by Moc Mien
A chat window pops on my screen. It's my 27-year-old friend Hoang Thu Hanh, whom I haven't spoken to for over a year. To my surprise, I learnt that she was now working as a waitress in the northern mountainous town of Sa Pa in the province of Lao Cai. I asked her why she had left Ha Noi?
"God bless me! I find life here so peaceful and lovely in every way. But I earn so little money!"
We first met two years ago in a theatre class, which we had both joined in the hope of healing our souls. At that time, Hanh was going through a tough patch and struggling with life.
I remembered her saying she felt lost.
"I cry about everything. I feel left behind. I don't feel alive. Life has no meaning. I have lost my self-esteem," she said.
Hanh, who graduated from the University of Industrial Fine Arts, is a creative, sensitive perfectionist. She is demanding of herself, so the transformation from teenager to adult was particularly difficult and painful for her. She could find no balance between being a dependent girl and a responsible adult - a common feature of her generation.
"One day my parents said to me that they expected me to find a promising job that they thought suitable. They also wanted me to find a man and be ready for marriage in the next couple of years," she said.
Her reaction was: "No way!" She said her life was going in a different direction and that she felt trapped.
Le YÝ Nhi, 25, also felt lost after leaving full-time education.
"I finished my education in the middle of the economic crisis, so getting a job was even tougher for us."
Nhi said she also found forming relationships with others was a major challenge after leaving school.
"I was so scared of the feeling that I didn't like the field I was trained in anymore. My future was vague. What road should I take?" Nhi asked.
Both Hanh and Nhi had no notion of the term quarter-life crisis - that vague feeling of angst one feels between one's late teens and early thirties, when one struggles to find one's place in the world. In other words, it is the doubt that haunts us when we move from childhood to adulthood and begin to take responsibility for our own lives.
Nguyen Minh Hoang said he used to seek answers to the meaning of life.
"I was making myself collapse under the weight of some fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life purpose?" Hoang said he no longer felt directionless, and that the crisis was past.
The quarter-life crisis is perhaps more difficult to come to terms with in the busy world of today. But then again, 20-somethings now have more opportunities available to them than ever before.
Hanh used to work as a fashion designer, stylist, photographer and creative manager, but she gave it all up because she said she felt empty inside. And when her self-doubt was at its worst, she chose to move away from family and friends and to work as a waitress in a bar.
She said she needed to slow down in order to deal with life's questions. She said working as a waitress allowed her to see how life can be as simple as watching the coming and going of customers, "their smiles and their sadness".
When Nhi was suffering a crisis of confidence, she stopped putting too many demands on herself, which allowed her to really experience life and to do the things she most enjoyed, such as reading and writing.
"I slowed down so I could understand myself more clearly." By doing the things that mattered to her the most, she said she rediscovered a passion for life.
"I just needed to know there was still fire inside me," Nhi said.
Meanwhile, Hoang said he used to feel he was simply going through the motions and not living life to the full.
"I felt lost and powerless while I was struggling with finding a purpose to my life."
Although Hoang felt rudderless, he said she felt it was important to keep going, and that he eventually got things in perspective and began to feel energised and motivated again.
"I kept asking the same questions day after day without expecting answers. And one day, I found myself with no questions and that the answers were no longer important to me. My motivation for life became fiercer than ever." — VNS