Seeing as I am banking on living to be at least a hundred, my quarter life crisis is pretty much bang on time – I turn twenty five in a couple of months. Having said that, it kicked off about a year ago, so I’m actually hoping to resolve the bulk of it by the time I hit twenty five.
The build up to this intangible turning point was definitely gradual, but had I paid proper attention I would have detected it in the shadows. It started at about the age of twenty one, when, like most graduates I knew, I faced the realization that the future wasn’t going to magically fold out in front of me, at least not the accomplished future I had hoped for myself. Graduating right at the peak of a recession and diving right into the resulting panic fest without a solid prospect of employment was, to say the least, daunting. To make things mildly worse, I did actually have a job offer but it was revoked due to said financial crisis, which means I hadn’t even been looking because I had lulled myself into a seemingly solid sense of security. At this point I learnt a harrowingly important lesson; nothing is certain, especially when your only two weapons are youth and an Arts degree.
So, what next? Well, one thing I was sure about was that I wasn’t going to be picky about what I occupied myself with until the economy bounced back. I was, however, going to stay in London, no matter what. Yes, this was a certainty in my mind. I mean, with all my university friends there and with my having moved from England, to Italy, back to England, to Japan and finally England again, it seemed reasonable to want to stay put just for a wee while.
Guess where I am now – Zürich, Switzerland. It wasn’t an intentional move, I actually contemplated turning down the offer and continuing my frantic search for something London-based, even if that meant I was going to have to wait tables for a couple of months in the interim. The company somehow managed to detect that facing foreign challenges is something I struggle to say no to, so they flew me over for a day in June having surmised that the impact it would have on my decision would be in their favour. The office was brand new, the lake was glistening under the sun and the Alps were beckoning me from across the water. Predictably I ended up accepting the job offer and relocating a mere eight weeks later. I was seduced by the glamour of Zürich and the idea that I would learn some German before tackling the job hunt in London again.
It’s been almost three years since I first lugged my 30kg suitcase off the plane and I’ve accumulated a lot more than those 30kg since. I have a wonderful group of multinational friends, I have met a man who has swept me off my feet (predictable, I know), I am on track with the German and I get to indulge in all my favourite outdoor hobbies year-round. Life is pretty peachy, there’s no denying it.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say, this is meant to be an account of a quarter life crisis and there’s not even a hint of internal turmoil, in fact, everything has gone immensely well for you…hasn’t it? This is exactly why I struggle to talk about it. My life, on paper, is nothing short of fantastically fulfilling. There is something missing though and as much as I would love to will my brain to stop preoccupying itself with this issue and just get on with enjoying what I do feel satisfied with, it just isn’t that simple.
I’m going to digress for a moment, but I assure you there is a point to this anecdote. I went to see Alain de Botton speak the other week – he had just published his book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, in German and had popped over from London to discuss the views he shares in this book. I actually own this book but hadn’t had the chance to read it before attending the talk, but since the topic was of interest to me I happily let my friend talk me into joining her. To keep things simple basically, the point of de Botton’s book is to highlight the weight we middle class people bestow on our professions. We define ourselves so steadfastly based on what we busy ourselves with from Monday to Friday that we have a tendency to trivialize the other aspects of our lives. We do this without even realizing that we’re setting ourselves up for potential life-long dissatisfaction.
This moderately bleak image sums up the reason I landed on the doorstep of a quarter life crisis, despite my life being objectively fulfilling in many ways. So to tackle the inertia that’s grasping my professional enthusiasm, I have set myself on the path to defining my ideal career model based on my talents and interests. At first it appeared near impossible, especially with the concentration of particular industries here in Zürich. Then it hit me – who ever said I had to walk into a predefined job? Has anyone ever explicitly told me that I am only allowed to work for an established company along with 10,000 other employees? I was setting up all these boundaries for myself based purely on social conventions. I am, in fact, free to do whatever I want to so long as I give it considerable thought and commitment. It’s a pretty mundane realization, but I bet it takes many people just as long if not longer to open their eyes to the notion of defining their own careers, effectively sketching them out from scratch.
It’s now just a matter of solidifying my idea and getting the ball rolling. It won’t happen overnight but I’m over the hump, I know what I want. Finally. Well, at least for now. The great thing about realizing this so early on in life is that I still have plenty of kid-and-other-grown-up-commitment-free time to experiment until I get it just right. That, my friends is the advantage of the quarter life crisis.
Christine Syrad is half Japanese, half British and parades herself around the internet as Reikalein. In case you hadn’t guessed, she’s not very tall, but her small stature hasn’t stopped her from tackling the world via the means of travelling, eating and at times mildly insane sporting activities. She continues to explore these three areas in a bid to find her calling on this planet. Follow her on Twitter: @Reikalein
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.