Opinion: It’s time we started to enjoy our mid-life and quarter-life crises, says Matt Gaw
- Credit: BBC/DBrazil TV Ltd 2014
Life can be hard. A Sisyphean drudge. An endless roll call of jobs and chores punctuated by fleeting explosions of happiness and deep sorrow.
Oh, the unbounded joy of it all.
And this is precisely why, at the sage-like age of 34, I am now celebrating the arrival of what probably would be described by many media goons (yes, just like me) as a quarter-life crisis.
Once thought to be the preserve of the 40-65-year-old, researchers have now decided that the power of life events and the realisation of mortality can strike at a much younger age – forcing a re-evaluation of everything you’ve ever been told or believed.
Those in their twenties and early thirties who go from university to plum jobs with good salaries, sacrificing personal relationships for career status and material gain are thought to be just at risk of crisis as those in their forties that respond to the prospect of another milestone birthday with the purchase of a motorbike and an inappropriate girlfriend.
The rise of the internet and young web entrepreneurs – who get rich quick and lose it all quicker – has also been flagged as a reason why young people could be more prone to a period of prolonged and dramatic re-evaluation.
But whatever the reason, whether it is work, finances or being trammelled by responsibilities of family, younger people are getting in on the navel-gazing action.
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The symptoms are far-ranging and all-encompassing.
Surveys (generally carried out by people offering treatments or services for those afflicted – hair treatments, skin treatments, massive cars) list penchants for extreme sport, festivals, the realisation you’ll never pay off your mortgage, taking up a new instrument as key indicators of crises.
I’m well aware that my recent adoption of skateboarding (limited by the fact I’m banned from using it outside the house in case I “lower the tone” and because I’m too scared to go downhill) puts me firmly in this demographic.
And that’s without considering that I’ve just joined a rock band after a ten-year hiatus, am about to get a new tattoo and recently remortgaged the house to buy a new leather jacket.
But rather than reaching for one of the many internet tool kits aimed at guiding you through such “troubling times”, isn’t it about time we actually learnt to enjoy these existential episodes?
After all, it seems to me the main motivation for a quarter or mid-life crisis is just the awareness that life isn’t exactly how you wanted it to be – that the image of you in your head has become detached from the you that works, looks after kids, cleans, sleeps, repeats.
A re-evaluation seems eminently sensible, because surely this is about re-aligning and seizing opportunities while you can rather than teetering ashen-faced on the brink of a howling abyss.
But more to the point, aren’t we looking at this all wrong? I admit that getting a skateboard (it was actually given to my son, but I’m “looking after it”) and hammering away on a drum kit is a departure from the regular nine-to-five. But a crisis? Does anyone REALLY have a crisis?
Psychotherapist Philippa Perry claims all of our lives can be placed along a line with rigidity at one end and chaos at the other. She reasons that those who naturally err towards chaos are likely to think of their existence as lurching from one drama to another.
By labelling these episodes as “crises” it is just a way to construct an easy to manage narrative.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Perry says it’s only a matter of time before poor old Ernold Same, “On his way to the same place to do the same thing again and again and again”, snaps and breaks free.
Furthermore, it’s worth looking again at the idea that a quarter life or midlife crisis – a process of re-evaluation – is something to be diagnosed and treated, controlled and removed.
“Those thoughts of unhappiness or restlessness? Don’t worry, it’ll get better.” “Aspirations for a better life? It’s just a phase.”
But the thing is these emotions are crucial to adult development.
As adults we don’t stop growing and learning when we hit 30, life is about changing and developing with circumstance and life’s challenges.
And if it’s important that development for children is fun, then it’s equally important that us adults enjoy the ebb and flow of our life journey too.
So, whether you want to call it a crisis or not, grab your skateboard, spend the kids’ university fund on a motorbike and wage war on the drudge.