Monday, 23 June 2008

Conquering the Quarterlife Crisis (Aut. Alexandra Robbins)

I remember being surprisingly relieved when the ever-cooing Sarah Jessica Parker, while promoting 'Sex and the City: The Movie' on Oprah, uttered a sensible sentence - "Your 20s are a search, your 30s are for learning lessons, and your 40s are when you finally know who you are". Now, the surprise is understandable, but what about my sense of relief? What can a 20-something pursuing a PhD, holding a part-time tutoring position, producing her own documentary, and enjoying a decent social life possibly have to complain about?

The last rendezvous with my parents in India and their insistence on 'settling down', the current spate of friends pairing up, the overwhelming feeling of being 'stuck' in Adelaide since travelling overseas, the intensive self-questioning of my personal and career goals, the doubts relating to the 'job value' of a doctorate, the pain of rejection, and the humility resulting from all of these experiences has made me realise that I am exhibiting symptoms of what is now commonly known as the 'Quarterlife Crisis'. After spending months whining about this to close friends, I have decided it is time to share my thoughts, because as I discovered in the above book, this crisis may sound trivial to those of an older generation, it is very real for people in their mid to late 20s (even early 30s), and is a rather ubiquitous phenomenon. So, if you find yourself directionless and reflective at a stage of life when societal norms tell you to be carefree and exhuberant, you are not alone!

Not one for therapy or anti-depressants, I resorted to my love of reading to get through this rough patch. When chancing upon Robbins' book in the local community library, I was admittedly sceptical about what a self-help manual could offer. Again, I was surprised because the book covers some basic questions and scenarios, with each chapter beginning with a crisis faced by a 20-something, and ending with advice offered by mentors who are only slightly older and have already been through the Quarterlife crucible and survived. They also offer a range of exercises, like listing out the activities you enjoyed in your childhood, to get you back on track. This one especially worked for me as it opened my eyes to the fact that my creative streak has always presided over my intellect - that despite being a teacher's pet, what really got me going as a pre-teen were hobbies that involved some form of visual art, be it sketching classes, glass painting, flower making, embroidery, sowing doll's clothes, creating paper mache objects etc. With this lucid realisation, I went to the Spotlight store in the city and bought a few essential beading tools. I have now been making jewellery for a couple of weeks, thereby transforming all my erstwhile negative energy and curbing the tendency to compare my situation to other people. Miscellaneous steps, like listening to upbeat music, walking for at least half an hour a day, and following my instinct with regards to the most basic of decisions, also seem to be helping.

Instead of paraphrasing the advice offered by Robbins and the mentors, I will quote them directly below, in the hope that it has more impact. Enjoy! And remember - if you counter this crisis, there may not be a mid-life crisis at all.

On finding your Passion in life:
"Your passion is what happens in the process of you becoming you" (Viola Nelson, 33, Mentor).

On looking for The One:
"I wish I'd known at 23 that you should look for happiness in life itself, not just in another person" (Andro Hsu, 27, Mentor).

On having a Timeline:
"What if you don't get married by 30? So what? What if you haven't paid off your loans or debt by 35? So what? What if you're not a stand-out success by 28? So what? If you were to achieve everything by the age of 30, then what would you do for the next fifty years?" (Robbins).

On searching for an Identity:
"At some point in your life - you are going to have to face yourself and confront your identity - stripped down, vulnerable, and shed of protective layers like material goods, advanced degrees, and the pressures and expectations you've internalised. You are Alice leaping through the looking glass" (Robbins).

On confronting Adulthood:
"One's character is truly shown in dealing with the random monkey wrenches thrown into our plans and how one accepts the finitude of life, career, and relationships. Adulthood, then, consists in knowing that I'm not the one really in control of events, but I'm in control of my reaction to them" (Jake Dixon, 37, Mentor).

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