLC?

I think that it’s a feeling that you should be doing, being or having more than you are.

We’re promised that our twenties are the easiest most fun decades of our lives, and actually they’re the most competitive and most challenging and exhausting in lots of ways.

It’s a sort of sneaking suspicion that things aren’t going as they should be. For some people that manifests as anxiety, for some people it’s depression, for other people it’s rage, they wish they’d had more fun at university when they had the chance. People seem disillusioned. Why have I done all this work and got into all this debt just so I can have this job or house or whatever?

So would you say that you had a QLC in your twenties?

I think that I did. I mean, not as bad as some people, but I think that in my twenties – this was during the first dotcom boom, and I worked for various papers and websites, and coded and all that stuff – I got made redundant several times, in quick succession. And actually it was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it made me realise very early on that employers aren’t your parents. They don’t have to give you everything, you have to work out what it is you want for yourself. So I decided fairly early on that I didn’t want to have a job again. And that enabled be to have the career I have now.

So would you say that for you, and possibly other people, the QLC could be a rite of passage that can actually be a force for good?

Oh definitely! It’s much better to have a quarter-life crisis when you’ve still got time ahead of you to change than to have a mid-life crisis when you’re looking back at a past that’s filled with regrets.

What kind of advice would you give people to get out of a Quarter-life crisis? Should they even try?

I think the first thing to do is to acknowledge that you’re having some sort of problem, that everything isn’t OK. You shouldn’t be putting up those great status update about what a great life you’re having, when actually you’re feeling crap. Be OK with that, realise it’s alright to talk to people about that, and if necessary get professional help. Get support, not just from your peers, but a therapist, someone you can talk to about how you’re doing.

OK Damian, thanks for talking to us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I suppose it’s interesting to note that the quarter-life crisis has now become more mainstream. When I did my book it was the only one like it, and now there are loads of books and there are novels, and there’s been at least one TV series. It’s become a sort of must-have modern malaise – but the fact of the matter is, for the people experiencing it it is serious. It’s difficult, but it can be productive, and it can be positive.

Thanks Damian, great to hear from you.