Never playing Hamlet – The Quarter-life Crisis


For every person that goes on to play Hamlet, there are thousands of others who never will. For an actor, chances are you will fall into the latter category.

This sentiment, of course, applies to others in all walks of life, but this is my account of looking at it from an actors perspective, whilst trying to relate more broadly. It’s perhaps the hardest article I’ve sat down to write.

This isn’t an article claiming to have the answers. It isn’t an article with 10 different bullet points claiming that all you need to do is think more positively. Yes, dreams do sometimes come true, but I do not subscribe to the school of thought that if you work hard enough you’ll get there – that’s not the way the world works.

I’m at the point in my life where I’ve realised that realistically I won’t don the famous Phantom mask, or unleash my Doctor on the Whoniverse, or play Hamlet at the RSC. I’m either not at the standard required, or never likely to find myself in the right place at the right time – or a combination of these, and other factors (most of which are outside of my control).

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently, about where my next move lies. What path to take for the best. I’m in a real state of limbo. I yearn to be creative, I strive to make a difference in the world, create my own path – but I’m constantly aware of financial strains and time slipping away and the potential of sleepwalking to a life where I look back with a sigh and repeatedly ask myself “what if”.

Do I want to push myself back into the world of acting, the hit and hope life that it is? Or take not so fulfilling performance based jobs because the money is there and think about “settling down” as some may expect? Or do I want to try to make a business of my love of photography or try find a route to working as a casting director? Which of these will bring me the satisfaction, but at the same time standard of life and security, that I crave? Which is most realistic? Which will I least regret? Questions, questions, questions. 

I can’t seem to make a decision. I seem to be in a place of hoping everything falls into place and makes sense soon. It hasn’t yet. Perhaps it won’t – faith in the world, and particularly this country, is in short supply right now.

I’m sure many people at the same stage of life feel the same. Things don’t always turn out as you’d planned. You feel like you should have achieved more. You see your peers on social media being cast in West End productions and BBC Drama’s: or away from the acting world buying houses, getting promotions and exploring what the world has to offer.

Psychologists call this the quarter-life crisis. It’s the “what am I doing with my life” feeling. It’s the feeling that you should have achieved more by now. Feeling that your best years are fading away. Knowing what you want, but not having the foggiest idea of how to make it happen. It’s not knowing where to push yourself next for the best. Not wanting to settle for less than you think you’re worth. The burden of societal expectations. Fear of failure.

Everyone’s experience will be slightly different, but it stems from the same feeling of uncertainty.

While traditional life crises often entail a role loss or identity threat, quarter-life crises seem to stem from deficient clarity of either. Perhaps it’s because there are so many choices, the fear of picking the wrong option is overbearing.

Some studies suggest that today’s twenty-somethings suffer more than did previous generations, according to Harvard Business Review. Not only do twenty-somethings report higher levels of negativity and feeling in-between than other ages; but the average age for depression has dropped from age 40 to 50 down to mid-20s. “And it’s expected to drop further”. The Depression Alliance estimates that a third of twentysomethings feel depressed.

Quite simply put, times are hard and only getting harder. People of my generation are having to accept that we may never have some of the things our parents and previous generations almost took for granted. We must almost live for today. Because some of us might never ever be able to afford to buy a house or have a pension to retire on, or if we do we risk not living in pursuit of these so-called milestones of growing up.

Hamlet himself teaches us that people are prisoners of their circumstances, and no matter how strong the will, sometimes there simply is not always a way. I’m trying to accept that very few reach the top of their field, and that big dreams are not realistic – but part of me still wants to cling on to the hope.

I’m sure many of you may feel the same way, and I’d encourage others to open up about how they feel. I find writing cathartic, others will find their own way.

It’s difficult, trying not to compare yourself to other, trying to encourage yourself to live in the moment and find your own path, being realistic about what you can and can’t change, and achieve.

Perhaps old quote really does say it best – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Maybe the first step is accepting that you might never make it to the moon, and that’s okay. The next is deciding which star you want to land upon – and for me, that’s still a stumbling block.