The existential crisis of a 20-year-old in the modern world

Regardless of the era or epoch, the growth curve of a human life is predictable. But perhaps the current age of opportunity offers a lot more tools than ever before to meet and mitigate the challenge.

Updated - November 14, 2018 07:00 pm IST

Published - November 05, 2018 05:04 pm IST

Sailing out of the safety of your teenage can be a discombobulating experience. Best not to suck on the lemon, and instead learn how to make lemonade.

Sailing out of the safety of your teenage can be a discombobulating experience. Best not to suck on the lemon, and instead learn how to make lemonade.

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As I edge closer to 20, the sharp distinction between ‘young’ from the ‘young-adult’ has gotten a tad too real. It’s as though you’re being swept out to the edge of a cliff to be hanged dry, where climbing upwards seems to require too much effort and the easier option — dropping down like a sandbag — is like coaxing a vegetarian to sample chicken for the first time (“it will feel just like paneer in your mouth, trust me!”). You can never go back to who you were.

I realise this may sound like a very classic case of anxiety over approaching the next phase of your life. But, a combination of the ominous feeling of social insecurity and the strangulating sensation of waking up choking because someone switched off the fan as you slept is what turning 20 feels like. To me, at least.

As I thrash around in this ocean of first-world problems, riddled with low self-esteem, struggling to latch on to a sense of personal identity (especially in the Indian Household landscape) and coming to terms with drastically vacillating human relationships — the big question of CAREER erects itself before me in the manner of a twisted version of the ‘Crooked Man’ from Conjuring 2 . Scary.

Even Sachin Tendulkar would admit that when someone as scary as Shoaib Akthar comes running at you with a glinting red ball, it’s natural to feel some jitters. Only, here, there are multiple glinting red balls hurtling towards your face menacingly.

Being ‘present in the moment’ is a popular idea. There’s a more important and broader concept of macro-presence, which blogger Tim Urban explains as feeling broadly present in your own life.



As Urban says, “The dreams of 7-year-old you and the idealised identity of 12-year-old you and the secret hopes of 17-year-old you and the evolving passions of your current self are all somewhere on the personal tentacle, each throwing their own little fit about getting what they want, and each fully ready to make you feel horrible about yourself with their disappointment and disgust if you fail them.”

This is also the age where there is a steep drop from naïve over-confidence to a more self-aware humility that washes ashore the realisation that wisdom is not correlated with knowledge. And as you are acquainted with reality, you hope the awakening isn’t too rude.

There are those who lucked out in the genetic lottery, blessed with innate talent and effortlessly able to figure out exactly what they want from their lives, and then there are others who rely on conventional wisdom, only to find it grow rapidly outdated in this fast-paced era we are living in. When it comes to the ‘Career Landscape’, though, I don’t believe people have really figured it all out.

Progress =Hustle x Direction

A lot of individuals in my age-group often find themselves in similar tussles between the conventional career path and existential crisis. Infected by self-doubt, meaningless college GPA banter and the tendency to compare oneself with others, you begin to feel like a fly found in a soup, fated to be flicked away with apathy.

But we live in a time bursting with opportunities, and there are few 40-year-long career tunnels anymore. It’s an era of “micro-job” engagement — people have the freedom to venture out in their own spaces and move out of corporate monotony. This is when it becomes important to learn how to navigate the murky waters of adulthood smartly.

And like Rocky Balboa says, “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are; it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

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