Traditionally, our twenties are when we're meant to be going out and living our best life – making the most of its wonders and opportunities before settling down and dealing with the multi-pronged stress of middle age.
Unfortunately, a generation of young people is experiencing a quarter-life crisis, fuelled not simply by a naive desire to "find ourselves", but a whole host of structural, economic and technological factors beyond our control: from the cost of property and the rise of precarious employment to the anxiety induced by social media.
New research by LinkedIn suggests a staggering 72% of young professionals in the UK have had a quarter-life crisis, with 26 years and nine months the most common age for it to have kicked in. How do you know if you're among the 72%? While some people decide to quit their job and move abroad, it manifests differently in everyone.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Alex Fowke, a quarter-life crisis is “a period of insecurity, doubt and disappointment surrounding your career, relationships and financial situation", coming after the major changes of adolescence and usually involving self doubt in the face of the stresses associated with becoming an adult.
These feelings last for 11 months on average and are are compounded by various pressures, the most common being getting on to the property ladder, cited by 57% of the 2,000 25-33 year olds surveyed, and finding a career you're passionate about (57%). Both factors were deemed more crisis-inducing than the pressure of finding a life partner (46%).
Dr Fowke reckons the quarter-life crisis has indeed become particularly prevalent in recent years due to the pressures currently facing young people that older generations didn't have to deal with. “Nowadays, twenty-somethings are under intense pressure to get themselves onto the housing market, navigate the increasingly complex professional landscape, struggle to maintain relationships and are commonly subjected to a distorted notion of life through social media," he said. Confusion about their identity, internal conflict about failing to reach the expectations set for themselves and uncertainty, are particularly common, Dr Fowke added.
Careers bring with them their own particular worries – around a third (31%) of those surveyed believed they'd wasted years in the wrong job, a similar proportion (34%) had relocated to another part of the country or abroad, while 35% had changed their career entirely and 22% had quit their job without having another lined up.
But those young people with their professional lives sewn up still experience their fair share of doubt. One anonymous media worker in London, let's call her Victoria, who is just a month away from the 26-years-and-nine-months crisis point, told Refinery29: "I always used to look at people in their mid twenties and marvel at how grown up they seemed, how they had their shit together. I’ve realised that either they didn’t and it was an illusion, or I’m way behind where I should be because I don’t even have any shit to get together yet."
Victoria's main concerns are that she doesn't own a property – and doubts she'll be able to any time soon – and her single status. "My main problem is the feeling of being unsettled – living somewhere that isn't truly mine and that's always going to be temporary makes me feel like my life is on hold. And then there’s the fact that lots of people I know are in long-term relationships – which I'm definitely not."
"A lot of my close friends feel the same," she continued, which, while comforting, doesn't necessarily make it easier to see a way out of her crisis. "We’re all constantly trying to reassure each other about the same things – houses, jobs, life milestones – so I know I'm not alone, but I can't escape a general feeling of inadequacy."
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