Who would want to be an adult? As a little girl, I remember dreaming of the freedom and power of adulthood. Setting your own bedtime. Eating icecream whenever you wanted to. No homework. No school. It sounded blissful.
Then I grew up. Nowadays, I'm looking forward to bed by about 4pm, I do "homework" until at least 8pm most nights and while there are no exams in my life (which may be the one true perk of adulthood) I have to work much longer than six hours each day, and I don't get to do that sitting beside my best friends gossiping.
And, to top it off, I can't remember the last time I had an icecream.
"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?"
I'm not quite sure how it happened, but one day I woke up and I could no longer deny my adulthood. Whether it was the mortgage, the constant deadlines or the realisation that I'd actually rather sleep than stay up and binge-watch Netflix, I'm not sure, but somewhere along the line I seemingly misplaced my youth and I've yet to rediscover it.
Personal growth and evolution are rites of passage, so we're told, but they're also damn uncomfortable. Uneasiness seems to be a pervasive trend among people of my age and stage. What are we doing with our lives? What happens next? What is the meaning of it all? And are we really going to be doing this day-in, day-out for the rest of our lives?
Much scorn has been heaped on the millennial quarter-life crisis. We lack perseverance, we have an overly idealistic view of the world, our desire for flexibility and joy in life means we're soft. We've heard it all before. But I wonder whether our existential anxiety stems from something deeper. In an increasingly chaotic and meaningless world, we're facing huge challenges as a generation. We feel the responsibility for fixing things like climate change keenly. We face enormous upheaval as technology continues to disrupt our career security. We're living our lives on the crest of a wave of hypersonic change.
We're also living in a time of curated social media perfection, where our social touchpoints can foster an environment of one-upmanship and self-loathing. We're one of the most connected and tech-savvy generations – though I suspect we'll soon be overtaken by those young whippersnappers Generation Z – but we're also one of the most anxious. I would hazard a guess that those two things might be related.
I've written before about milestones and the unnecessary pressure that can come with feeling like you've got to tick boxes at certain junctions. Thankfully, I've started to see my cohort throw convention out the window and make decisions that would've been, if not unthinkable, then certainly frowned upon a generation back.
As we march closer to the ripe old age of 30 and beyond, a number of my friends are making major changes in their lives. One's moving to London, one's moving to Tauranga, one moved to Sydney, one moved to New York, three resigned and went back to uni, one set up her own business, one changed industries completely.
Other friends are doing the things they're "supposed" to be doing; moving in together, getting married, buying houses (well, the ones who haven't eaten too much smashed avocado), etc. Interestingly enough, however, the two camps – the traditionalists and the changemakers – are quite equally weighted.
The well-trod path is still densely populated, but the intersections offering a different road are becoming more numerous, and more and more people are opting to exit the main track to wend their way through uncertain territory. It's a heartening development that I hope will continue.
I'm not self-absorbed enough to think that late-20s realisations are unique to millennials. Other generations have likely gone through the same thing, which makes me think that it's more about the age than about the generation, save for the differences in societal expectations. We may just be better positioned to convert our realisations into action.
The world has changed almost beyond recognition during our lifetime. We've grown up with little stability, but we're also keenly aware that we can change things for the better. If there's one change I hope my generation will make (other than saving the planet, achieving gender equality, and bringing about a more equitable society – no pressure) it would be to reject the rat race. If workplaces change as a result of Millennial employees, that will be a victory. I'm no economist, but I suspect that heightened productivity may follow happier employees.
Millennials are well-known for our desire for flexibility and meaning. Those two aspirations likely contribute to late-20s career changes, overseas adventures and entrepreneurship. We may be mocked for our hope for a life filled with an equal balance of joy and toil, and for our bleeding hearts, but only by those who are either incapable of imagining a better world, or those who have been conditioned not to dream, not to be daring and not to step out of line.
Maybe the quarter-life crisis isn't a crisis at all, but a moment of contemplation to check whether we're on the right path. And to the naysayers, rolling their eyes at our indecision, I'd say this: what good is perseverance, if you're persevering at something that you hate?