Facing so many uncertainties, twenty-something’s are incredibly ambitious but painfully indecisive. Being in your twenties is a lot like hanging off the edge of a cliff. You can’t panic; you just focus on not dying and hoisting yourself up to the secure ledge.
Once safe, on the ledge, you freak out and can’t imagine how it was that you survived. That’s what it’s like. No clear career path. No proper housing. No stable relationship. No ownership of anything worthwhile. No idea where you will be in a month, let alone two years. No secure footing. Not even a ledge in sight.
After teenage years spent in ‘anguish’ over the lack of freedom that comes with living under your parents’ roof, you finally have independence. Now what? You could be plopped into a new world and met with the slightly terrifying pressures of making worthy your life. The problem being, you know not what you really ought to be doing.
The deeply enticing narratives of age mates, blowing their millions inspire bloated ambitions. At the same time, they trigger feelings of unworthiness, and stir more anxiety, especially if you have nothing to write home about. When laid out like that, your twenties sound like a fragile and tumultuous time.
You look at your job. It is not even close to what you thought you would be doing. You realize that you are going to have to start at the bottom and you are scared. It worsens when your pay slip features three quarters deductions, HELB and loans leading, while your friends expect you to be in the latest fashion outfits, always laughing at your C300 Nokia phone.
You toy around entertaining business mentality, only to be elbowed away by the unimaginable cost of starting any serious business whatsoever. This is the point when you wish you could blow off the brains of the broke cousins asking for sh. 500.
After campus, you start(ed) realizing that people are selfish and the people you have lost touch with are some of the most important ones. Talk of when the least attractive girl on campus gets a chance to explain her entrepreneurial ideas with the world’s most powerful man. What you do not realize is that they too, are not really cold or catty, mean or insincere, but that they are as confused as you.
The excitement you had at graduation wanes as days go by and you realize no one is calling you after dropping your CVs in 103 organizations. It will take them so long to get back to you until you get the point: they don’t make more jobs today than they churn out graduates. You will know what it means to be an adult and broke.
Around this time, for those who thought career is more important than family, start getting calls from parents detailing how their childhood friends’ kids are intelligent and beautiful. It pains when the girl you least love is your mum’s favorite. And there the question hammers, “You want me to die without seeing my grandchildren?”
Higher expectations breed more disappointments and disillusionment. Three years out of college, you do not have a job. Self-loathing and reproach sets in. This often coincides with HELB reminding you to repay that loan, which they are fining you Ksh. 5,000 monthly, anyway. Some will have to stick with bad and unsatisfying jobs. Some will quit. Life will be harsh on you so much you will wonder why you were born bright. Your colleagues who went to tertiary colleges or joined the military are buying houses, getting married and having a life. You soon discover we don’t author our own lives.
Today, when so much social interaction among young adults is done digitally, the negative impact of the Internet is far greater, especially for younger generations. With dating, meetings, calls and even work done from bedrooms and at best, coffee shops, how could you not feel lonely and isolated?
Damian Barr, in his book, Get It Together: A Guide to Surviving your Quarter-Life Crisis describes these feelings perfectly. “You may be 25 but feel 45. You expected to be having the time of your life but all you do is stress yourself about career prospects, scary debts and a rocky relationship.” Perhaps even as bluntly as Barr puts it “If your life was a movie it would go straight to Netflix, but nobody would rent it. Not even you.” Harsh, isn’t it? Admittedly, Barr captures his own crisis in chapter seven explaining that “There could have been a lot of red eyes at graduation, but maybe it would have managed my expectations. I’m 25 but am working in a largely unrelated field having just left university”.
While it is assuring that elsewhere worldwide, twenty-something’s are wondering “is this it?” it is sad, Dr. Ruth Wanjau notes, these crises are happening earlier. “The younger generation expects more than their parents did, but it is also harder for young people today than it was for their parents”, explains the Chemistry lecturer at Kenyatta University. Dr Wanjau observes that during their time, they didn’t have to fight for their first job in a depressed global economy and banks offered mortgages without asking for a lottery-win sized guarantee.”
Alice Mwangi, a graduate working in a local bank, mirrors this sentiment exactly, “I’m 24, I have a degree but after countless interviews I still have no luck. So, I do a job I don’t like, swim in my overdraft and live with my parents, who at my age were married with a house and kids.”
Vincent Momanyi, a 24-year old medical student says “I frequently question what I’m doing and feel trapped knowing that my career is set out for me.” It’s as if everyone’s feeling the exact same way, even those who seem to have it all worked out. JKUAT’s Software Engineering student, Gordon Okello, 24, and owner of popular app, Quick Links, shares the same thoughts. “Every day I am faced with a million reasons why I am likely to fail,” he admits. “In starting my own company I have made my own crisis and have set myself on a long and uncertain road, prolonging the feeling of gut-wrenching fragility.”
The confusion facing this group could be traced in high school where students are spoilt for choice on what to pursue on campus as Prof Herman Manyora of the University of Nairobi notes. “A large number of university students are studying what they do not like, and end up, so much later in life, making a career parallel to their training”, notes the author of 36 titles and several philosophy papers. Nyasani explains that unlike in the past where life was almost a pre written script, today, it is more about luck, which has heightened anxiety, confusion, and inability to make relevant choices. Higher education is becoming more expensive, and its degrees less distinguishing. DOES IT GET BETTER?
By ABUTA OGETO
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