Millennials’ Quarter-Life Crisis
Tl;dr: in a world where kids and marriage are getting rare, “getting a job” effectively represents the ultimate step in people’s lives, before retirement (and death). The little perspective it provides leads to what is called “the quarter-life crisis” which encourages millennials to completely reconsider their own lives.
Ever since they were toddlers, millennials have been trained to pass tests to reach “the next level”. This educational model, replicated at school, on the game console, at the music academy, or the sports club, accompanies everyone until they reach the last step of the journey: “getting a job”.
This brutal shift of situation has never been easy to manage. For the previous generations though, getting a job did not mean the end of the trip as it offered new types of opportunities such as marriage and raising children.
There wasn’t much else to do anyway.
But today, the world is different.
The development of the internet, the invention of affordable travel, the rise of volunteering opportunities, and an insatiable desire for adventure have made it very difficult for millennials to find meaning and happiness in dead-end jobs when a million of attractive opportunities exist out there.
Depressed, some take the leap and quit their job to go travel and discover more about themselves. Others build companies based on an original idea.
Whatever they decide to do, all of them embark on a path to find this level-based lifestyle they had gotten used to their entire lives with the freedom, progress, and learning opportunities it entails.
The Level-Based System
While children do not seem entirely aware of where ultimately leads the level-based system they are part of, parents have a very clear idea of what they want for their child from the very beginning.
They insist for their kids to get into the best kindergarten schools so that they can later on go to the best primary schools so that they can later on go to the best high-schools so that they can later on go to the best universities so that they can, later on, go work for the “best companies”, or at least, the highest-paying ones.
Meanwhile, the children get used to this level-based system and far from wondering where they’re going, focus on the next test to pass.
To use a gaming metaphor, children’s life is about playing the level, defeating the villain, reaching the next level, and repeat.
Until the last villain of the game is defeated: graduation.
While school provides an endless perspective of progress, learning, and opportunities, getting a job abruptly shuts these down.
To keep the troops motivated, opportunities in disguise are nonetheless presented to the new coming employees in the form of promotions obtained against company loyalty and productivity.
However, these shallow promises don’t manage to hide the true nature of the corporate game for too long.
Unlike school, younglings notice that few only make it to the next level and those who do, do so after decades of loyalty and hard work.
Dissatisfied, millennials look for a way out as their disillusions slowly but surely expand. They think this can’t just be the end, it can’t be their lives. Doubts, fears, and regrets invade their mind.
This is the quarter-life crisis.
No one told the players that the game was over.
Marriage and Kids
There used to be a time when society wouldn’t hesitate to throw in some bonus levels to delay by 15 years at least the psychological crisis that corporate life often engineered.
These bonuses were called “marriage” and “kids”. The idea was to hide the boredom of a job behind the pleasure of sex and money, distributed under the form of a salary.
As such, life was not boring at all after graduation, but quite entertaining! The fun of marriage paired up with consumerism (and everything that goes with it) was enough to entertain young adults and keep any crisis at bay.
As love eventually faded and consuming lost its fun, kids had taken a turn to entertain their parents. Busy with the daily care of their family, the latter didn’t have many chances to think about themselves.
It was only once their children had reached teenagehood that, relived from day-care, they could finally take a look at their own lives.
The feeling was often horrifying.
Under their eyes stood forgotten dreams and dead-born life projects, wrapped in an atmosphere of spiritual emptiness.
The mid-life crisis had just hit.
Millennials don’t want marriage nor Kids
That cycle of hell broke with millennials. People that turned 25 from 2005 onward were offered different paths to life than the deadly combination of “work-kids-marriage-mortgage”.
From traveling to language learning trips, from pursuing a passion for learning a new craft, millennials became more interested in exploring the world than following daddy’s steps to the office.
They said “no” to jobs and the graduate-backpacker was born.
The Internet as a Catalyst
It is most likely that internet ferociously influenced this new trend. Suddenly, computers made it easy for millennials to book tickets, find activities in foreign countries, and above all, make money from anywhere.
I’m not saying that everyone became annoying vegan digital nomads (had they done so, they’d be dead from malnutrition by now), but opportunities had broadened.
Why work as a consultant in your home country if you could do the same in an exotic place? The choice between adventure and independence on one hand and settling down, chaining thyself to a spouse, a mortgage, and dumb annoying kids on the other…was quickly made.
Let Me Design My Own Levels
And so it spread. From blogs to vlogs, to Youtube channels, millennials became more interested to pursue what they saw on their screens than to walk down the path of “a normal life”.
As I am writing this, getting kids before 30 became rare while the idea of having kids itself is losing ground.
Millennials are increasingly saying no to their parents’ lifestyle or quitting it after a couple of years once they realize the office life was a lie.
Essentially, the quarter-life crisis stems out of a feeling of boredom, uselessness, and a thirst for challenges and “levels to pass”.
The absence of marriage and kids in these years has left millennials asking to have their schools, tests, and “levels” back.
Since society hasn’t provided them with any besides the out-fashioned kids and marriage, they design them themselves through the establishment of small businesses, blogs, vlogs, international dating, and expat experiences.
The Bottom Line
Millennials are smarter than we would give them credit for. They have observed, dissected and most of the time, lived their parents’ terrible lives of misery.
They remember the financial problems, the divorce looming.
They never forgot the physical abuses from school teachers, bus drivers, priests, or uncles.
They look at the path laid down for them with great distrust (and a certain level of disgust too).
Doubts about the normalcy of their feelings towards traditional lifestyle are exchanged with other millennials over the internet.
The conclusion is the same for everyone: careers just suck.
Millennials are irremediably hedonistically and meaningfully driven. Their lives are not about their parents’ wishes.
They refuse to have to deal with absent spouses, angry bosses, or debt.
They want to do what they want and be happy doing so.
They got rid of social pressures and easily move from one country to the next, speak several languages, and have a diversified set of “monetizable” skills.
They intend on consciously building their own lives, designing them from start to finish, pursuing a passion, learning, and liberty.
All things a corporate job can’t offer them.