Tuesday, June 08, 2010

You have a degree, a job and a mysterious frustration

We, the generation Y, spend 2 years in kindergarten, 6 years in primary school, 4 to 7 years in secondary school, another 3 to 5 years for tertiary education. On average, we spend 18 to 20 years in school. Some even longer. To the generation Z, 'nursery' became essential.

Education is emphasized in the society, by governments, with the assumption that individuals are given the required skills to have a good life. All the subjects that we learn in school and colleges give us a set of specific skills to carry out monetary-generating industrial task.

If you are good in science or art in your secondary school days, you will likely end up pursuing an undergraduate and then perhaps a post-graduate degree in science or art. Then you will look for a job which your degree has equipped you for.

By definition, a 'job' in our current times, is work that generates monetary value primarily to the company regardless of what a 'good life' means. This practice works on the assumption that money as a means empowers individual to possess more goods because possessions usually means comfort and security. And these two in turn define what a 'good life' is. Our entire surrounding environment, from formal education to our work, is driven by this assumption.

However, this very education itself does not educate students on what is a 'good life. The structure of the world just assumes that with money we will have a 'good life'.

This assumption is prevalent among local families. Parents work hard to keep providing possessions to their children believing what the parents themselves are grown up with: more possession equals good life. Children are brought up by what their parents believe. The 20 years of formal education reasserts this assumption into students. Everyone is assuming it and seldom we spend as much time and energy to examine it. Add to that, the lack of explicit and serious reflection over what constitutes a 'good life' is blinding the society of what it really is. Gradually the means (possession) became the goal. Hence the culture of having more has become a norming norm without reference to the question 'what is a good life?'. We see this in the movie 'Life is Beautiful'. The character Guido deludes his son as his way of giving the son a sense of security and comfort in the prison camp. In the end, Guido was executed. His son was left an orphan and with an identity crisis. He doesn't know what is the real anymore. No doubt Guido deludes his son out of love. But is that the best way to love? Let's call this phenomena 'Y syndrome', since it is prevalent among the generation Y.

Quarter life crisis often is the result coming out from this environment. The characteristics of quarter life crisis (from wikipedia) are:
  • realizing that the pursuits of one's peers are useless
  • confronting their own mortality
  • watching time slowly take its toll on their parents, only to realize they are next
  • insecurity regarding the fact that their actions are meaningless
  • insecurity concerning ability to love themselves, let alone another person
  • insecurity regarding present accomplishments
  • re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
  • lack of friendships or romantic relationships, sexual frustration, and involuntary celibacy
  • disappointment with one's job
  • nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life
  • tendency to hold stronger opinions
  • boredom with social interactions
  • loss of closeness to high school and college friends
  • financially-rooted stress (overwhelming college loans, unanticipatedly high cost of living, etc.)
  • loneliness, depression and suicidal tendencies
  • desire to have children
  • a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you
  • frustration with social skills

However quarter life crisis is just a diagnosis. There are deeper problems for such frustrated experience of incompleteness. Yet I'll highlight only the common ones that those around me face.

We feel that our peers are having a 'gooder' life than us because they seem to have jobs with 'gooder' pay. Some of us also feel that others are having a 'gooder' life because they have went through marriage and kids. If we feel incomplete in comparison with our peers on these matters, then we are manifesting the symptoms of the Y syndrome. We measure a 'good life', and hence the 'gooder', with the amount of possession. The culture of having more has become the norm without reference to the question 'what is a good life?'. To give a Cartesian tag line, "I have, therefore I am."

Now, is there a problem here?

It is hard for us to be happy unless we know what a 'good life' is. Sad to say that our 20 years of education couldn't provide much help here. We are taught skills to earn money with the assumption that the more money we have, the more we will feel secured and comfortable and hence a good life. Yet our sense of possession has overwhelmed the sense of security and comfort that we ought to have when we possess stuffs. Therefore we often feel unhappy because we perceive ourselves as not having a good life by comparing possession with our peers. It is also a mistake to peg security and comfort with possession as if it is possession that defines a good life.

So what is the solution?

Two suggestions. First, we deconstruct the Y syndrome assumption of 'I have, therefore I am'. Second, we reconstruct our perception of what it means to have a 'good life'. What I have done here is the first step.


Steven Sim said...

tailoh,i was waiting to see if I can skip thousands of pages in reading research materials at d end of the essay! Mana tau, proverbial boy throwing rocks at d window & running away! Potong stimmmm...

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

tailoh, i know it's potong stim. By the way, it's deconstruction, so it's to potong.. and lazy to think too much.

SHWong said...

I am rich and happy. Am I missing something here? ;)

Alex Tang said...

It is interesting that you link your definition of the "Y syndrome" with Quarter Life crisis. Personally I believe Quarter Life crisis to be an artificial psycho-social-cultural construct which tries to define the stage of life when young adults enters the workplace. It is too generalised to be useful. I am not sure all young adults subscribe to the "I have, therefore I am" Cartesian formula.

However I do agree it is part of the psycho-social development of the young adults.Whether it is possible to deconstruct this stage remains to be seen.

I look forward to reading your next step of reconstruction.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong, that's because you are blessed in all ways! :-)

Hi Alex, actually I agree with you that Quarter Life Crisis is an artificial psycho-social-cultural construct. I used it as a category for convenient sake, and it is my lack that I didn't footnote that.

On the 'reconstruct', I actually do not plan to blog about it for various reasons. Mainly I am lazy to think over this issue. As you know the debate over what is 'good' is very consuming. May be I should write a book on that? :-)