One's mid-twenties is widely considered to be the golden age of the average Chinese person's life. You are still young, experienced and have lots of energy to pursue your interests and hobbies. However, for Wang Ying (pseudonym), that is not the case. Fully occupied with her work, Wang is often exhausted after taking care of her parents. She feels as if she is aging too quickly and recently found her first strand of gray hair. Her life is not as easy as it used to be, and she feels as if she is experiencing a midlife crisis at 28.
It is not just Wang who feels this way. Chinese media's retweet of the United Nations' definition of "young people" on China's Twitter-like microblogging platform, Weibo, recently prompted a strong outcry among Chinese in their 20s and 30s online. The UN definition classifies "youth" as people aged between 15 and 24, which means that anyone born before 1993 is not considered young. The definition drew the attention of many post-80s and 90s Chinese who then tagged themselves on social media as "middle-aged" and claimed that they are experiencing a midlife crisis.
While on the face of it, their response looks like self-mockery, according to some Chinese experts, what lies beneath is anxiety, a crisis of identity and psychological issues - what many Chinese media call a "pre-midlife crisis."
"Based on my experience, there is indeed a trend which shows that midlife crisis in China is happening at a younger age compared with the past," said Gao Heng, a senior psychological counselor based in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.
"The key problem is that people lose their life balance and direction at a certain stage," said Gao. "Today's young people are too obsessed with their 'ideal life,' which causes a huge gap between their ideal and reality."
According to him, the reasons for this growing trend are closely related to the rapid development of the Chinese society.
Overburdened and Alone
Wang Ying (pseudonym) has been working in media in Shanghai for years. Being smart and hardworking, she is admired by her friends. However, she started to experience a "pre-midlife crisis" recently, when her parents' health started to fail.
Not wanting to worry her, Wang's parents, who live in a small city in North China, didn't tell her about their failing health at first. It was only when her father accidentally spilled the beans over the phone that Wang learned of their plight. She flew home to look after her parents during the holiday, only to find that her maternal grandmother was also in bad health and that her mother, though ill herself, often went to the elderly woman's home to look after her, which further aggravated her mother's illness.
"It surprised me that they had been hiding their condition from me for such a long time. It makes me feel terrible and guilty," she said.
Wang loves her family deeply and is heartbroken about her parents' suffering. She did everything she could to help during her stay but had to go back to Shanghai after several days. It is really hard to solve the problem all by herself, but she doesn't have any brothers or sisters to help.
Also, she has only been working for four years since finishing her postgraduate education and is still at a relatively early stage of her career. So, she doesn't have much savings to use to take care of her parents, nor can she stop working. Living alone in Shanghai, she sometimes feels helpless. "I tried to hire someone to help, but my mom thinks it is a waste of money. I just cannot change her mind," said Wang.
Although she is more than a decade away from 40, Wang feels as if she is experiencing a midlife crisis.
Wang's life mirrors that of many Chinese in their 20s and 30s. Born in the era of the one-child policy, the majority don't have the luxury of sibling support when their parents need to be taken care of. Also, working in first-tier cities and being far away from their hometown makes it harder for them to help out.
"People are asking too much of themselves. They need to learn to step back sometimes," said Meng Yurong, a senior psychological counselor based in Beijing, when commenting on situations like Wang's.
"It's good to do well at work and take care of your family at the same time, but if that is beyond your capability, you have to choose, instead of being hard on yourself," she said.
Another main reason that causes "pre-midlife crisis" is the sense of powerlessness some Chinese feel about changing their status in life. Emily Li, 28, an e-commerce manager in Shanghai, is one of them.
Li has been working in the sector for years and has become one of the main managers in her office, but she feels hopeless from time to time because of the glass ceiling at work. She said many of her colleagues and friends work very hard and get promoted quickly but that their career seems to have limited space for further development afterward.
"The only thing I can expect is to be promoted to VP in a few years, and that's it. Then what?" she said.
Unable to advance her career the way she wants, Li also has to deal with the new employees whose youth and energy make them her competitors for a promotion. She worries that someday she will be replaced by a younger colleague.
The high housing price in Shanghai also makes it next to impossible for her to purchase a place to live and set down roots in the city, which increases her anxiety. Sometimes, she thinks her life is "fixed," with little opportunity for change, and she doesn't know how to deal with it.
"The horrible thing is that your future is almost totally predictable," said Li. "I can see my future in my senior colleagues, and that's too fixed and boring."
Li's situation is not uncommon. The rapid development in emerging industries, such as the Internet and e-commerce sectors, brings both opportunities and challenges for Chinese in their 20s and 30s. Quick promotion, quick money and quick replacement seem to be inevitable. Li often feels tired of being "pushed to move with the times."
Pressure from Comparison
The anxiety and stress associated with a "pre-midlife crisis" also comes from comparing oneself to other seemingly more successful colleagues and friends; such is the case for John Zhao, 30, who works in Beijing.
Zhao was a top student in college. He always thought that he would "become somebody" and create his own career once he graduated and stepped into society. However, after working for five years, he earns an ordinary income and sees himself a "nobody" compared to some of his "successful" classmates.
He follows his peers on social media, and the more information he gets, the more depressed he feels.
"I can sense that the gap between them and me is getting bigger and bigger," he sighed.
A proud man, Zhao often pretends that things are fine in front of his friends to "save face." He wants to change everything but lacks the drive required to bring it to fruition. For example, at 30, he is fed up with his current job and industry but thinks that it is too late to change his profession. His parents are also pushing him to get married, which packs on more pressure.
"I told my parents about my mixed feelings, but they told me to be more realistic and steady at work because changing my profession at this stage could make me look unstable, which could hurt my chances in the marriage market," he said.
He doesn't want to settle but still wants to create a different life for himself but feels powerless.
Be Positive and Practical
"The momentum to do something comes from two sources: love and fear and most of the problem happens because of the latter," said Meng.
She said that fear of failure or loss could motivate people in the short term, but it is not as effective in the long run.
"The real power comes from your own heart, self-acceptance, and love, not from others," said Meng.
She thinks the real problem stems from the individual's inner turmoil and the absence of a value system to judge things between oneself and the outside world. Therefore, one can be easily led by others - the so-called "successful" in society.
Meng also suggested that people accept the diversity of lifestyles. One doesn't have to be "successful," she said. Instead, she argued that individuals should be responsible and true to themselves, doing what is within their ability and finding out what they want, rather than trying to meet other people's expectations. Everyone is unique, and it is pointless to compare yourself with others.
Gao agrees with Meng and suggests that people work on building self-confidence and self-acceptance.
"Try to figure out what stage of life you are in now and don't live in the ideal future that you built in your mind," Gao said. "It is necessary to be practical and positive and seize the moment and live well. The future comes into shape based on the present accumulation."
Gao also added that the fast pace of social development, the rapid changes in value systems, and information overload are also factors that can trigger a "midlife crisis at a younger age."
"It's normal to feel anxious about the gap between one's expectations and reality. But when you face your problem positively and try to find a solution, instead of complaining, you will find the world is not that bad at all," Gao said.
(Source: Global Times)