One of the defining characteristics of a midlife crisis is being in your midlife, the clue is in the title right? WRONG! Traditionally the midlife crisis was known to affect people who are in their 40s or older, but that is changing. People are exhibiting the symptoms of a midlife crisis as early as 25 years old.
Surely, those people are not old enough to be in their midlife? In terms of years lived and years yet to live, yes, these young people are not in their midlife. However, there is a growing number of examples of midlife crisis, or midlife crisis like symptoms, affecting the younger generations. The ‘young midlife crisis’ is becoming a recognized issue.
I can hear your question now: How can someone in their 20s have a midlife crisis? To answer this, we must look at the symptoms and causes of a middle aged midlife crisis; Feeling of isolation, uncertainty what to do with the remainder of one’s life, relationship worries, job security concerns, stress, feeling a personal lack of value, apparent failure to reach a personal goal. Each of these things can be easily justified in a person of middle years who may be feeling they have peaked and are looking at a downward slide into old age. It could be just as easy to dismiss these things as non-issues when thinking about a younger person.
Feeling of isolation – in the ever-connected modern world how can a young person feel isolated? Surely they simply need to switch on, plug in and bam, hundreds of friends waiting at their fingertips? Despite having the best access to information and other people in the history of the world, young people are feeling more and more isolated [insert reference here]. From a young age children are spending time sat in their rooms alone, ‘chatting’ with people online rather than interacting face to face. Whilst being connected this does not provide the social interaction that people need to be truly fulfilled. This isolation continues through the teenage years and into their 20s. A generation is growing up without the ability to interact on an emotional level and this can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. For a middle-aged person the isolation may come from the realization that much less time is spent with friends than in previous years. The reasons are justified, people move for career or family reasons, but the result is similar to that experienced by the younger generation, separation and isolation without truly understanding why it has happened.
Uncertainty what to do with the remainder of one’s life – for people in their midlife this is a frequent symptom of a midlife crisis. Many people find that after years spent working in the same job or career, they are faced with the realization that this could be the rest of their life, a saddening through for some people who may not be doing a job that truly fulfills them. Alternatively a sudden, unexpected change in work circumstances (e.g., redundancy) leave some middle aged people wondering what they will do with the remainder of their working lives. Changing career and job skill at a later stage in life can be a real challenge and is one of the triggers for a midlife crisis.
So what has this got to do with young people? In the current economic climate, the unemployment rate amongst high school and college graduates is high, and seems to be increasing. For young people entering the workforce today there is little certainty of getting a job and less certainty of keeping one. Fifty years ago people could have a job for life, some people stayed with the same company for their entire lives. That simply isn’t the case anymore. Where a middle aged person might wonder how they will reskill if they lose a job, a younger person is worrying about whether they will get a job, or how they will reskill three or four times in their lives.
In addition to the worry about work, young people have other pressures on them, some real and some imagined. The media, both mainstream and social, and full of stories of people achieving huge success, young people founding .coms, building instant hit mobile apps, starting and selling companies and becoming so rich they could stop working at 25 and travel the world until they get old and die. Never before has it been so easy to get rich so quickly…or so it would appear. Yes, it is easier to reach a wider market now than it was even 10 years ago, but it is also easier to spread the word about the small number of people who are successful. The high media coverage of the young superstars puts pressure on those who have not ‘made it’, young people question why they have not made it, they may feel like they have failed at an age where, 50 years ago, people would consider they were only just starting out in life. This pressure may come from within, it may come from society, but whatever the origin, it exists and the result is a type of anxiety similar to that experienced by someone in their middle years.
Apparent failure to reach a personal goal – Every day we see pictures on Facebook of friends in exotic places, jumping out of airplanes, swimming with sharks, having children, winning awards. At the click of a button our screens and our minds can be filled with images of other people being successful, having fun, living life to the fullest. To be bombarded with this day in and day out has an impact on people. Beyond simple envy, it can cause feelings of failure, ‘Why is everyone else having such a great life when I am just sat at home?’. For the middle aged midlife crisis sufferer the worry over not reaching a personal goal may be about a single ambition that was failed to be reached, or the lack of what others may consider to be a ‘great adventure’. Where middle aged people may have one regret, younger generations have an unrealistic expectation that they should constantly be having great adventures, jumping out of things or swimming with giant toothy killers. They have this expectation because they see other people doing these things all the time. Only, it is not quite as it appears, on social media it is possible to have hundreds of friends, if each of them did something even slightly interesting once per year that results in hundreds of interesting things across the group. Every day it would seem that cool things are happening to other people, but in reality those people are having one cool experience each and we are seeing all of them and assuming, incorrectly, that everyone is doing all of these things all of the time.
These examples cover just a few of the reasons why young people are experiencing symptoms more commonly associated with a midlife crisis. Whilst the reasons for the feelings may be different, the result is the same and we should look to help anyone suffering from the challenges of life in this world.