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...