BY JOSEPH ASQUITH
The Quarter-Life Crisis is a predicament felt by millennials worldwide. Being in our 20s, we are in the ostensible prime of adulthood, yet many of us are dispirited and frustrated from feeling underachieved, powerless or trapped. Such sentiments are especially true for musicians. Although we invest large amounts of work and time into our craft, we are often told that our elected career path is one with little financial promise or societal relevance. As such, it’s only too easy to feel hopeless. But how can we retaliate these feelings? Are the feelings of hopelessness in The Quarter-Life Crisis really necessary?
Firstly, let’s hone in on some of the general symptoms of The Quarter-Life Crisis:
1. Comparing ourselves to others
Social media has become a platform through which we update our feelings, activities, photos of our lunch, selfies, and memes. Whether this be via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter, social media is part of our normal way of life. But from this can arise a toxic scheme in which we compare our quality of life to the apparent quality of life of others. This can come from people getting married, raising families, having successful careers, overseas travel, and so on. In this sense, social media becomes a necessary evil in which we keep up appearances in the pursuit of gaining prominence within a social hierarchy, eventually feeding into sentiments of underachievement for many of us. For musicians, this could happen through small Instagram posts or Snapchat videos of successful concerts or practice sessions, which could superficially appear more successful than those of someone who may feel they’re struggling with their own practice.
2. Wanting to contribute
We millennials receive criticism for being a selfish and indulgent generation (taking selfies and spending an entire house deposit on avocados on toast are some examples of this). However, most millennials I know, both in Australia and overseas, are highly astute and empathetic. Despite what the media leads our elders to believe, we millennials are certainly aware of the world’s injustices and we want to make positive contributions. We do what we can to consume ethically, give to charities, protest unjust causes and be politically aware. However, it’s often hard to know how much of a difference we are really making, which can be further despairing and frustrating for us.
3. Feeling trapped
This final symptom can be elicited in different ways. We may graduate from university and land a job, only to be locked into a routine and monotonous lifestyle. Conversely, we may graduate from tertiary education and have trouble looking for a job, becoming financially anxious and feeling powerless. Indeed, we may not even know what we want to do with our lives and thus become stuck in a vortex of indecisiveness. We may crave the fun, carefree days of childhood/teens/early adulthood, trapping us inside a woeful confine of nostalgia and obstructing the path which leads us forward.
Ultimately, in The Quarter-Life Crisis, we hanker for a sense of purpose and validity. So, why is this quest so arduous for the millennial musician?
In our modern capitalist society, music is a peripheral industry and, consequently, a highly competitive field. Because of this, minute differences in instrumental technique, compositional style, personality types, financial status, racial background or gender can be the demarcation that prevents a young musician from being traditionally ‘successful’. We will compare ourselves to those who are supposedly flourishing, feel weak in our contribution to society, and thus have our demoralisation construct the bars of the proverbial prison in which we feel so trapped.
What, then, is the key to renouncing these bleak outlooks of The Quarter-Life Crisis, and instead gaining a more positive attitude?
We must congratulate ourselves on the skills and assets we have gained in our lives thus far and acknowledge what we have achieved. Despite being warned not to pursue a career in music due to its supposed unpromising financial prospects, we have managed to gain highly proficient skill in our musicianship; be it through performance, composition, musicology, or sound engineering. It is worthwhile to be mindful of our capabilities, and recognise the validity of our strengths and the journeys we took to achieve these strengths, as this will garner confidence in us.
We must recognise whether people in our life, and the presence they create, are either conducive or detrimental to our own development into the individuals we want to become. In doing this, we ought to be vigilant to not mistake constructive criticism for personal attacks, as constructive criticism is ultimately beneficial for us and indicative that the person from which it is given has our best interest at heart. And if there are people whose presence is a genuine impediment to our personal growth, it is important for us to acknowledge this and remove ourselves from them. It is vital to surround ourselves with positive people who will accept and encourage who we want to become.
Failure often forms the fertile basis for success
It is worthwhile for us to realistically envision how we want to contribute to society using the assets and strengths we have. This can be difficult to navigate, as it often requires us to move away from our comfort zone and take risks. At some point, when we take the risk to place ourselves in new situations – whether it be through travel, forming new ensembles, making new connections, learning challenging repertoire, composing for new genres or instrumentation, further music education, and so forth – we will inevitably encounter failure. That being said, failure often forms the fertile basis for success. Each time we fail, we become closer to realising what works best for us. As such, taking risks and being prepared for failure is indispensable to our individual progression.
Congratulating ourselves, surrounding ourselves with positive people, and taking risks brings each of us closer to finding a purpose with which we can use our skills to create a positive contribution to society. Music absolutely makes a positive impact on society, rendering our choice of career valid. The genesis of music long predates civilisation. It is a communicative medium which has shaped us as a social and sentient species. The very fact that music is a not a priority in modern society indicates that humanity is currently in serious trouble. Without music, we may very well lose the sentience which makes us fundamentally human. It is therefore our legacy as young musicians to ensure the continuity of a timelessly powerful artform, even if we have to do this in the face of doubt.
Some parting thoughts
I will answer the question posed earlier of whether feelings of hopelessness associated with The Quarter-Life Crisis are necessary. In a curiously ironic way, perhaps they are. Experiencing The Quarter-Life Crisis allows us to actualise that we, as young musicians, have so much more to offer than what we’re often told. It’s time for us to liberate ourselves from doubt, discover who we want to be, and use our individual abilities to creatively and purposefully contribute to the world.
About Joseph Asquith
Newcastle pianist, teacher and writer Joseph Asquith is passionate about bringing awareness to the important role music has to play in benefitting modern society.
Joseph developed a love for music in his teens, while learning piano with esteemed Newcastle pianist/teacher Marilyn Wilson. Subsequently, Joseph completed his Bachelor of Music (Honours) in 2015 at the University of Newcastle, majoring in Piano Performance, studying with Gian-Franco Ricci and Helen English. He also wrote a dissertation focusing on the interplay between Music and Zeitgeist under the supervision of well-known musicologist/harpsichordist Rosalind Halton.
Along with delving into baroque and classical music, Joseph became particularly passionate about romantic repertoire and has received tutelage from renowned pianists Michael Kieran-Harvey (Tasmania), Andrew Chubb (Newcastle) and Paul Hersh (San Francisco) in this genre. He is a sought after ensemble member/accompanist, using his skill in various genres including opera, classical, folk and contemporary pop.
Joseph has a love for musicology and writing about music. He earned a position as resident journalist with the Newcastle Youth Orchestra in 2014, and also established a reputation as a freelance music journalist in Newcastle, reviewing touring artists. In this capacity, he has liaised with prestigious national and international artists/ensembles including Imogen Cooper, Elena Kats-Chernin, The Sitkovetsky Trio, American Brass Quintet, and the Keleman String Quartet. Joseph is in his final semester of Masters of Teaching (Secondary) at the University of Newcastle.
CutCommon encourages healthy discussion surrounding health and wellbeing in classical music. We are a proud member of the Arts Wellbeing Collective, where you can find out more about health in the Australian arts industry. For youth mental health support, visit headspace.
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Image supplied. Credit: Jennifer Hankin, The Emerald Ruby.