At the age of 29, I’m an anxious, job-hopping millennial who’s unsure of myself, and indecisive about what I want to do with my life.
Or at least these are the traits associated with those in my age bracket, based on a recent LinkedIn survey which found that four in five young professionals in Singapore have been through or are facing a “quarter-life crisis”. The term is described by psychologists as a period where someone in their 20s or 30s feels anxious about the transition to adulthood, or in the context of the survey, about their careers.
The study was conducted across young adults in 16 territories, including some 1,000 respondents in Singapore aged between 25 and 33.
While its mid-life counterpart is certainly better known and more likely to elicit some degree of sympathy, the idea of a quarter-life crisis didn’t find as much support online.
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It was perhaps not too surprising that there were some strawberries tossed around too, as a few Facebook users waded in with views that underscored how today’s younger generation is spoilt, fickle, and certainly lacking the steel that the generation before us had shown in their time.
Someone even wrote to The Straits Times to protest its nomenclature, saying that naming the phenomenon a quarter-life crisis could breed self-entitlement among the younger generation instead of fostering resilience.
At the heart of these views lies that persistent comparison to our parents and grandparents who fought to survive and put food on the table, and the resultant view that it’s indulgent of today’s youngsters to go through jobs like a revolving door and call it a quarter-life crisis.
Now if we’re measuring how much one values one’s job simply by how long one stays in it, then there’s probably something to be said about the fact that I have baby boomer relatives who have spent almost their whole careers at the same workplace, while some of my peers are already onto their third job even before turning 30.
The easy conclusion would be that these older folks must be steadfast and resilient, while the millennials are flaky and flighty, but it would not necessarily be the right one to make.
Without discounting any of the determination and hard work that the older generations put into their careers, the fact is that many were entering the workforce at a time of economic opportunity. And given that higher education was more likely an exception rather than the norm back then, the playing field was less disparate such that the values of working hard and the willingness to learn on the job went some way in getting one’s foot in the door.
In comparison, competition has come to define the education system and job market that millennials are familiar with.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the truth is that hard work alone rarely cuts it anymore. And whatever our starting point, we millennials know that surviving and thriving is as much about being savvy enough to seize opportunities that take us closer to a satisfying career as we define it, as it is about toughing it out in a job that provides little fulfilment other than a paycheque.
It’s little wonder then that the discussion has also drawn out two camps of millennials. First, those who wondered why job-hopping is seen as a sign of crisis when it’s a necessary exercise in career advancement these days, and second, those who validated the ‘crisis’ in quarter-life crisis, having once fretted that they were going nowhere, or headed in the wrong direction in their careers.
When the margins for failure are so thin, and the standards of success that we aspire towards becoming increasingly lofty (so-and-so made their first million, owned three apartments and cured cancer by the age of 30), young professionals deserve to be cut some slack for the choices they make, and to not be judged for feeling a little jaded or worried from time to time.
Because if you add all of that career anxiety to the other significant life considerations of someone in their 20s or 30s – marriage, buying a house, possibly having kids, supporting retiree parents – you, too, may find yourself hard-pressed not to feel some of the stress, anxiety and fear that could make for a little meltdown.
And excuse us if it may feel like we complain too much sometimes – we’re less stoic than the generations before us, and have no shortage of outlets to express ourselves, but airing our frustrations doesn’t necessarily make us weak.
Given that the challenges are so different for each generation and there is such contrast between the scenarios, is it still fair to measure millennials by old yardsticks?
At risk of sounding like one of those self-indulgent millennials that people like ragging on, I’d say going through a quarter-life crisis doesn’t show for a lack of character, but it forms the life experiences that make us stronger, more resilient and perhaps even more gracious towards others who are going through hard times in future.
So don’t mind us if you still think that we bruise too easily – the blows are real, and we’re only learning how to dodge them.