Here is the full transcript of coach and entrepreneur Allison Osborn’s TEDx Talk: Why Are Millennials So Stressed? Is It Quarter Life Crisis? at TEDxOxbridge conference. This event occurred on May 21, 2017.
Allison Osborn – Coach, Speaker, and Entrepreneur
Imagine this. Recently I was on a coaching call with a client who I called Shannon. Shannon jumps on the line and says to me, “Allis, the strangest thing just happened.” I was grocery shopping and all of a sudden, I found myself totally frozen in the middle of the cereal aisle.
So I’m on the other end of the line wondering if this is perhaps going to be the first time in history that a coach has worked with a client through a cereal crisis.
But what I realized in that moment, she continued, “Is that the feeling I was having in the middle of that aisle is the same feeling I’m having about my career.” I so know this feeling that Shannon was talking about. Maybe you do, too.
Most of us in the millennial generation do. For those of us who have been raised in the internet and digital technology era, we have more choices available to us than any generation prior, especially when it comes to how we choose to do our work, for the age of information is starting to give way to the age of choices.
Now on one hand this is great. We have a lot of choices but on the other hand, we have so many choices. Do I want to get a nine-to-five and work in a startup? Do I want to start my own business? Do I want to freelance? Do I want to work remotely or in an office? Do I prioritize money or fulfillment, security or flexibility, my lifestyle or my career path?
And these questions are incredibly important to us, because the quest for meaningful work is a hallmark of who we are as a generation. Many of us are going through the same thing. And it’s what I’m calling a quarter-life-crisis.
Now if you’ve had one I know you already know what I’m talking about. But for the rest of you, my definition of a quarter-life-crisis is this: it’s personal identity crisis typically experienced in one’s 20s or 30s, involving profound angst and anxiety about the direction of one’s life and what next steps to take, particularly as it relates to finding meaningful work.
This often occurs during the transition from the academic world to the real world, when the one’s clear-cut path suddenly drops off, but can also happen a bit further down the line, when one realizes that they’ve checked all the boxes of what it means to be a responsible adult, but they’re still largely unfulfilled.
In some ways, the quarter-life crisis is similar to another life crisis you might be more familiar with: the mid-life crisis. We all know those stories right, where the guy who’s been working at the same company for 40 years just up and quits one day and blows his life savings on a bright red Maserati.
The difference is that where the mid-life crisis is typically in response to an oppressive feeling of predictability, the quarter-life crisis stems from a deeply disorienting sense of unpredictability. And now much of an entire generation is stuck and emotionally shutting down in the face of overwhelming analysis paralysis.
Now this is a huge problem, not just for the person suffering but for the world at large. Today 71% of Millennials are described as being disengaged at work. That’s almost 3 out of 4, and it makes us the least engaged generation in the workforce today despite the fact that this is something we care so much about.
And the big problems of today’s world are simply not going to be solved by a disengaged apathetic workforce. And this trend isn’t going away if anything it could get worse. By 2025, 75% of all employees are going to be made up of Millennials, and this epidemic which has been largely isolated to the developed world is going to spread globally as the internet and digital technologies continue to do so as well.
Now I’m guessing that at this point some of you might be thinking something along the lines of… Please, Millennials are just lazy entitled self-indulgent phone addicts. They want the world handed to them on a silver platter without doing anything to earn it. I’m not going to argue that that story isn’t true for some; it is. But that doesn’t change the fact that the landscape of the working world has changed dramatically but that the tools and resources we give young people to navigate that world have not.
I know this to be true, and I know it, because I lived it. When I was graduating from high school, I was a young girl with as your grandmother might say a pride future in front of me. You know, the type I would captain my sports teams, got straight A’s in school, was enrolled at a prestigious university and so on.
I had a clear path and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, which by the way was to become a clinical psychologist like both my parents. But I’ll save the talk and what it’s like to grow up with two therapists for another time.
But when I was midway through university, everything changed. A series of knee injuries ended my athletic career and prompted a major identity and existential crisis. Much of what I thought I knew about who I was and what I wanted was gone. That path vanished.