. In my early adult years, I struggled to find my direction, so I created the term “quarterlife” to investigate further.
After completing nearly two decades of studies, Satya Doyle Byock felt as though she was taking a leap into the unknown. The concept of adulthood was fraught with uncertainty. “In my twenties, I found myself in a state of crisis, surrounded by friends who were also struggling,” says Byock, who is now 40 years old. While a few of her peers had clear plans for their future with jobs or further education, the majority were lost and uncertain.
Upon completing her education, Byock chose to spend time abroad as a volunteer. She worked at a prison in Colombia and also assisted with tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka. Eventually, she secured a position as a project manager at a software startup in Portland, which was considered a desirable job in a rapidly growing industry and offered a decent salary. Despite these achievements, Byock still felt unsettled and questioned if she was on the correct career path and why she lacked fulfillment.
Byock expressed feeling lost and unsure of the meaning of life. She had achieved success by completing university, but it left her questioning the purpose of it all. She reflected on the mundane path of working until retirement and found it to be disheartening.
During an evening conversation, Byock tearfully expressed her desire to leave to her roommates.
She received advice to persevere and that it’s common to feel aimless in your twenties. However, Byock was curious about when and how things would improve.
That inquiry has influenced her life in multiple aspects. Soon after, she left the startup and joined a graduate program to pursue Jungian psychology, with a specific interest in the tumultuous period of post-adolescence. Presently, Byock holds the position of director at the Salomé Institute of Jungian Studies in Portland and works as a therapist and writer.
Byock’s newest publication presents her argument, based on her personal encounters with patients (primarily from the Millennial and Gen Z generations) and interdisciplinary research, for the recognition of a distinct developmental stage between the ages of 20 and 40. According to Byock, these years are crucial as individuals not only explore their identities but also make choices, both personal and career-related, that will have a lasting impact on their futures.
There are many experiences and events that occur during these years, but they are often overlooked in literature. We often refer to adulthood as a time when you will have everything figured out, but the reality is that it is the starting point for the rest of your self-sufficient life.
According to Byock, your 20s and 30s are a significant and influential period. If we establish fulfilling, purposeful, and stable lives during this time, we can decrease the chances of experiencing a major, life-altering crisis in the future. Unfortunately, these years are often downplayed or disregarded, as seen in the dismissive attitudes towards millennials’ “quarterlife crises” and struggles with “adulting”.
According to Byock, there is a lot of disdain and condescension towards this phase of life. It is often described as something only for privileged children, which is a common perspective.
Byock herself is an elder millennial (those born between 1981 and 1996), but even when she was a student, the generational lens – flagging her peers as uniquely flailing – struck her as narrow. “It was as if it was a new phenomenon. That didn’t seem true to me.”
Throughout history, the shift from being a teenager to becoming an adult has been recognized through special ceremonies. This emotional process of growing up is a common theme in many stories, from fairy tales to popular works like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, demonstrating its significance across cultures.
During his time at graduate school, Byock focused on studying Jung in order to gain a better understanding of the shared characteristics that exist across different cultures and throughout history.
She expressed, “Instead of fixating on the question ‘What’s wrong with young people nowadays?’, my true passion became exploring this stage of life that doesn’t seem to have a designated name.” She coined the term “quarterlife”.
According to Byock’s book, there are four main factors that contribute to the development of emerging adults. These include differentiating our beliefs and wants from those of our parents or society, learning to rely on ourselves and fulfill our own needs, building a fulfilling and purposeful life, and making these practices a regular part of our lives in order to reap the benefits.
According to Byock, these are not consecutive steps or assignments, but instead, opportunities for self-reflection and emotional growth that can help young individuals achieve inner peace. This concept presents a fresh perspective on adulthood, one that is not solely reliant on external achievements.
The number of young adults owning homes has significantly decreased in the past few decades, leading to impacts on financial stability, interpersonal relationships, and family planning. From 2011 to 2021, there was a nearly 15% rise in the number of adults residing with their parents in the UK.
According to Byock, the financial situation for adults nowadays is significantly more challenging compared to the past. A large number of college graduates are already facing financial strain as they enter the workforce. However, older generations often struggle to understand the stark contrast in opportunities between their time and the lack thereof for young individuals today.
A study conducted last year revealed that about 50% of the population in the UK believed that excessive spending was the reason why young individuals are struggling to purchase property, despite the steep rise in housing costs and stagnant income levels.
There is currently much discussion about the decline of moral principles among young individuals, as well as their perceived lack of motivation and similar issues. According to a source, this is often accompanied by a lack of understanding and appreciation for the economic challenges faced by young adults. This contrast is often highlighted through a popular meme that compares the actions of “My parents in their 20s” (such as starting a family and purchasing a home) to those of their millennial children (such as frequently ordering food delivery and feeling lost in life).
According to Byock, they are facing more than just a decrease in the economy. The traditional roles of men and women have also shifted. In the popular “My parents at 27” memes, the mother was expected to stay at home and care for the children. However, nowadays, the expectations for adulthood have drastically changed.
According to Byock, young men are currently experiencing even more confusion and directionlessness. Influential individuals like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate are exploiting this disillusionment. There is a need for improved communication about the changing dynamics of gender roles, as our culture has not adapted to these changes.
Byock compares the current demographic changes to those that occurred in the 1950s, when feminists started to challenge the societal pressure for women to solely fulfill roles as wives and mothers. This led to discussions about what constitutes a fulfilling life and whether women should be content with fulfilling traditional gender roles.
I believe we are currently witnessing a similar situation, but it goes beyond gender distinctions. It is largely influenced by cultural shortcomings, a pervasive sense of doom, and widespread economic challenges.
Young adults in their twenties often face difficulties in adjusting and growing up, which are made worse by the lack of guidance and acknowledgement. According to Byock, there are not enough resources addressing this stage of life and instead people are often told to simply toughen up. He believes that our society has failed to properly guide individuals out of dependence and into a state of psychological independence.
She notes that many people start their adult lives without knowledge of fundamental skills like cooking and financial management. She believes that this should not be dismissed as a trivial matter, as everyone has to learn how to navigate adulthood. However, society often portrays the challenges faced by people in their 20s as humorous (as seen in Lena Dunham’s show Girls) and assumes that all young adults are privileged and dissatisfied graduates. In reality, all young adults have to figure out how to create a fulfilling life.
According to Byock, a significant number of the people she treats are refugees or immigrants who are dealing with a unique struggle for stability and purpose, unlike their parents. Even those who appear successful on the surface may still feel dissatisfied, as Byock did in her previous position at a startup company. She categorizes individuals into two groups: those who value stability and those who strive for meaning. The latter group may struggle more visibly, while the former may initially seem put-together before experiencing a breakdown.
Byock suggests that both “Meaning” and “Stability” types can learn from each other. “Meaning” types can benefit from incorporating structure and routine into their lives, while “Stability” types should seek fulfillment beyond societal expectations. Ultimately, the journey towards wholeness is about creating a balanced life that is both structured and secure, yet also meaningful, intimate, and connected. This applies not only to quarterlifers, but to all adults.
According to Byock, viewing things through a developmental perspective could reduce generational divides. She explains that younger individuals are frequently labeled as the source of cultural issues, but as the millennial generation begins to assume leadership roles, it is beneficial for society if they feel empowered and motivated.
I believe we are not fully utilizing the great potential that comes with the most productive phase of life, which is characterized by creativity, fresh concepts, and especially children and parenthood.
At present, she desires to cultivate empathy for the difficulties unique to young adulthood and offer reassurance to those experiencing them. According to Byock, the process of maturing is not defined by relationships, possessions, or career advancements, but rather by transitioning from relying on authority figures for guidance and solutions to becoming self-reliant.
This is not about privilege. It is a universal, fundamental question of humanity that is at the core of all religions and philosophies: “What is our purpose? And, in this limited existence, how will I spend it?”
“Quarterlife” by Satya Doyle Byock is a book that explores the quest for self-discovery during early adulthood. It is published by Penguin and is available for purchase at the price of £10.99, but can be bought for £9.34 at guardianbookshop.com.