New research suggests that 72% of young professionals in the UK have experienced a quarter life crisis. Here stylist.co.uk’s digital features editor, Sarah Biddlecombe, argues why this can be a positive - especially when it comes to our careers.
Six years ago, I found myself standing at a bus stop outside of my flat, completely unable to move. Buses came and went, people got on and got off, but I was immobilised, my Oyster card cold in my back pocket. I played half an hour of this one-man game of frozen statues before I finally called in sick to work and went back inside.
I didn’t know it then, but I was in the midst of a quarter life crisis, a relatively new term used to describe a period of insecurity and anxiety commonly experienced by people in their twenties. And although I certainly didn’t know it then, this quarter life crisis would turn out to be the best thing that could have happened for my career.
I had moved to London on a bit of a whim a year previously, having secured a three-month internship in a PR firm that I had hoped would lead to a career in journalism. I had always wanted to be a writer, and imagined myself rubbing shoulders with the columnists and commentators I had admired for years at posh parties thrown by my new agency. In my mind, the internship would be a stepping stone to the success I felt surely awaited me.
I had originally planned to commute to the city from my parent’s home, but then a friend found a pair of tiny studio flats for rent in zone 2 that would cost us less than the rail fare. I put down my deposit while on a road trip across America, and spent the afternoon toasting my good fortune at a bar in Philadelphia.
Fast forward a few months, and I had been delivered a cold, hard dose of reality. I was working long, gruelling hours, and I was no closer to breaking into journalism than before I had begun. The walls of my rabbit-hutch studio were closing in on me, and I found myself delivering my witty one-liner – “I can cook on my hob whilst sitting on my bed!” – with increasing hysteria.
When my internship ended, I accepted a permanent job in PR, telling myself I’d keep looking for journalism work on the side - but my search was fruitless. Every time I cracked open a newspaper, or turned on the TV, another headline loomed out at me about how millennials would never get on the housing ladder, or earn as much as our parents. I felt an immense pressure to stick to my fledgling career, and smothered my panic about the future with the purchase of yet another cheap jumper that temporarily made my salaried position feel worth it.
I know I’m far from the only one of my peers who has felt like this, at least at some point in their twenties. Statistics show the average millennial will earn £8,000 less in their twenties than their parents, while racking up a cool £53,000 bill on rent by the time they reach their 30th birthday. Add to this a disastrous housing market and less-than-stable job prospects, and a dash of social media induced anxiety, and it’s easy for millennials to feel like “bleak” is the only setting for their future.
After a year of pushing myself down a career path I had never wanted, I knew something had to change. The bus stop incident was just the tip of the iceberg – I felt desperate about the direction of my life, and it was impossible to put one foot in front of the other when I was terrified of the destination. After weeks of research, and literally hundreds of unanswered emails, I made the decision to go back to university, and complete a Masters in my dream job – magazine journalism.
Turning my back on two full years of work and starting over from scratch, with no money and no prospects, sometimes felt like the most laughably ridiculous decision I had ever made. I watched former colleagues move up the career ladder and felt my stomach clench with anxiety at the thought of the salary I could have been earning, whilst I made yet another round of tea in yet another internship.
It took well over a year to move from my last day in PR to my first day in journalism, and my quarter life crisis encompassed every moment in-between. But now, six years later, I’m still here – and, twee as it sounds, I’m lucky enough to work in a job that I love.
It doesn’t surprise me that quarter life crises are becoming more common among millennials, with new research from LinkedIn revealing that a massive 72% of young professionals in the UK have experienced one. Just the briefest glance at the headlines is enough to make anyone want to slam their heads into their cheap, meal-deal sandwich (the real reason we can’t afford to buy a flat, apparently).
But while the generation before us were gifted with stable jobs and stable housing, we need to try and make the most of the cards that we’ve been dealt. Millennials today are taking the traditional path of “settling down” to marriage and children much later than ever before - if, indeed, they choose to settle down at all.
If ever there was a generation who could make the most of changing their careers, or packing up and moving to the other side of the world, or launching a small business, it is us. Working is becoming more flexible, and travel is more accessible than ever before. And that’s something that other generations should be jealous of.
So, I would say to anyone who finds themselves feeling at crisis point over their lives – find the courage to make a change. Apply for different roles in your company, ask for flexible working, or jump ship altogether. Pack your favourite clothes in a suitcase and jet off for a weekend, a week, or a longer term adventure. Delete Instagram from your phone.
The future looks different for us today, and there’s nothing like a quarter life crisis to show you the parts of the present you can’t put up with anymore. Embrace the panic and let it lead you in a different direction. Who knows what you could be doing this time next year? The choices are yours for the taking.
Photography: Alessia Armenise