Thursday, April 24, 2008

Surviving the Quarter-Life Crisis...

Before the "quarter life crisis" struck, I vaguely remember a young ambitious man, a recent engineering grad from a tough as nails Master's program, eager to work hard, make money, do his mba from an ivy league school in a few years, dreaming of marrying a beautiful girl, investing his money, traveling to exotic places, keeping his parents happy and well provided for, winning every struggle that came his way and living the life, middle-class youth of today's India can aspire for and be definitely able to reach. And then from a point where he thought everything was figured out, the plot to his life went awry. His dear and near ones helplessly watched the show as he gradually retreated into irritability, unhappiness and aloofness. Today, what he wonders though, is the crisis striking him late, say five years from now, and he turns a gun on himself, realizing it is too late to change tracks. I have heard many a Tom, Dick and Harry in my generation say they are in QLC and surprisingly their lives go on just how it was before their supposed crisis began, the lucky ones beat it by jumping jobs or going to B-School. Mine wasn't so easy - it lasted three years and changed me inside out, hopefully for the better.

When I left India it was an escape from the long looming shadow of my dad. I have believed that every generation born into a family which can provide for their education has the responsibility to go one step ahead of their parents. Making a new life in a new land was my idea of that step ahead. The quarter-life crisis changed everything for me. It all began on my first job out of university, a startup in San Diego. While my batchmates plumped for big companies, I opted for a job with subsistence-level basic minimum pay but with a tempting stock option offer, believing the day they went IPO I could retire with a six digit bank balance. The American Dream was about to sour. I realized I couldn't sit on a chair inside a cube for more than half an hour before the world outside beckoned me or in conference rooms where people deliberated solutions to business challenges while I nodded away to puppetic perfection. I was too restless beyond my own comprehension. My mind began to work in ways I couldn't control. Ideas of an alternate life, a rewarding life started entering my head. It took 1 1/2 years and four jobs with varying degrees of success and failure to help me take that first step. I gave the first of my childhood ambitions, the UPSC a shot. For close to a year, I had a semi-reprieve from my early-life crisis but it returned with a bang when I realized the civil service exam was an effort undertaken too late, too unprepared.

The US was my escape route again, to weave the next plan of action. I found a new field and a new job that I have been working at, for more than a year now. But the crisis continued with me - the comfort level with this job was just an illusion, it told me, and the way ahead offered me, just more of boredom and dissatisfaction. I penned down on a piece of paper all the careers that best fit me. It took me to a final answer after much frustration, enforced loneliness, soul-searching and soul-searing. The choice may not be the perfect fit but it shines a lamp, enough for me to see a narrow path to start walking on, knowing if I stay the course, wider roads will appear in their own sweet time. The crisis waned. I was at peace finally. I found my happiness again. I now look back and believe this was the best phase in my life. In my hardships and mental turmoil, I discovered my own thinking, lifestyle, personality and most importantly my writing voice that reflected on this blog. I get scared at times now, but a beginning has to be made. I am lucky. I have given myself a second chance in life. I thank my parents - they have backed me through it all. I should remember to give and afford my children the same freedom and courage to dream.

Last weekend, I was in Chicago with one of my closest friends from school and our parting revelry was broken by a brother of ours mailing in that he had resigned his high-profile job in Manhattan. The early life crisis was claiming another short-term casualty. I returned from the holiday thinking and believing he had done the right thing and deviously decided on sparking a fire in a college pal's smooth life. This was a guy who I thought would go on to become an entrepreneur and a leader of men and instead lived content with waiting for his green card and life as a programmer. Though I have no right to interfere in another person's life or be judgmental, I lost patience with the tepid ideas he kept suggesting and dropping, never to be heard again and offered him a piece of my mind, on the precious time he was losing and what a lazyass he was becoming. The crisis was good for me - it has given me dreams, it has given me a reason to work hard, it has made me strong. I don't know about success, but I will survive. I will be happy. But I am feeling guilty and horrible now - I hate this tendency in me to give advice and support when not solicited - why did I do it to him, will he go into that churn now, what if he had put a roof on his dreams to continue supporting his family, will a QLC do him good, was I being stupid? Time will tell...


mathew said...

Jiby..I look up at you often wondering why i am following the same path as yours..But unlike you I havent still managed the courage to come out of the shell..that speaks of me sticking to same job for 4 years..and except for the good money honest to the core there is nothin gratifying..I guess any job is like that..often wonder how my parents stuck to the same job for 35 getting bored after 4 years!!

One one side the dreams which you mentioned in the first of the blog is too tempting and on the other side the call for following your dreams..I think am already a part of the QLC...still trying to figure out..

your post makes me think..

Matter of Choice said...

Hey Jiby,

It's been a real long time. Just had to jot down a comment to this post coz it sounded so like what some of us are really going thru!

the so called "purpose of life" phase!

Keep blogging mate..wonderful stuff!


Usha said...

'same pinch' on that!

I too had taken off from the beaten path, sometime back.. learnt some lessons the hard way, and got back to the same old path.

I know quite a few people who've done the same. I guess only a few lucky ones manage to crack it.

To tell you a secret, I have even googled and checked out some silly sites which could help me focus on to the right kind of career options for me! seriously.. the heights of desperation!

now I guess, it's only about keeping that green channel to my bank account alive and kicking.

But know what, a good 4 years from then, even now I think mebbe.. just mebbe, I should give myself another chance at doing something I've wanted to.

bombay dosti said...

I guess, honesty is a taken in your writings. Atleast these days, I have stopped getting surprised.

Today, I was reading some old mails from a friend. He wrote this to me a long time back,
"The point is there is no life that you want to lead....
There is only a life that you dont want to.. which makes me afraid.
everything that BD tells me is what she doesn't want to do..
go home sleep and go to office..

Well, for me, those were the days,but a journey well travelled.But somehow, I found my space,that now, I know where all I can travel to.Frankly speaking, to me it was a lucky flight,which i entered not fully knowing where, but it landed right in heaven!

Toast once again to honesty and peace :)

George said...

Many of us have a litreature bend. This is what pompts people like you to write, especially to reflect on past.
The writer in you will not be happy to sit in board rooms.
People who do all sorts of job in persian gulf are also as dissatisfied like most of us. But then they have more pressing needs.
The more money you have the bigger your ideas become.

Anonymous said...

I too had a bad experience motivating someone. I had a friend who had taken a long time to complete Masters in a US University, just because his professor was taking him on a ride. After his MS, he decided to continue with a PhD, since he was scared to look for a job. I gave him a motivational speech to face the "real world", and not waste his time in the University. I went on saying that PhD is a gross waste of time.

Well, my friend went into a depression, stopped doing research and going to classes, flunked all the courses that semester, and absolutely, absolutely screwed up his life.

So BEWARE while motivating.


silverine said...

A little OT - I really don't think any job can you complete satisfaction unless it is your hobby. But what you do outside working hours is an important contributer to life. What our generation doesn't know is how to live a productive life after office hours. Our huge population and lack of amenities ensure that we live and work like battery chickens. We have been taught to work but not to relax. It is no wonder we end up getting bored with the only activity in life i.e work!

I know of several colleagues staying away from families who started working for community services like NGO's during weekends just to kill boredom, but today are one of the happiest people around. Work life balance does not mean equal work and time off I guess, it mean quality time off. Just some thoughts.

I admit I might be grossly wrong here too.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

"I have believed that every generation born into a family which can provide for their education has the responsibility to go one step ahead of their parents."

I share this belief. May be I have not told anyone.Glad to know there are others who think on these lines.

Ellam kalanjitt, nattil valla vaazha krishi yo, chemmeen krishi yo okke thudangiyaal mathy enn palapozhum vicharikkunatha... pakshe...dhairyam pora...:(

thomas said...

Jiby, you should be getting married soon; an option to jump from your quarterly life crisis. ;)

Jiby said...

mathew, what do i say man...good luck to you.

anish, long this the reason you are not blogging?

usha, what can i tell people like you who have already trodden a parallel track...may yours and my next attempts be more fruitful! :)

bd, i am glad for you. that heaven...i sometimes wonder if it is just going to be a mirage on the horizon for me.

george, yes this creative bend is a double-edged used to hurt that compromise was not an option for me. i agree i have the freedom from worrying about money while some don't have that choice.

anon, hope your loser friend gets a second chance. I can't imagine a guy like that finishing his Ph.D if he got swayed by an external voice. i knew ppl who have taken 8-9 years to finish their Ph.D...ur pal seemed destined that road...isn't that also akin to getting screwed up. neways what you said about motivating i will be careful about...i can't stop doing it but will try to be careful of what the repercussions could be.

silverine, yeah a productive life away from work would be a good way to beat this crisis phase but what unfortunately happens is that most people bring the frustrations with work home and it keeps building up.

nikhil, yes its been one of the driving forces for me and that thought is a good source of motivation. haha...njanum vichaarikkum...poyi rubber vettiyaalonne but i can imagine my dad telling me, nee maatram aakkanda...namukke orumiche vettam!

thomas, looks like you college boys are careless readers :). didn't i write that i am done with that phase and boy am i glad i didn't use marriage as the antidote though it was prescribed to me sporadically.

Preetha Nair said...

Just a few days back I and dad were debating on the very same topic…choosing the right career…. and My dad said in his times, choosing the right career eluded some of them right up until retirement and today’s kids are lucky to live in trail and error times where growth and change are expected….and have more options of taking up something,and try it and if it fails , admit it frankly and try another!!!

I have always admired the way you are able to express your thoughts with clarity and seamlessly before everyone….
Wish I could do so too…..
Keep writing

skar said...

For all those suffering from QLC who care for some advice, here's what you do:

1) Take your life's ambitions, add a pinch of salt to it, and swallow it whole. It tastes yummy. Trust me.

2) Write down your 'purpose in life' on a piece of paper, then insert alphabets into the sentence at random, till you get bored or your hands ache. The new sentence that forms is your new 'purpose in life'. Pursue it in all sincerity.

3) Take your life, remove all the cosmetics off of it, and when its bare naked, drown it in your hobbies. It'll survive. Again, trust me.

Geo said...

In my opinion, QLC is all about me being confused about options. After LKG, it was always UKG. After 3rd standard, it was always 4th standard. May be you can say the school matters. But it wasn’t my headache as much as it was my parents concern. Till about 10th or 12th we all had well laid out paths in front of us to traverse. We knew our goals and benchmarks. We knew what to do to be successful. Even if we failed, we knew what to do next time to correct that.

But once that phase is over, we are confused.
Medical or Engineering?
Computers or Mechanical?

Then comes the next phase where we start ‘working’. All the more confusions.

The people we know are all pursuing their own aspirations. Some of them look more successful than what we think we are. We aren’t sure if we are on the right track. We don’t know what our goals are. We are not sure if the things we do are taking us closer to our goals.

One of my friend’s granny had this to say when we both were waiting at Forum Westside for my friend who was busy shopping for a trouser - “Your generation isn’t satisfied with ‘good’, you are always in the lookout for the ‘best’. You are afraid of picking up the ‘good’ fearing you may miss the ‘best’ “.

andy said...

I am reading your blog after a long time. Best wishes on your new resolution. What suprises me is that well qualified and intelligent individuals who have career options in different countries feel so dissatisfied. I have always believed that career is only a means to an end and not an end in itself. From your blog and comments there seems to be a mix up in terms of what one could expect from a career and a life beyond or outside the career. Am I right? Could you care to respond?

Jiby said...

preetha, true...the career choices we have today is a luxury our parents never enjoyed. maybe too much of choice is the reason for QLC!

karthik, awesome advice!

geo, lucky you if QLC was just about confusion.

andy, as far as i am concerned there is no mixup. Yes, work is also a means to an end and that is why i work but work is a place i spend 50% of my waking hours a week, and a person like me cannot be satisfied if i don't feel fulfilled by my work. as far as activities beyond a career, it is something i prefer not to talk about now.

Usha said...

Silverine makes a very profound point, here. These days I've honestly started applying that, and I must say, it sure makes a difference.
At the end of a week, when you look back, you feel happy to have accomplished something, other than the crap you fill in your time sheets.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you are an absolute waste. Great family + great schooling + good college + great MS + green card = life lost.

Dude, people with only half the opportunity you had have achieved much more. You are a waste, inventing terms to describe your laziness.

Jiby said...

anon, thanks for the frank comment. you deserve the right to hold your opinions which i won't contradict. yes, like you said, i am a loser. like you said, i am lazy. and like you said, i invented terms. what you can't say is what i will do and what i can do. so relax, cheer up, stop worrying about my fate...go have a beer.

i was hoping you are a friend i know, but the people i consider good friends tell it in the face, while you hide behind anonymity.

Anonymous said...

Connectable, I am going through the same phase if it means quitting a safe job and chasing what you want to do. Curious on what your final choice was though. If it is writing and you find success there, let me know :-)
I'd need some advice.

PS: I was directed to your blog by someone who suggested a similarity with mine : "good language but no substance" were his words I believe

Anonymous said...

He seems to have really underestimated you in making the comparision :-)

Unknown said...

hey jiby,
reading your post was a big relief. It feels gud to know that I am not alone in this world.

thnx for such a honest writing.