Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Quarterlife Crisis and Individuation

As I explored Twitter last night (yes, for the first time), I came across this article entitled Welcome to Your Quarterlife Crisis by Kate Carraway. I am impressed by how accurately Kate captures the Quarterlife crisis that I too have been observing in myself and my peers for years. I am also impressed with myself that, having finally completed my thesis on the quarterlife crisis and individuation, I seem to have captured just about all the major points without Kate's journalistic support.

You can read, or scan, the above mentioned article to get a sense of the quarterlife crisis, but the basics come down to malaise about one's vocation and direction in life, and a deep and somewhat terrifying recognition that life is not in fact a vertical path that will ultimately lead to success and happiness if you work hard enough. It is a perhaps existential recognition that the years are passing and that success, one's own sense of what that would look like, is still far away; that in fact, inherent to being alive, is having to acknowledge total uncertainty. The quarterlife attempts at palliating the terror that comes with this recognition, or the less existential depression around simply not having fulfilling work, is to either reach for stability (marriage, corporate job, graduate school), or medication (alcohol, promiscuity, Prozac).

Incredibly, the mental health community has not taken much note of this crisis yet. More and more, the term "quarterlife crisis" seems to pop-up, but it still carries with it a pejorative tilt that doesn't acknowledge the genuine discomfort, depression, anxiety and empty void that people experience in this crisis. A "joylessness" in life. Overwhelmed by thought and worry and disconnected to the essence of life and the joy of it.

What this has to do with Jungian philosophy is the subject of my thesis and continued work. The quarterlife crisis is not simply a crisis, but an opportunity to engage in the path of individuation, greater consciousness (for oneself and for the world), earlier in life than previously pursued.

The abstract of my thesis is as follows:
Quarterlife today resembles the period of midlife half a century ago. With the widespread changes in demographics of education and marriage, the stages of life, as outlined by Carl G. Jung, no longer abide by the paradigm of stability in the first half of life and the search for meaning in the second. Afforded the time for self-exploration, individuals in the first half of life are increasingly placing their attention on uncovering their life’s purpose and making meaning. The path of individuation, a life influenced and shaped by ego’s relationship with Self, is available much earlier in life; but the journey of individuation requires an often painful initiation of ego to bring it into contact with Self. Such an undertaking cradles the potential for a transformative life for each individual, just as it once did at midlife, but now not after life decisions have been firmly rooted for years, but at the start of adult life, when primary decisions about career, community and family are still being made. For individuals in the first half of life who have the ego-strength necessary for the transforming journey, the path of individuation beckons.
Since Jung, midlife has been considered the point in life of transition towards the journey of individuation. Throughout my thesis, I argue that this is no longer the case, and I lay out a developmental map of the ego-Self axis that I propose charts our journey at quarterlife towards individuation.


  1. Fascinating, Satya. Although I consider myself now at two-thirds life (!), I can relate to my earlier self in your account of quarterlife. Very interesting work you're doing.

  2. Very interesting, I came across your post through my interest in Jung and Individuation, and being a quarter-through-lifer myself was wondering if there was a perspective on achieving individation earlier in life, so it's great I came across your page. I'll look forward to your coming posts, I'm a Dostoyevksy fan as well.