At 27, Atul has the life dreams are made of: an MBA from a top management institute, out-of-turn raises every few months, whirlwind world tours on work and a stunner for his arm candy at corporate dos. Three job switches in the last nine months have landed this finance whiz in a top managerial position. But lately, he has been fighting gnawing self-doubts. “I make big bucks, but have no time to spend them. I don’t feel driven to achieve anything anymore… Should I have chosen another profession?” says the alpha achiever, who is also beginning to question his four-year-old relationship.
Atul’s existential angst is what is being described as the ‘quarter-life crisis’ by 20-somethings who are hitting a wall with a crushing realisation that one-fourth of their lives -- lived in the fast forward mode – haven’t really amounted to much. Precariously perched between adolescent angst and the mid-life crisis, the crisis of the 20s isn’t quite about acne at 13 or impending andropause/menopause at 40 -- but about young adults struggling to find their place in the world.
Says Dr Amit Sen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who sees young adults up to 25, “This crisis is a product of our times. Young people want to jump from one ladder to another, exhausting their goals very early on. They then begin to question everything about their lives.”
The 20s are bringing with them a “nervous self-awareness,” says a 30-year-old lecturer at a leading DU college. “Students now indulge in a lot of self-questioning, which isn’t philosophical like -- ‘What’s my purpose in life’ — but, ‘Oh god, are my friends going to do better in life than me?’” Psychologist NK Chadha, head of DU’s department of adult, continuing education and extension, says, “Students choose careers depending on what pays more, and end up paying with their peace of mind.”
The phrase ‘quarter-life crisis’ gained currency in the West in 2001, when two twenty-somethings made a fortune writing on their peer’s crises in Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties. This unrecognised epidemic sweeping an entire generation reared on an array of choices and rising expectations, is now rearing its ugly head in India on social networking sites and blogs. And given that India’s median age is 24.9 years – with over half its billion people under 25 -- these postings are a telling comment on a huge demographic.
Supreme Court lawyer Abhishek Tewari, 25, writes in his blog, “Lately, I’ve been catching myself over-analyzing things… I know something’s missing....something definitely more than 8 hours of sleep. If only I could figure out what!” He needs time off to sort himself out, but says, “I’ll end up getting bored. Working 17-hour days leaves you with monstrous withdrawal symptoms on vacation.”
An Orkut group called ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ defines the twenties as: “…when you start feeling insecure and wonder where you will be in a year or two, but then get scared because you barely know where you are now.” Among the top 25 worries of twenty-somethings on blogs, according to Vinod, a 26-year-old Pune-based blogger are: “Should I get married now?’ and “Should I go hunting on Orkut?”
“My youth is passing me by,” is a 21-year-old MA student’s pet whine in her online status messages. “Youth is, indeed, wasted on the young,” writes her classmate. ‘Guru Panguji’, a 23-year-old software engineer in the “Silly Con” city who also wrote on the crisis at 21, says, “Look what the quarter-life crisis did to me – it made a very easy-going me ask some questions!”
And a 32-year-old single woman currently working in Washington, whose Delhi-based family wants her to “settle”, has been blogging for two years now on the “adventures of a quarter-life crisis”. She says, “Everyone goes through the crisis – but things may worse if you are single.” So on the wrong side of 30, will she ever get over the crisis? “Unlikely. I need to sustain my blog traffic,” she says.