Recently, I worked with a client (let's call her Mary) who told me during our first session that she was mad at her grandmother and "that whole generation."
Mary was in the midst of trying to choose from multiple career options when we met, and she felt a ton of pressure to get it right. She wondered whether she should follow her heart and take a job in the competitive music industry or play it safe and find a more stable career. And truthfully, she was even more confused when she thought about having kids in her 30's because she knew she would probably scale back on work anyway.
Most of the time, Mary was grateful that previous generations of women had fought for her rights, but she admitted that in her darkest moments, she wished "they f***ing hadn't". She felt that it would be so much simpler to just choose between being a teacher, nurse or stay-at-home-mom. (Obviously those are incredibly challenging roles, but Mary felt much more comfortable with three options instead of hundreds.)
In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz describes Mary's generation of Maximisers: people who have a habit of comparing themselves to others, a tendency towards regret and a constant fear of failure. In fact, Schwartz states, "The availability of many attractive options means there is no longer any excuse for failure."
I see this in my line of work all the time. Women today are overwhelmed with the choice they have when it comes to their careers. Don't get me wrong; I still believe it's much better than the alternative, but sometimes, I find myself wondering, what's a girl with choice to do?!
This immense pressure means that women today are more stressed out than ever before. Add in the need to be perfect and the rise in the cost of higher education, and you get the recipe for a quarter-life crisis.
Lucky for you, I've come up with a few solutions:
1. Remember that nothing is permanent.
You need to give yourself a break and remind yourself that nothing is set in stone. You can always scale back or make a change if it doesn't feel right.
2. Act more, think less.
I've learned that clarity comes from engagement, not from thinking about your choices. Sign up for a class or shadow someone in a role you're interested in.
3. Trust yourself.
You must learn to trust yourself and your own instincts. Personally, I've never regretted following my heart, and as the saying goes, we only regret the chances we don't take.
4. Take a chance.
Why not give yourself permission to go for something and give it a shot? Then at least you'll be sure whether it's for you or not.
5. Don't wait for 100%.
My very wise grandfather told me during my own quarter-life crisis that I'd never know whether something is going to turn out perfectly, and for that reason, he urged me to stop waiting for 100%.
So for all of the Mary's of the world, try to see your choice as a good thing instead of an obstacle or something afflicted upon your generation. The possibilities are endless, and you have the chance to change the world. Trust me, you've got this.