My quarter life crisis dragged on over two-and-a-half-years. Half of this time, I was studying for a Masters, an endeavour which turned out to be entirely fruitless. I must keep mentioning this degree, wherever possible, to make the undertaking (at least) somewhat worthwhile.

I’d returned to university at age 26 with one imperative – get a job at the end. After graduating with a (fantastic) Bachelor of Religious Studies as a youth qualified me for many adventures and misadventures overseas, I was finally going to Get A Serious Job. A job that was useful. A job which was respected. A job that didn’t need to be explained in depth amid polite nods of confusion.

It didn’t turn out. I stayed in the same career as I’d had before undertaking my Masters and then took a backwards step, thinking it a forwards step, into a five-month nightmare job which lead to me starting my own business more than six years ago now. Only then did the quarter life crisis recede.

The big beyond

At some stage, we must cut the umbilical cord of parental charity, McJobs and poverty, and ignite a little ambition. For most of us, the catalyst tends to be our desire to feel useful and relevant to broader society.

We want to see our efforts have some impact beyond keeping people caffeinated or inebriated at our hospitality job. We want to use our brain to create something and feel that our talents are being put to good use – no matter how modest.

But I’m no Mother Theresa

Returning to university at age 26, I was just starting to earn half-decent income after several years making just enough to keep me above the bread line. Not only did I want to be useful and relevant, I also wanted to be adequately compensated. Not down-payment-on-a-house compensated, but more than I’d had.

Knowing what motivates – four key things

One giant problem with different personalities, across different generations, thrown together in the workforce is the lack of awareness into what motivates people.

It’s a rare, insightful manager who takes the time to understand and work closely with employees to help motivate them, or who has the wisdom to understand people’s motivations differ and evolve at various stages of their life.

Making an increasing amount of money is the most easy-to-understand motivation but it’s not for everyone.

Status is another – as evidenced by professions such as Law, where young articled clerk earn their stripes through 20-hour days, tolerating ridiculous expectations on their time, attention and (lack of) personal life.

Of course, this could also be motivated by career progression – another popular motivation that may, or may not, be motivated by the quest for power. But that’s a whole different story.

Those primarily motivated by career progression will tolerate low pay, long hours, and monotony if they can see an end in sight. Supported by in-house training, professional mentors and advancements, they believe the effort they put in will be recognised and rewarded, in time.

Passion is the last of the four key motivators. Those who are passionate about a vocation are far less concerned with income, status or career progression.

People who are doing what they love will tolerate far more while considering themselves privileged. Unfortunately, they’re also the most likely to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who recognise this.

Rather than rewarding passion and joy for work, these often-coveted jobs are frequently the most lowly paid (if they’re paid at all), with no benefits and little security. Think the caring professions – teaching, nursing, aged care, policing – and the creative – art, music, journalism, yoga teaching.

The importance of money

This point seems so obvious that I feel a little facetious making it – and yet every day I hear stories of empty promises of “love jobs” that will lead to “exposure”, “more [paid] work” and the ever-elusive “opportunities”.

The problem with all this idealism, no matter how persuasively or passionately put, is that money is essential, though how much is up for debate.

By offering people, especially young people, unpaid work for promises which are rarely kept, we are breeding dependency, eroding self-esteem and nurturing cynicism.

Working for nothing or for less than minimum wage, with no job security, means people often need to take a second job or depend on others to supplement their meager income. Over time, they’ll likely erode their independence and self-respect which means that, with the best possible intentions, they’ll start resenting their situation and, by extension, their employer.


Apprenticeships used to be a staple of industry, with young trademen being indentured by employers and trained on the job while being paid.
A form of apprenticeship still exists under other names such as cadetships, internships and traineeships, where employers are obligated to look after their young charges, provide opportunities to develop skills, lodge training documentation with relevant authorities, and develop and deliver a structured training program.

Yet countless Australian businesses – from large media conglomerates to tiny one-man bands – offer unpaid, unregulated, unstructured ‘apprenticeships’ for miniscule, or non-existent recompense. And this continues because young people recognise that experience, no matter how poor quality, is essential.

Advantages of youth

Allow me the indulgence of romantising youth for a moment. (God knows I’m not alone in this endeavor.)

I was young once. If I’m not careful, I could become one of those sad old people at parties, hanging out behind the shed bumming ciggies from the young ones, retelling over-blown stories of summers long gone.

What youth has in spades is the singular virtue of enthusiasm. Nothing comes close to enthusiasm, especially when coupled with skill and purpose.
As we age, enthusiasm is beaten out of us through heartache, ordinary tragedies, cruelty and unfairness. We recognise that enthusiasm is useful and good, but it’s a finite virtue which is delicate and vulnerable.

The quickest way to kill someone’s enthusiasm is to mistreat, overlook, abuse and misuse them. We need our youth enthused. We need them looking for jobs. We need them in work, passionate, driven, ambitious, and motivated.