Quarter life crisis?

June 22, 2010

When I was a student, carefree and cheerful, I wanted nothing more than to grow up quickly to earn money and do things that adults could do… Now that I am an adult, I realize how naive I was to think so – as those were the best years of my life.

As I talk to my friends, colleagues, batch mates, acquaintances, most of whom are a products of India’s finest educational institutions, including the top business schools; I realize that no matter how well they are all doing – almost everyone seems to confess not feeling “content”. One would think that a degree from India’s top management institute, a job with a fortune 500 company, marriage to your college sweetheart and plans to start a family would lead to happiness or contentment – but it doesn’t seem so, unfortunately! On 2 different chat windows, I have one friend who seems to have a great job and all of the above but is complaining as his job profile doesn’t have any travel while on the other window my other friend who heads the international business division of his company is complaining how he hates waking up in a new hotel room every second day, being away from home 20 days a month and not to mention the toll time zone differences take on health! So, you see one has what the other wants but there is no guarantee that the first guy will be very happy if he gets the second guy’s job and vice versa. So it is with being single and being married – my married friends think I am very lucky to be single and my single friends (very few left anyway) and I feel that suddenly our friends are disappearing as they are getting married and starting families!

So what is it that we need to do to feel happy, content, satisfied? First we need to start with getting our priorities right. Unfortunately nowadays, people don’t spend time introspecting and thinking what they want and let peer pressure decide what will their priorities be. So if everyone in my group/ network/ circle has a big car, suddenly my much loved small car may seem to make me feel out of place. Or if everyone is talking about their holiday abroad, I may feel compelled to do the same, even if it puts a strain on my finances. The pressure to be accepted seems to be really getting to us – everything we do, it’s to get a nod of approval from our so-called “friends”. In the process, we change as people – becoming materialistic and forgetting to enjoy the “simple” things in life. To give you an example, if your office is at Nariman Point, when was the last time you enjoyed the sunset at Marine Drive – chances are quite high you may remember your nights getting drunk or eating food at the most expensive restaurants with peers in the same area but don’t remember when you did something simple as viewing the sunset. The pressure to be seen as a high performer in companies is tremendous – as managers we are only concerned about the numbers – revenue, target, budget; so much so that we have forgotten something basic which is to be “nice”; we have started measuring people in terms of the money he/ she makes – nothing could be more shallow than this. This is also taking a toll on our lifestyles – we are increasingly becoming home to highest number of heart patients and obesity is becoming a national problem. I met a few of my friends recently and could barely recognize them – the kilos they have piled on due to working late hours, no exercise, junk food is not funny. So while I may get that coveted promotion which helps me buy the big car and even that dream house; it’s actually coming at the cost of extra flab on my waistline, no time to enjoy the simple things in life and no time to be nice or even smile at people. And then one day, one would look at oneself in the mirror and think – what the hell am I doing with my life; I have the salary, nice house, chauffeur driven car, holidays abroad – but is that what I wanted out of life – is this the purpose of life and that’s when the crisis hits you.

Some of my Shanghainese friends who were visiting India recently asked me for help and I thought they would be interested in exploring all the history, culture of Delhi/ Agra and planned for them to visit all places of historic importance – turns out they cancelled this plan and instead all they wanted is to shop till they drop dead as they wanted to come back and flaunt what they bought! We are becoming so materialistic that we no longer want to spend money on experiences, but only on things we can wear/ decorate our homes with/ show off to others. In China, its very easy to tell a Shanghainese woman from those from others parts of the country – the Shanghainese woman is very hung up on appearances; to her the most important thing in life seems to have a Louis Vuitton handbag in one hand and a starbucks coffee in the other – even if its means not having money for other basic or more important things in life like higher education, saving for retirement, etc. In fact there is even a term for these women who spend their money on all these things important for their social status and then run out of money last few days of the month – Yue guang zu (月光族) – meaning “spend all your salary” – these women play a big hand in China’s domestic consumption. Madonna’s song “And I am a material girl and you know we are living in a material world” truly sums up their life! Apparently these women think that they will get noticed with the right stuff and right image by a foreigner (no matter how much older he may be to her) and then they wont have to work for rest of their lives (wishful thinking in some cases!). (My next post is on the Chinese women’s craze for white skin). Even in India, for people in their 20s, idea of a well spent weekend is to visit shopping malls, and get drunk.

Both in India and China, the biggest craze seems to be around owning a house – at least that’s an investment unlike a LV bag – but the length to which it drives people crazy is not funny. I know a guy who when sent abroad on assignment skipped dinner every day to save money to go back and make the downpayment for a house. In our parent’s generation, a house was something one bought close to retirement. Today if you are twenty-something and don’t own a house or are not planning to buy one immediately, you are almost a social pariah. I was having lunch with my Chinese friend the other day, who mentioned he is very ambitious and would like to reach senior management level – I suggested that he should look at an MBA from an Ivy League b-school – to which he said that he can’t do so as all almost all his salary goes into EMI for his house. In China and probably more so in cities in India, women refuse to marry a guy who doesn’t own a house!

Given all this its not surprising that people feel lack of contentment – working at jobs trying to outshine the others; a long stressful commute to work; paying home loans, car loans, personal loans, education loans – you name it, they have it; not getting time for themselves or with family; holidays becoming more of a ticking-number-of-places-visited event rather than unwinding. So when the next time you find yourself fuming over that non-deserving-colleague who got promoted instead of you – take a deep breath, relax; go for a jog/ swim; spend time with your loved ones, specially with very young or very old people; learn a new language; read that book you always wanted to; learn how to cook some new dishes; go on a backpacking tour and when you come back you will actually pity the colleague who probably doesn’t even get to see sunshine for most of his/ her day!

And not to forget; even if you win the rat race, you still remain a rat!

Facebook and Schadenfreude

September 5, 2007

My hypothesis that my quarterlife crisis is really just pent up teenage angst finally being let out is being supported from my schadenfreude-laden reaction to joining Facebook.

The brilliant thing about Facebook is not that it allows you to meet women. In fact that’s one of the scariest things about Facebook. You add a woman you know in passing and then discover that she’s a Hezbollah member, or believes in natural contraception. But that’s another story. No, as I was saying, the brilliant thing about Facebook is the schadenfreude it lets you indulge in when you run across old batchmates. In this respect it is far superior to orkut.

On orkut, the old school batchmates I was running across were growing their hair and writing pretentious poetry. Which is just so putting off that you don’t even feel schadenfreude.

On facebook, however, I discovered this dude who used to be a heartthrob across three batches. Tennis player. Basketball player. Three thirds. And now he’s gone to seed. Beer belly. Puffy face. Bad haircut. And a job which is much worse than mine on the scale of corporate whoredom. It was glorious. It was like the ending of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

Such are the cheap thrills which I get these days. It’s definitely my teenage years finally catching up with me.

Education is Evil

July 23, 2007

The most important question in the world is whether God exists or not. Once you’ve decided that he doesn’t – or that even if he does, it hardly makes a difference one way or the other – the most important question in the world reduces to ‘What should I do with my life?’

The thing about education (the formal sort) is that while you’re being educated you don’t really bother about this question. The more education you have, the longer it takes you to ask this question. In other words all education is a perverted conspiracy to keep you from getting at what really matters.

Aym Gramdian visions require education to be cut short and curtailed.

Ambivalence on Self Expression

July 21, 2007

It isn’t just self-awareness that’s overrated. Self-expression is just as bad. When you combine the two it becomes an inferno.

You are self-aware. Thus you know your own insecurities. You self-express. Thus you talk about them. Everyone around you does not. You then wonder why everyone else seems to be so much less insecure than you are. You feel even more insecure.

However, when people leave comments on your post about self-awareness expressing approval, you get the feeling that perhaps they are as insecure as you. Schadenfreude happens and insecurity reduces.

The moral: self-expression is only good to the extent that it leads to schadenfreude.


July 21, 2007

I am absolutely fine with people looking at me strangely because I carry pens of four different colours at all times, or take my camera everywhere.

I am terrified of possibly irritating customers by asking them for referrals.

This is most mystifying.

Self-Awareness, Yada, Yada

July 18, 2007

Quarterlife Crisis: the ongoing struggle between ‘I could probably be good if I tried’ and ‘Who am I kidding here?’.

This is why self-awareness is overrated. All it means is that you become even more aware of your insecurities and even more paralyzed by them. In the meantime, the people around you who are unaware of themselves are able to delude themselves into thinking that they’re hot shit, and on that basis go out and rock the market.

This also dooms any attempt to break out of a funk through self-examination and attempting to discover my strengths, because all that does is lead you to discover even more weaknesses.

Don’t Braise Your Eye

July 16, 2007

I don’t know if what I’m going through right now is a quarter-life crisis1 or simply pent-up teenage angst finally being released now that I no longer have to suppress it in favour of things like board exams and computer symposiums and entrance exams.

According to Madhav there isn’t really a difference.

1: As Skimpy points out, it should really be called a one-third life crisis. But Quarterlife crisis sounds snappier and requires less explanation.