Understanding and supporting young adults through the ‘quarterlife crisis’ (October 2013- May 2017).
During transition to adulthood, young people can experience a quarerlife crisis when they have difficulty finding their place in the world. The aim of this project is to understand the experience of quarterlife crisis among young people from India and the UK.
Participants are between 22-30 years old and self-define as experiencing difficulty finding their place in the world. Sixteen are from the UK, of which eight are women and twelve are university educated. Eight are from Assam, India, of which four are women and five are university educated. Participants were asked to prepare for their interview by taking photographs, or selecting images, to help explain their challenging transition to adulthood. All took part in a one-to-one research interview in which they were invited to create a time-line of relevant events and to place their images on the time-time during interview. This material was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.
Presented here are the three main themes of the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis conducted for project ‘Quarterlife Crisis’.
Each theme is illustrated with example images and quotes from three different participants, including women and men, Indian and British, and those who attended and did not attend university. All content is anonymised.
EXAMPLE 1: Hannah (female, British, 27 years old, university educated)≫
“…during my junior doctor years and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, like I was like hmm! And I felt like everyone else was like this that felt like how I should be…”
Observing other people at work, Hannah felt that everyone was confident in what they were doing. This pair of photos brought by Hannah showcased her perception of how she ‘should’ feel – confident and happy – in comparison to what she actually felt: clueless and out of place. Her perception of what she ‘should’ feel developed through comparisons with those around her and she felt pressurised to be similar. Her experience of crisis was based on her perception of having limited time and associated rush to catch-up with others who seemed to be in a better, more confident, position in their life.
EXAMPLE 2: Alex (male, British, 23 years old, university educated)≫
“…I thought I need to do something where in the summer I need to get some experience if I’m going to start applying for jobs or maybe get a job for after I finish university. And I was talking and it was actually a friend of mine who was there whose dad was a partner of this firm, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got a job there, I’m doing this internship, you should apply as well.” And so he helped me out with my application, sort of like, you know, gave me some of the inside stuff to talk about like. And yeah so I got this internship, no problem really […] And yeah, and then proceeded, I mean to be honest, I mean I didn’t put my heart and soul into it, you know, there was a few other guys there that were really enthusiastic about it and I think it kind of came across that actually, I mean, you know, I was doing, I was working hard and everything like that but I wasn’t, you know. I suppose probably clear and apparent that I wasn’t too, as I say enthusiastic, too motivated perhaps because I couldn’t see myself long-term, I could see myself long-term working behind a desk but as long as that desk involved moving to different countries and things like that…”
Under the pressure of getting a job soon after completing university, Alex applied for work in accountancy. However, he could not put his ‘heart and soul into’ the job because it was something that he applied for only to meet a social standard of achievement. He found himself less motivated than his peers and had little enthusiasm for the work. Although, he knew what he really wanted, it was challenging to get the kind of job he thought he would like, and finding himself in work that gave him little enjoyment made him feel stuck and to experience a sense of crisis.
EXAMPLE 3: Aman (male, Indian, 29 years old, university educated)
“I made a promise to him that I will live with your ideologies. I’ll just sacrifice everything that was mine. He passed away. I had to look after my business. My mom got insecure. Relatives poured in. That was again a time when I tried- actual- all this was training. This was the actual job: finding my place in the world; being the eldest son of the [names the company] empire. This is the eldest son and he’s going to be looking after it.”
The pair of photos Aman brought to the interview had both social and emotional content On the one hand he illustrates a significant event in his life when he lost his father: a man he adored and respected. On the other, he conveys a transfer of responsibilities down the generations. In the last line of the extract, he expresses the unspoken words of society: ‘This is the eldest son and he’s going to be looking after it’. Aman wanted to stress the burden of the responsibilities vested in him as eldest son and he felt unprepared for, and incapable of fulfilling, this new role.
EXAMPLE 1: Denver (male, British, 22 years old, university educated)≫
“…when it comes to the family it makes me feel weak. It makes me like- feel like I’m not doing what I should be doing to help them out…”
Denver saw himself as a broken link in a chain: the weak one amongst others who are working hard. He felt helpless and unable to support his family despite his desire to do so. Hence, he experienced a crisis through feeling not good enough to lead a successful life.
EXAMPLE 2: Jack (male, British, 22 years old, not university educated)≫
“…that’s from a game called Limbo and it’s basically about this like little- it’s a 2D game and it’s all black and white and it’s like completely silent and it’s basically about this kid gets dropped into limbo and you don’-, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He just solves all the puzzles that get put in front of him and then he’s looking for- you don’t really know what he’s looking for but in the end you find out it’s this girl and then like it’s either his sister or his- I don’t know- you don’t really find out and then this big fucking spider comes and eats him. And that’s it and that’s the whole game ((laughs)). Do you know what I mean? That’s kind of what I’ve felt like every sort of thing was I get dropped into this like blank, boring, horrible inhospitable place. Don’t really know what I’m doing. I solve puzzles as they come and then a spider fucking eats me. I don’t really- it just gets squashed. So it doesn’t matter how hard I try. Do you know what I mean? Everything just breaks down. So I just kind of stop trying ((laughs)).”
Jack identified with a character in a game in which everything was ‘2D’, ‘black and white’ and ‘completely silent.’ This suggests a dull environment into which he felt ‘dropped’. The main character is stuck in a vicious circle of problems which Jack related to his own life. He felt helpless and hopeless, anticipating that nothing he does will be productive or fruitful. Interestingly, Jack did not place this photo in any specific part of his timeline but used it to depict how he felt throughout his life.
EXAMPLE 3: Ishita (female, Indian, 26 years old, university educated)
“…I come from an environment where I’m very protected by my parents. I have always had them in all my major life decisions. So there has never been a point where I had to- had to- you know depend on anyone else. They have always been there right from choosing the school which I should go to, my education line, taking-up humanities as my subject after my tenth standard. So they have been there. I would- I mean- if you- the reason why I selected this pic- because this exactly portrays my life. I would see Father Joseph as my father and Mother Mary as my mother and baby Jesus as myself. I have always had them. It not only includes my mom and dad but also my family. So I have always been protected.”
Ishita’s identity was closely associated with her parents and the way she was brought up. This was the first photo she used in the interview to develop the background of her story. Most of the decisions in her life were taken by her parents. While she acknowledged their efforts on one hand, on the other she felt obligated to repay them. Ishita talked of having a need from within to prove her worth and she attempted to do so through financial independence (‘I want to be able to stand up on my own feet’) but this, in itself, lead her to a point of crisis.
EXAMPLE 1: Sarah (female, British, 23 years old, not university educated)≫
“…I would have been- well 19 I got a delightful boyfriend. I was with him for two years. We got on really, really well. Kind of met him through friends. It was like- meet like- Go Cart and doing that. A few of my friends got together and started and I remember going on the first date- coming back and I was like talking to my mum “I don’t like him. I can’t see it going anywhere.” And she was like “Just see how it goes you know. It’s the first proper relationship. Just see. Give it some time.” So I did and two years later mum threw out- mum again- she was- she kind of told me- she said “I don’t think you’re fully happy when you’re with him. You’re not fully yourself. You’re not fully relaxed.” And it took me two years to realise that he definitely wasn’t the right one…”
When Sarah placed the photo on her timeline, the interviewer assumed it was a photo of her boyfriend on a bike because she placed it while speaking about him. She later added: “…so I got out. Broke up with him and decided that I’d had enough moping about, that I was going to do what I’d always wanted to do. So I did my bike training.” Sarah’s break-up led her to pursue something of genuine interest to her. It was a way of escaping an emotionally-tense and stressful relationship by replacing it with an activity that guaranteed her a feeling of joy and contentment.
EXAMPLE 2: Silvia (female, British, 25 years old, university educated)≫
“…when I was unemployed I guess what helped was I played tennis a lot because we lived really near a park. So I went running and we went to the park quite a lot because it was spring time and summer. So at least like I could go outside and play tennis and climbing I guess throughout the whole year. Helped because- yeah- because I climb a lot and then when you’re- like I guess with any sport you just- you don’t focus on anything else. You’re like completely in the zone and you kind of forget about anything that’s stressing you. So that helped with it all.”
Silvia engaged in lots of different activities as a way to distract herself from her problems. However, this coping response was only a way of forgetting about her problems rather than dealing with them. However, although unproductive in terms of resolving her issues, multiple activities helped her de-stress and keep calm.
EXAMPLE 3: Ishita (female, Indian, 26 years old, university educated)
“… I do look for them and that’s how I ((smiles)) I saw it. These quotes really help me. It motivates me. I’m very much drawn to self-help books like David Connolly’s books. I feel very motivated and I feel those kind of books actually lifts up your spirits when you actually feel very low…”
Reading motivational quotes and self-help books helped Ishita to stay optimistic and to push onwards when she felt helpless and stuck in a negative cycle of problems. She brought many other images with inspirational quotes to the interview suggesting that this was, for her, an important coping mechanism.