How to Audit (Part 13): Quarterlife Crisis

My generation are in the gap. We are no longer students and don’t quite feel fully adult yet. It’s strange calling ourselves men and women, but using boy and girl doesn’t fit anymore.

We are now several years into our careers. The novelty has gone and the grind has set in. We have reached the destination of our extensive education. But we are not satisfied. Disillusionment is rife. Is anyone actually content in their work?

I originally called this the “post university mid-life crisis”. However, the press had already come up with a name that reflects a more optimistic life expectancy: the “Quarterlife Crisis”. It affects young professionals in the 22 to 28 demographic, who are the  so-called “Generation Y”1.

Quarterlife Crisis Origins

Despite the damp, university was a great experience for Generation Y’s. Friends were close by and frequently seen. There was little responsibility and oodles of time. We could still hope to live the life of European monarchs and change the world. The sun shone brightly every day.

Look to your left and right, one of you will be an accountant. By David Domingo

Then, we put down our books, left the library and started our careers. The mundane realities of life bear down. We worry about paying the rent, bills, loans and the government. Life’s possibilities become fewer. Quick home ownership seems unattainable. Travelling requires money. Time for friends, relationships, families, hobbies and recreational espionage becomes insufficient.

The expectation bar is high, especially in London. If you have not achieved the following by 30, you have failed: 3-bed house, 2 modestly priced cars, a happy marriage, local child-poverty elimination, a good career, dinners in Mayfair, skiing holidays in France and work from an up-and-coming artist whose name you can’t pronounce.

Sadness results. You do not need to use a qualified therapist to diagnose if you are having a Quarterlife Crisis. Just take this easy 25-question survey.

The Impact on Audit

Disillusionment is not confined to the audit industry. Nor is it worst in the audit industry. All types of graduate are affected. 10 minutes speaking to a junior doctor will make you feel that auditing better than a job testing tropical islands.

However, the Big 4 have the bad fortune of employing small armies of Generation Y graduates. Management struggle to meet seemingly ridiculous expectations: money, short hours, stimulating work, low stress, first class travel, learning, security, orphan outreach and organic fair-trade muffins on Fridays.

Historically, turnover after qualification is high. The training contract is like a train journey without any stops, who wouldn’t want to get off after three years? Trainees do, unsurprisingly, experience symptoms of the Quarterlife Crisis. The typical reaction is to seek other opportunities. It is akin to escapism. Options include: audit positions in different departments or countries; a stint in a different position, such as advisory; or working in the commercial sector. This creates retention headaches.

Quarterlife Crisis Progression

Science tells us that all major life events can be summarised in 5 steps. The Quarterlife Crisis process is2:

  1. A feeling of being trapped by your life choices.
  2. A rising sense of "I’ve got to get out".
  3. Quitting the job / relationship / country and taking on a "time out" period where you try out new experiences to find out who you want to be.
  4. Rebuilding your life.
  5. Developing new commitments more attuned to your interests and aspirations.

The Big 4 are facing a lot of trainees who are in steps 2/3. Fortunately, you don’t need to use an MBA-consultant to find a solution, just follow the wisdom of the ancients3.

Time for rebuilding by Robots_Rocks


Be Happy Everywhere

I believe that the core issue is that expectations are too high. We thought that we could have it all. Life is hard – everyone knows this. What needs to be understood and intimately realised is this: life is suppose to be hard.

Proper perspective should be practiced. Being a trainee auditor is a very good job. At my age, my dad was stuck in a rice field in Communist China. However, that implies that well-educated graduates have no right to be dissatisfied, which is not the case.

Expectations need to be lowered. Auditing may not give ultimate and supreme life happiness with cosmic harmony and eternal justice. However, it is good enough.

I suggest an innocent idea – being content wherever you are. It is sweetly and annoyingly clichéd, but Prozac is expensive.

Footnotes and Suggested Reading

(1) Generation Y is elusive to define. I’ll make a vague assurance to write about it. Otherwise, use Google.

(2) Reproduced from the New Scientist.

(3) Philippians 4:12 – I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

(4) Christine Hassler keeps an excellent blog about Twenty-Something’s issues (link).

(5) Times article about the Quarterlife Crisis (link).

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