The transition to working life is tough.
Doubts whether you have chosen the right study. Feeling trapped in a demanding and uninspiring job. Financial burdens of student debt and high rents. Isolation due to long working hours and sleep deprivation. Our friend circles become more segmented, due to relationships, moving to a different city and travelling. We have to put more effort in seeing each other and we have less time to actually meet up.
And somehow your brain thinks this would be the perfect time to throw some existential questions in the mix.
Like: Is this my meaning of life? What is my purpose in this world? What are the values I want to be known for?
Is this just another whiny, entitled Generation Y phenomenon or are there grounded reasons why we don’t feel phenomenal?
Rather listen than read this article?
Listen to Episode 1:
2:01: What is a Quarter-Life Crisis?
10:05: The Transition from Student to Working Life
11:35: A Typical Day with Burnout Symptoms
15:24: You Are Not Alone
17:03: The Generation of Choice
I noticed a transition to a new type of life we are not well-prepared for. This transition has been challenging on me personally, but it was also challenging for almost everyone around me. Going from studying a couple hours a week to a working career in the ‘real world’, proves to be a tough change.
Life as a student
During our studies, we always had an end goal in mind: obtaining a degree. We never felt alone, because there were thousands of students who were in the same boat. But once you graduate, you have to find a new boat. You must make new choices from an almost unlimited set of possibilities. The struggle that is caused by this transition can express itself in a couple of ways even before starting a job.
Doubts whether you have chosen the right study in the first place. Feeling that you are not ‘good enough’ to find a job. Nostalgic memories about your time as a student. You might even consider going back to study, because of the feeling that it gives you.
Your first ‘real’ job
When you do find a job, you might feel that your degree didn’t prepare you well enough for your job. Or that the workload is way higher than during your studies. You may be unhappy with the tasks you have to carry out and that your contribution to the company is not substantial.
These frustrations may go away after you settled into the new job and regained confidence. But this is not the case for everyone. Some will feel excessive and constant stress. They feel overwhelmed by the transition to working life. There is too much pressure, too many demands. When this goes on for a while, you may start to display burnout symptoms. A typical day may look like this:
The alarm goes off, but you don’t want to wake up. You feel exhausted and you don’t have the energy to care about work. Some days you even feel physical pain, like you’re body is rejecting whatever you’re about to do. You know that you’ll spend the majority of your day on mind-numbing tasks. That’s why you feel disengaged at work.
But at the same time, the financial burden of rent and student debt still lingers, so you still go to work and grasp onto the financial security the job offers you. But when you are there, you feel trapped in a demanding, yet very uninspiring job. Your have zero motivation, you become cynical, and withdraw yourself from your responsibilities.
YOU FEEL EMPTY.
Why is the transition so hard?
Let me go over some aspects of this transition from being a student to working life.
We are forced to make life-altering decisions…
As I said, as a student, no matter how much time you spent fooling around with friends, going to parties, sleeping in afterwards, you were always on path to the end goal: obtaining a degree. But as soon as you graduate, that goal is completed. You now have to choose a career path, which is way more than just a job. Your career partly defines your identity.
…but are not well-prepared to make these decisions
And of course, our studies already gradually transitioned from general to more specific courses. No longer elementary courses like math or geography, but we got to pick which set of courses we want to follow. Whatever you picked decided which part of the knowledge tree you will climb. Some people know what they want to become at the age of 18, but many do not. And I feel that we were not adequately prepared during our studies how to make these kind of life choices on our own. Some are not even sure if their study is right for them, after studying five years. Let alone that they are ready for the transition to working life.
We overestimate our capabilities…
Many crave for some certainty and decide to take on a job, like almost everyone else is doing. You feel you have to prove yourself during the first years of employment. You want to show strength and build a respectable resume. You want to show that you’re capable of doing this and don’t want to let your employer down. So at work, you are eager to put in even more hours than the 40 you get paid for.
…and underestimate the pressure.
I think that many people underestimate the pressure and stress that comes with starting a new job, particularly if it’s your first job. I think that’s why we see so many burnout symptoms among Millenials nowadays even within the first year on their job.
It begins to take a toll on their personal life as well. They feel drained of both physical and emotional energy for doing fun activities. The job is demanding and there is little time to plan the things they actually want to do. You see your best friends less, and get out of touch with many more. And once you do speak with a friend, the conversation often turns into a rant about everything that’s wrong with your job.
First signs of a Quarter-life Crisis
At this point, anxiety on the direction of your life comes in. We either confront this identity crisis, or you find ways to escape it. So will try to hold on to their student lifestyle, some will start re-evaluating friendships and cut people from their lives, basically putting themselves in isolation. Some take a gap year and fly to Thailand to find themselves… talk about a flight reaction. We don’t even need to travel though, we have drugs that can take our mind of too. We look forward to happy hours on Friday and we start our weekends off with a drink or six. One xtc pill provides enough serotonin for five hours of worry-free partying. And even without drugs, there are plenty of addictions to develop. Those feelings of isolation can also be fought with binge-watching Netflix every weekday.
But hey, everyone around me seems to fight their way through it, so maybe it’s just a phase I need to go through, right?
Pale in Comparison
So to get some distraction from all the questions you pose upon yourself, you grab your phone and scroll through Instagram Stories. You tap into an endless stream of other people’s highlights. Every new post seems to be their happiest day of their life. Surely they are not dealing with the same self-doubt and anxieties. Now you start to panic. Why is it that everyone has their shit together, except me?!
Technology made it possible to compare yourself instantly and get a small glimpse of people outside of your direct environment. This only increases our expectations as we project other people’s life path on ours. We do not want to share our worst days, or even the average ones. So we paint a distorted image; a surrealist version of our lives. We do not see on social media how many people deal with the same anxieties. We rather post about our workout than our burnout.
No worries. Certainly not everyone has their shit together. To some making life decisions comes more easily, some are better at dealing with the anxieties, and some are simply better at pretending that their lives are perfect. People who have made their decision will generally search for confirmation. They want to hear that the direction they chose is the right one, and they encourage others to follow, no matter how damaging and unfulfilling that life choice is.
The Burden of Choice
Maybe the way we were raised plays a part as well. We were raised by a generation that puts less emphasis on traditional family values. Parents exert less power in the career choices of their children. We are encouraged to express ourselves freely. New technology offers countless opportunities, more than our parents could ever dream of. We have fewer family-owned businesses. Boys and girls can become whatever they want. The sky is the limit if you can break through the glass ceiling.
We can choose. We have a choice.
And we want to feel in control of all the choices that we make. We want to choose what we like to do and be good at it, but we also feel responsible for the not-so-good choices. So it’s only natural that we encounter setbacks, but should we immediately call this a crisis?
Maybe our generation just lacks a sense of reality. Can we really expect that our pursuit of a perfect life would be completed at 30? Should we really call it a crisis? Or is it actually a positive thing to re-evaluate your life?