Quarter Life Crisis And The African Star Apple

I do not like working hard very much, I feel like I am supposed to but one thing I’ve realised is if I were given an opportunity to cruise through life without ever having to ‘work’, I would. In a heartbeat. But I imagine that would be a bore. There is a certain existential beauty to creating value. There is also the God feeling. This seems like an impasse. But I promise you it is not.

A few weeks ago I came across a tweet that so explicitly illustrates my present predicament, I could not believe I had not thought of it beforehand.


We are a generation with lower conventional career prospects than our parents, rapidly regressing into adult habits like lying to children and being stuck at jobs we do not love because life does not hand you lemons, it hands you agbalumo instead (African Star Apple).

What can you do with agbalumo apart from suck out its contents as violently as possible while trying to navigate its sour terrain which is occasionally punctuated by oddly humongous seeds? The early 20's catch you between thinking like an adolescent and forcefully becoming the adult (you utterly detest). This dissonance is alarming, very alarming.

At first you think adulthood was falsely advertised till you realise responsibility forces you into a box, where you have to keep up appearances, smile and convince yourself that everything is alright even when it's not, pretend to know what you want to do with your life and how to go about it because you cannot be left behind. You then begin to empathise with fellow adults, understand a significant portion of adulthood is playing a role and playing it well and maybe cut your parents some slack. You are torn between two worlds, a world where you wish everything were taken care of and actually getting shit done on your own. Welcome to the Quarter Life Crisis.

Adulthood was not falsely advertised. You just didn't understand it.

We internalised a lot of lies growing up, like how we thought facing our studies was a sure fire way to a successful life, that things always get better, when in reality the degree of disorder in the universe is always increasing and effort is not always proportional to reward. You thought making your own money no matter how little would mean you could finally take control of your life didn’t you?

Some of us compare ourselves to a mental image where we think we should be. Maybe you consume copious amounts of motivational material, read a lot of great persons biography and feel you should be doing better than you are; your idols were already well on their way to being great by the time they were your present age. You apply various formulas that promise success, but they do not seem to be very effective. Or maybe this feeling comes from a honest evaluation of your abilities. You do not want to be that person who 10 years down the line is still waxing poetic about what he can or could have done. But in reality, there is no time limit and no secret formula to these things. You might need to reevaluate your goals and make sure they are not watered down versions of someone else’s.

We also compare ourselves to peers and idols, while this could be a positive thing, it could lead to all sorts of complexes and negative feedback. Everybody has a unique set of circumstances, web of decisions and influences that aggregate into their identities and accomplishments. Trying to replicate these particulars in the case of idols is a waste of time (the most valuable resource you have at your disposal) and frequent comparison with peers without careful consideration of nuance will most likely leave you with an unfairly depreciative view of yourself.

Then there are expectations from family, friends and that one nosy neighbour who gave you 500 naira thousands of years ago and thinks he needs to know where you want to see yourself in 10 years every time he runs into you. Cue in the fact that Nigeria is officially in an economic recession and it really isn't the best time to emerge into adulthood or exist for that matter (hyperbole haha). If you were thinking about MSc…

Some say innovate or die but even if you start your own business or work on your ground breaking idea, the environment is so hostile there is no guarantee you will be given a chance to succeed. You would be betting against massively unfavourable odds.

Nigeria is out to kill you and your dreams, so settle down and get ready to take multiple hits.
Or dodge as the case may be

How do you find equilibrium between expectations of family and friends, the pressures of youth, crippling self doubt, the Nigerian handicap and a deep need to make something of your life?

I do not have all the answers but from observation, I think a good place to start would be to uncover and unlearn a lot of shady internalised ideas about how the world works. This is especially true for African youth: we need to get out from under our parents. According to this twitter poll, 75% of 9141 young people on twitter do not want the kind of marriages their parents had….This got me wondering how much more we can unlearn.

I am not saying to always be at odds with them but realise while their input might be invaluable, the landscape is not static.

There is no guarantee that anything you do or decision you make will amount to anything worthwhile, but this does not mean you cannot make good bets about the future. For good measure you could always cut yourself some slack, try to be spatially aware and keep up with the times. Maybe ditch motivational books and stop modelling your choices after stock role models whose mysticism, buoyed by post marketing ingenuity, came after the fact. While you should most likely learn from the mistakes of those that came before you, you are also allowed to make mistakes, they may or may not be fatal. Ask for help. Experiment. Expand your mind and skill set. Network with people of similar and dissimilar interests. You do not have to love your job at first, you could always grow into it (or not). Try living within your means and investing (save).

There is no guarantee you will achieve your dreams but where’s the fun in admitting defeat before picking up a spanner and getting to work? You might fail, but please do not let that stop you. The people who make a difference never really stop trying or do they?