“I am trying to work out what to do with my life. I attended some really high-quality educational institutions, and a lot of my friends are working in very impressive jobs. I studied music, and I originally thought I was going to become a musician, but that idea derailed when I felt that I was losing my love of the cello, which I found exhausting to play.
However, since leaving university, I have been wandering without a rudder through increasingly stormy waters. I am struggling with my health, which is failing, having started from a low point in the first place. Maintaining good health is, for me, an extremely high priority.
I want to go into a good job. I like helping other people, and I am taking a Masters in psychology at the moment. For a while it looked like that was going to sort things out for me. But I’m getting stuck.
I find university really stressful – living away from home, dating, making new friends, all while trying to stay on top of my own health and wellbeing. I’ve gone from feeling like a superwoman to drowning. I’m falling behind in my academic studies; it feels as though everything is crashing down around me.
I’m struggling to motivate myself to study, I’m thinking about alternative career paths. I miss music, but don’t know what to do. I need to have hope for my future in order to make good decisions, but I just don’t see anything to make me feel like it’s worth fighting for.” Susannah, Hertfordshire
Thank you for your message. I am sorry to hear that you feel so at sea. But I am not all surprised. The mid-life crisis is much debated and understood, but the difficulties of early adulthood are often glossed over in “you have your whole life ahead of you” sort of rhetoric. However, it is more common than not for people between 19 and 35 to be feeling an enormous amount of pressure to find and follow a path in life.
The single biggest difference between child life and adult life is that: as a child you are told what to do; and as an adult you have to work it out for yourself. Adolescence, in a way, forces you to separate from your parents in a bid to become your own person; and the work of adulthood is learning how to inhabit that self. But what if your idea of self is largely bound up in one thing — such as academic success, or music — and you then feel that it is not you. Or you feel somehow defined by being “the brainy one,” “the dreamy, creative one” or “the caring one” in the family and that you cannot get love and attention and feel completely lost without that one defining thing.
These are difficult waters to navigate and it cannot help that most of your friends seem to have gone straight from uni into impressive jobs. Though, and I am not sure this will be a comfort, you can bet your bottom dollar that those people in impressive jobs will have their own set of pressures, anxieties and navigational difficulties.
You say you don’t see anything worth fighting for. But that’s not what I see. Your email hints that you would like someone to tell you what to do. But it is insightful and clear. And there are many signs in it — your ability to self-reflect, your compassion for others, your general resourcefulness, and appreciation of the opportunities you have – that indicate that you do have some hope in yourself and your future.
So this leads me to think that perhaps therapy, or short-term counselling, would be a good space for you right now. It would give you a chance to think together with a trained professional about how to maximise the natural talents and advantages you have. It would also be useful to build on the work you have already started doing on how to preserve your health and wellbeing. And it could be a chance to learn how to better resource yourself to manage your anxiety and regulate your emotions around the ups and downs that are an unfortunate, but normal, part of adult life.