A name for it - QLCQuarter Life Crisis, the child of the well-known Mid Life Crisis is in vogue these days. Unlike a lot of other psychological buzz-words, there is more than just a hint of truth to this feeling among the current generation of 20-pluses. As a member of that group, I can testify to a collection of feelings and questions inside me and among acquaintances that are being put under this title.
Even the normally sybaritic Pune Times of India devoted an article to the topic, featuring a quote that was the immediate provocation for this post. Dr. Mohan Agashe, who also happens to be a local psychiatrist, said this was because "... of the insatiable greed (of this age-group)" and how "they wanted everything much earlier than the earlier generation". I was (understandably) a little peeved at the first part of the comment and decided to delve into it further.
What does he mean by "greed"? Greed for material benefits such as money or luxurious accompaniments? If so, I wouldn't agree. A great deal of the anxiety and restlessness that is a mark of this "syndrome" (if we can call it so) is not really for the amount of cash one is making, but revolves around the kind of work one is doing (or will get to do) and the contentment that one expects out of it. A comparison with earlier generations would not be incorrect in this respect. 25 years ago, the emphasis for most people seeking to be employed was to settle down and secure their posts before even beginning to think about further opportunities. All things like getting married for e.g. were highly dependent on being gainfully and securely employed in a manner that inspired confidence in all around you. These days, it isn't a matter of surprise to see people hopping jobs like a kangaroo on steroids - it is even considered a sign of a person's vitality and desire to avoid "stagnation", increasing that which gives HR pros missed hearbeats i.e. "attrition". There is consequently a greater range of options available - which is probably part of the problem. Consider this - haven't we all found ourselves in situations where the glut of choices causes a breakdown in our decision-making abilities?
Another aspect that I found myself thinking a great deal about was the role of our present-day icons, those whom we are fans and admirers of. The average age of achievers in many of the glamourous/popular fields is always getting lower. Women tennis stars are considered old by the age of 27, anyone in cricket who hasn't made his debut by the age of 26 is considered to have missed the bus, sportsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Leander Paes, P. Harikrishna have constantly set "the youngest to" records. Other celebrities like A.R.Rahman, Kareena Kapoor, Dhanush, started off and achieved filmi fame pretty early in life. Or take someone who is supposed to be a success - Sabeer Bhatia or the endless line of dotcom kids. It then leads to comparisons between the lay-person of the same age. For instance, if I hear someone's born in the mid-80s, they must be kids compared to me. The victorious Indian under-19 squad has players born in the years '84 or later. I know I am not in the same sphere as them, but it just makes one wonder as to how kids much younger than one have now grown up sufficiently to make an impact in the world. The media does carry a great number of stories on young achievers (who get younger each day) and probably fuel a sub-conscious feeling of comparison which may lead to a feeling of inadequacy. Not to suggest that this is only a recent phenomenon. There is a story of Napoleon lamenting his life when he was in his twenties, the reason being that his hero, Alexander, had conquered almost all the known world when he was at the same age as Napoleon, and look where Napoleon was.
I think the above is a fair comparison - the previous generation didn't see the lower age-threshold of success being pushed down so much. Perhaps we need to highlight examples like Amitabh Bachchan's who had a pretty low-key (and at times, disappointing) life until almost his 30s. Or do we have to go as far as Clarie Grimmett who made his Test debut at age 33 and went on to be one of the best? There must be a number of instances in business and politics, like Gandhi perhaps? Many of the weightier occupations in life probably need people marinated in experiences to provide success - unlike the more fleeting and more public occupations of music & film & sport that can be fuelled by sheer talent. Does this, therefore, point the finger back at us?
Perhaps, but not entirely. I think many of us do not want to be performing mundane jobs, that too by spending longer hours. But the reality remains that even today, a large majority of the workplace have to do jobs that are repetitive or don't demand creativity, but are nevertheless important to the economic system. This comes with the added lure of reducing "risk" in life. Many of the creative vocations involve a great deal of insecurity - which for most practitioners of that field, except for those who are exceptional at it, is an undeniable and accepted part of the territory. So it boils down to choice again. Unless one was incredibly talented at something or in contrast, was completely hopeless at everything except some domain, the rest of us have a choice as to what we want to pursue. An analysis of the perceived investment, returns, security follows - with the low-risks being triumphant on most occasions. So does one have the nerve to take a gamble - with one's life - and accept the result of that gamble?
A small search on Google threw up a site that's called Quarter Life Crisis. It has a series of links to articles in various publications, of which I found this article from NYT (needs registration) very descriptive of the malaise. I'm not sure I'd term it a crisis in the overall scheme of things, but it does seem like a crisis at that age because many of us may not have had to grapple with even more critical problems yet.
So to disagree with Dr. Agashe, a lot of us are actually questioning how we spend each day, and these queries don't involve how much money we're making (though it shouldn't be seen to be wrong for those who aspire to earn money through legal means). It's also a question of whether we've made the right choices and if we'd have the chance and the flexibility to undo that choice. I was also watching a excerpt from a lecture by Stephen Covey (author of the "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People") who says that most organizations agree that their employees are not encouraged to be more creative and their potential is being under-utilised. But how can these organizations conjure up or modify job profiles that actually can be less mundane? That seems to be fundamentally impossible. So some are doomed to feel less satisfied - there are aren't enough "exciting" jobs to go around. So perhaps it's the insecurity of not knowing if the right choices have been made that's causing all the anxiety in addition to people worrying if they have missed the bus unlike their "successful" peers who're being feted in the papers.
That's a lot of psycho-babble for one day :-)