Unlike the concrete-set cultural cliché of the mid-life crisis, the mid-twenties crisis is an under publicised beast, to the extent that none of us had any idea whatsoever that it was coming. Then we turned twenty five and realised that we were too old to win the X Factor, but that our lives didn't yet resemble those of real people. And we panicked.
Symptoms of the mid-twenties crisis can include one or more of the following: signing up for interminable work experience, doing a Masters, quitting your job, dumping your long term other half, doing an art foundation degree, flying to Mexico, re-evaluating your sexual orientation, becoming an actor, squatting or moving back in with your parents. Those are just the symptoms exhibited by my immediate social circle.
Why, when the twenty-somethings of the dot-com boom appear to have managed to negotiate this life period with only a tiny bit of a coke habit by way of damage, are we, the generation following hot on their nude-toned heels, in the midst of such a wide spread existential crisis?
I have a three part hypothesis:
1.We know too much about what everyone else is doing
2.We're the first generation to be less wild than our parents
3.We know our real value and it comes in at under 20 grand a year
Obviously this is largely the fault of Facebook. When I got my GCSEs back in 2004 the likelihood of some lost friend from primary school getting in touch to check my A*-C count was zero. Then everyone got Facebook, and now we all frequently broadcast to an audience of ex class-mates, old uni mates and people from Tinder we really wish we hadn't added, how we're finding our fledgling careers, how much fun we had at the Christmas Party and how fast we're progressing.
The problem with knowing what absolutely everyone you've ever met is doing is that invariably some, or lots, of people are doing "better" than you.
Except none of us really know what "better" is. Because in your mid-twenties, for the first time in your life, you have to find your own way to measure your success. In the two or three years after university everyone radically diversifies. Some people rent nice little flats in Clapham with their long term boyfriends, others do a PHD grow their leg hair out and have regular "beer and bath" evenings with their housemates. Whatever we're doing we all have a creeping sense that we've got it wrong so, defensively, we judge each other. The words sell-out and drop-out were made for this kind of catty dissection of Facebook pages. And if we're honest the people we're cruellest about aren't people like that-girl-from-the-year-below, you know, the one who's now a low-budget porn star with a fresh take on the selfie. We're actually nastiest about our friends. Because when people you actually like choose different paths it's way too easy to think you're doing the whole thing wrong.
Assuming broadly speaking that our parents were young in the 60s and 70s, we're patently inadequate offspring. Chances are you've seen the photo of your mum with daisies painted over her nipples at a protest, or Dad when he lived with that silent community in India. And what have we done compared to them? Where's the epic tale of defiance? Ok maybe we went to that march about tuition fees in 2010, but we nipped into Starbucks for a coffee en route.
For lots of us the real issue is that we need to start being angrier, not riot angry, but we need to do more than re- Tweet interesting people. Otherwise what will happen when Stephen Fry fails to 'express exactly what I was thinking'? There are lots of fragments of stuff we're 140-characters-worth of interested in, but we only need to talk to someone who fought for a real cause, old-style: with true passion and sustained effort to feel a bit sheepish.
Then there's what our parents think of us. And what they think of us is largely, why do we all keep undervaluing ourselves? Why will we work for free and accept that the landlord will never fix the hole in the kitchen ceiling when we're paying £700 PCM each? The thing is, if you were lucky enough to go to university in their generation, you could get a job when you left, not just a job, a good job. Whereas if we're not prepared to work for free until our employer deigns to, well, employ us then we haven't got a chance in hell of getting that snazzy little media job.
In fact, the chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters recommends that graduates should: "Be adaptable and consider careers in areas you might not have thought of before or had a jaundiced view of." Delightful, what we have awaiting us isn't stimulating work but bilious making of ends meet.
When my mum was twenty three she came back from two years teaching in Africa, applied to be a producer at the BBC's African service and got it. That's right, no months spent as coffee-bitch, no years spent organising someone else's calendar, just immediately prestigious work.
When I was the same age I found myself in a meeting with our head of HR who told me that since the company had lost one of their accounts I would probably be made redundant. There I was, a year into work, facing losing my job. My friend working in fashion had the same experience; facing redundancy when you've barely begun.
We're not 'hot young talent', we're the most disposable, and once disposed of we'll probably have to work for free again. Britain's brutally uncertain jobs market is the perfect clammy breeding ground for a mid-twenties crisis.
Do you know someone who's in a mid-twenties crisis? There is something you can do to help. Part of the 'struggle in getting started', as our elders euphemistically call it, stems from the fact that we constantly undercut each other by being prepared to work for free. If unpaid internships were tightly regulated and limited nationally to a maximum of a month's work, then some of the flailing graduates you see crying in Costa might find salvation in gainful and sustained employment. Have a think about whether you could find a real job for the intern who's been propping up your department and you might help someone through a mid-twenties crisis. Either that or turn all the lights off and leave us alone with a £4.49 bottle of Tesco Claret. That helps too.