The mid-life crisis grows younger

Victoria Sung says symptoms of the quarter-life crisis are common as young people feel insecure about coming of age in a difficult world

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 3:05am

I am about to admit something that no self-respecting young person would confess to. Sometimes I feel like I am old; sometimes I feel like I am too young to know anything - at 26, I am having a quarter-life crisis.

The numerous symptoms include a sense of aimlessness, being scared, lonely, confused, restless, or feeling the need to make major changes in either job or relationship. Maybe the sufferer starts questioning their identity or life choices.

The quarter-life crisis might not be an entirely new phenomenon, but it is becoming more common. As we live longer, the start of adulthood keeps getting pushed back. Adolescence stretches out. When the transition to adulthood seems indefinite, or when the shock of the "real world" sets in, individuals experience the quarter-life crisis.

Throughout history, it has been expected that the transition from childhood to adulthood will not be an easy one. Traditionally, cultural rituals celebrate this coming of age.

In today's terms, that ritual coming-of-age would be graduation, which marks adulthood in the minds of most people, especially prospective employers. Yet the quarter-life crisis can happen at any time in the years following graduation and is common among my peers. With a lack of job security, inability to afford housing, and even an abysmal dating scene, there is an overwhelming sense of frustration.

Individuals of the "millennial generation", those born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, have most likely experienced symptoms of a quarter-life crisis. There have been many articles written by non-millennials about how millennials are entitled, whiny brats who refuse to grow up, and that this quarter-life crisis we are experiencing is not unique.

If this is the case, why are the symptoms so widespread? Why do the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings of today feel restless and lost?

The sense of frustration and lack of direction has much to do with the current state of global upheaval and insecurity. We are going through a crisis because society as a whole is going through a crisis.

In every corner of the world, the infrastructure and institutions put in place decades ago seem to be crumbling, brought down by the inability of their creators to see the future. We feel as though there is no place for us in this world because humanity does not know what its place is.

The effects of the baby-boomer generation still reverberate in all sectors of life. There is a strong sense of being disenfranchised, that the opportunities afforded previous generations are now lost. There is a sense that the older generation continues to control policy that directly affects our lives. This is even more pronounced in Hong Kong, where young people feel a sense of helplessness in the face of politics that is often conducted without their direct input.

So what can we do about our quarter-life crisis? Basically, it boils down to a few pieces of advice: life is not a race. Do what makes not just yourself, but the people around you, happy. Do not let your job define who you are. It is not your fault you are having a quarter-life crisis, but neither is it anyone else's. And finally: always remember you are not alone.

Victoria Sung holds a master's degree in media, culture and communications from New York University and is the founder of Meanwhile in China