Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

Your friends are sending out wedding invites, but you’re still swiping. Your college roommate just updated her LinkedIn with a plum promotion, and you’re wondering whether you want to start over in a new career entirely. By this age, your parents had a mortgage and an infant, and you’re not feeling settled enough to adopt a dog. 

Does this sound like your life? If so, you may be experiencing a quarter-life crisis, or at least flirting with one. A quarter-life crisis happens when we realize we’re not where we think we “should” be in life — or when we realize that the goals we set for ourselves as very young adults don’t match up with the people we’ve become by our late 20s or early 30s. 

A quarter-life crisis, like its midlife counterpart, leaves you feeling stuck and uncertain. But there is a path forward, and following it can bring about a personal growth spurt that will serve you for the rest of your life. 

That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode of the podcast, which I’m so excited to share with you. My guest is Megan R., a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. Megan often works with clients navigating this important life phase, helping them find clarity not only about their career paths but about every area of their lives. She’s sharing tips on how to find the right career for you, how to use your internal guidance system to make big, life-changing decisions, and how to ride the waves of doubt and uncertainty that a quarter-life crisis can bring. 

This is a challenging season, but it’s also one that’s teeming with possibility. I hope this conversation helps you see the opportunity in your quarter-life crisis, so you can emerge clearer and stronger than ever before. Some day, you may just look back and think your quarter-life crisis was the best thing that ever happened to you. 

I think you might. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

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Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis: Episode Highlights

We all like to feel confident about where we’re headed in life. When we realize we’re not so sure — that, in fact, we may be totally lost — it feels scary. 

But a quarter-life crisis doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. It can be a powerful springboard for growth, if you know how to use it. 

What is a Quarter-Life Crisis? 

Many people in their late 20s or early 30s arrive in counseling or coaching in soul-searching mode. They’ve often started asking themselves big, life-shaping questions, like: 

Am I on the right career path? 

Is my partner “The One?”

Do I want to have kids? 

Should I go back to school?

Do I want to move across the country and start over somewhere new? 

The popular term for this period of uncertainty is a “quarter-life crisis,” and while it’s not a phrase you’re going to find in the DSM, it is a real experience shared by many young adults. 

As the name implies, a quarter-life crisis is uncomfortable. But it’s also an opportunity to gain clarity about who you are and what matters to you most, and then use that insight to move yourself closer to the life you want.

Signs of a Quarter-Life Crisis

No two quarter-life crises look exactly the same. 

Yours might manifest as a feeling of stuckness in an uninspired career, or in a relationship that you know isn’t right for you, but that feels difficult to end. 

It might show up as feelings of regret or despair over not being where you wanted or expected to be at this point in your life, and painful comparisons with your peers who seem to be. 

Or, you may have realized that, even though you have accomplished the goals you set out to accomplish, you don’t feel the way you expected to feel. 

Since many of us define ourselves by our jobs, relationships, and life goals, a quarter-life crisis can strike at the very core of your identity, making it a deeply unsettling experience. Working with a good coach or counselor can help you find the courage to look for answers and then act on them with intention to change your life — without having a full-on breakdown. 

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

Many people in the midst of a quarter-life crisis feel left behind. They may be RSVP’ing to wedding after wedding, without a significant other to mark down as a plus-one. They may be scrolling through Instagram feeds populated by new homes, new engagement rings, and new babies, while feeling mired in a less-established life phase themselves. 

In previous generations, people got married, bought homes, and had children at younger ages, because they were living in an economic and social context that no longer exists. Still, young people today who haven’t reached these milestones may be comparing themselves to their parents and wondering if they ever will. 

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and that certainly applies to anyone experiencing a quarter-life crisis. By resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others, you can empower yourself to carve out your own life path, embrace your growth process, and feel better about your life. 

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

You can emerge from a quarter-life crisis more confident about who you are and what you want, if you use the experience to make positive changes in your life. 

Here are some steps you can take if you’re in the midst of a quarter-life crisis to feel confident about the future, and at peace in the present: 

Explore your Values

Spend some time reflecting on what matters to you the most. It could be family, financial success, independence, partnership, creativity, community, or any number of other important pieces of life. When you have clarity about what you really value, you’ll feel more confident making choices about your future. 

Forgive Yourself

You might be experiencing a lot of regret. Maybe you feel that your education was a waste, given that you’re now contemplating a career change. Or maybe you regret spending time in dead-end relationships, and worrying that you’ll never find a life partner. 

In reality, nothing in your past was a waste. It can all be made useful if you’ll use it to guide your future. Practice forgiving yourself and moving from regret to self-compassion. Make meaning out of where you’ve been, and incorporate that meaning into the story of where you’re going. 

Listen to Your Internal Guidance System

Most feelings have a purpose, even the painful ones. If you’re having a quarter-life crisis, your feelings are alerting you that it’s time to grow. Listen to them. 

You can take good care of yourself emotionally, without stuffing those feelings down or avoiding the big changes that they’re pushing you to make. A good coach or counselor can help you take wisdom from the uncertainty, fear, or hopelessness accompanying your quarter-life crisis, and use those feelings to begin writing your next chapter

Episode Show Notes:

[2:42] What Is A Quarter-Life Crisis?

  • Many coaching and counseling clients in their late 20s or early 30s feel unhappy and unsure about what they want. 
  • To begin probing your own quarter-life crisis, ask yourself: What's going differently from what you expected?

[06:01] The Beginnings Of A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • We choose our careers early in our lives, before we have a clear sense of who we are and what would make us happy. 
  • By age 25 or 30, we often define our lives by our skills and careers.
  • When we realize our careers — or our relationships, or any other major life area — aren’t what we want, it can spark a period of soul searching. 

[09:15] Signs of a Quarter Life Crisis 

  • You may feel stuck or aimless. 
  • It's also common to feel despair, anxiety, and regret.
  • You may be comparing yourself to your peers and feeling that you fall short. 

[15:45] Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

  • People in a quarter-life crisis tend to feel left behind.
  • We are not in the same economic or social context that our parents were. 
  • Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to feel inadequate and unhappy. 

[30:48] Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • Make meaning out of where you've come from. 
  • Strengthen your “why.”
  • Share your vulnerabilities with your closest support system, and reach out to a qualified coach or counselor if you need help.

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I am so excited for today's episode because, today, we're talking about how to navigate a quarter-life crisis. Now, “quarter-life crisis” is not a clinical term, and you're not going to find it in the DSM. People are usually not literally freaking out and falling apart. But this is kind of an existential crisis that we do actually often see with clients at a certain phase of life, here at Growing Self.

It's often people in their late 20s, early 30s, who are showing up in counseling, coaching, because they've started asking themselves some big questions. Often for the first time, they're thinking about where they are in their lives, in their careers and their relationships, how they got here, and kind of contrasting that with where they had wanted to be or where they had expected to be in this point in life, or even how they imagined it would feel to be at this point in life.

There's a disconnect there that helps them recognize that maybe they're not doing what ultimately they would like to be, but they didn't realize that without having some life experience first. This can all be a very uncomfortable experience, but also ultimately, a very positive one because it opens the door for some really meaningful self-reflection that generates a lot of positive change.

If any of this is sounding familiar to you, I am so glad that you're here with us today. We're talking about how you can use this crisis as a springboard for growth and come out of it to be more clear, more confident, and ready for the next chapter. With me today to talk all about this, is my colleague, Megan R.

Megan R.: Hello, good to see you.

Lisa: We're leaving our options open, Megan. Quick introduction — Megan is a career counselor, career coach on our team. Just before we started recording, she was sharing with me — Megan, if I may mention this. Is this okay?

Megan: Absolutely.

Lisa: Recently got married. Maiden name is Rankin, married name is Riley. Still a little bit up in the air which way that one's going to fall, so you shall be known as Megan R.

Megan: You know what? It works. When I got my email at Growing Self, I was like, “No matter what I choose, I’m set as Megan R.” Maybe this is part of my quarter-life crisis.

Lisa: It could be.

Megan: It’s trying to determine what is my new identity?

Lisa: What is my name? 

Megan: How do I name myself?

Realizing You’re Having A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: How very appropriate. Well, thank you so much for being here with me today, and sharing your wisdom and insight on this phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis because I know that so many people come to you for help in exactly this situation. Maybe, we could just start with your understanding of what's going on with people when they're like, “Wait a minute, this is different than I thought it would be. Maybe I'm not doing the right thing.” What is that about in your view?

Megan: Absolutely. But quarter-life crisis, it's a newer term, right? We've got mid-life crisis. A lot of people are more familiar with that one. We are seeing a trend towards it happening potentially earlier. It's doesn't get rid of our mid-life crisis, but it's happening sooner for some folks, and it presents in career most.

A lot of times, once clients do come in, they're walking in the door, saying, “Oh, it's my job. I'm not happy with my job.” That's part of it, and I'm glad that that's what gets them on in. But as we get deeper and deeper, we do realize that the quarter-life goes pretty far outside of career. It is relationships, it is where are you living, it's your social group.

Developmentally, in that stage of life, a lot of things are transitioning, and your career is usually the most obvious one. You come on in and you're like, “I'm miserable. I don't know what to do.” We're going to talk about what is going wrong, what isn't going right, what wants to come with you. I loved when you had said, “How is it different?” Because you do hit a point in your career, even in your relationships in your life, that you say, “I had some of this going differently in my mind. Didn’t I?”

Lisa: “That did not turn out the way I planned.”

Megan: It's frustrating, it's scary, it can be disheartening. A lot of people come in and they're like, “I'm not happy with myself. I thought I would do it differently.” There's stuff to unpack there, but the crisis, thankfully, isn't a full-blown crisis.

I don't often get people in meltdown mode, but you are close to that. You are in so much stress and despair that a crisis could feel like the next step for you. It's, unfortunately, a more common experience. COVID has only exacerbated the rates of it and the experience of it, and I'm sure we'll get into a little bit more of that. But it's pretty common at this point.

Lisa: Well, I can see why. I'm saying this as somebody who is much older than you are, but I think I went through a quarter-life crisis in my late 20s. But now, from my perch as a psychologist, what I know now that I didn't know then it's just a huge amount of growth that people experience in that life. I mean, you're a very, very different person in your early 20s. 

When you're making, unfortunately, career decisions like, “What am I going to major in?”, the internships, the first positions right out of school — you are not the same person by the time you're 30, and there's a lot of evolution there. Is that what you see as being the, “How did this happen?” part for yourself, or do you think there are other things? A lot of kids get railroaded into majors and career paths, and they're like 18 years old.

Quarter Life Crisis at 25/30 years old

Megan: Well, I was going to say, I think it starts even earlier than your 20s — these long-term decisions that we're making. You're in high school, and they're asking you about, “What is that elective course you want to take?”, “What's the classic option — business or psychology?” While those are fabulous things to test out, it's only two things in this giant world of career.

Even, pretty much prior to our knowledge, or even conscious awareness, we are beginning a track for ourselves. I find, a lot of times, it's an outside pressure, but it's also an inside lack of resources, which sounds horrible, but it's what's happening.

If you think about 25, 30, when this transition happens, usually the reason you're feeling stuck is because you do lack skills and resources to think critically about what's going on. You know something's wrong, but you're having a trouble putting a name to it, knowing where to go with it, how to get yourself out of that stuckness, that's usually because you have a lack of reflective skills or a lack of career skills.

Lisa: Okay.

Megan: It’s super normal. It's a bummer, but it's totally normal. Think back when you were in middle school, high school, even if you did go to higher education, people are just saying, “What are you going to do,” not, “How did you figure that out? What are you interested in? How does this fit for you? What is the long term?” It's just, “What are you going to do?”

Once you start doing it and doing it's not working, you don't know how to ask the other questions of yourself. It's a little bit of the education system selecting it, almost, for you. You've got those decisions in your majors, you're moving forward with that career, you pick the next entry-level job, but it's also a lack of resources internally that can help you unwind some of that track-setting that happened so early on.

Lisa: That is such a cool perspective. I've never thought about it that way, but you're so right. I think that people have this need to categorize other people, and that's what actually happens. People are asking you, “What's your major?” It's like there's this pressure to define yourself by this whatever it is, and it's not any reflection around, “What is that?”

Megan: I know. Think about, right? We live in a society that has — western culture specifically — identity is so tied to career. We do say things like, “Who are you? What are you doing with your life?” Very strong statements about your career. For some folks, when you do hit 25,30, and you're not identifying — your identity doesn't line up with how you answer that question, that's why it's hitting so deep because it's striking at your identity core.

It's not just what you're doing for a paycheck. This is, “Oh my word. Who am I? What have I become?” Because we think, “If this is what you choose in school, and this is your job, this is who you are.” We don't open up the conversation to, “Are you only your job? Do you have other things going on in your world? Is your identity comprised of multiple pieces?” Let's think about some of those aspects to dig ourselves out of this.

Quarter Life Crisis Signs/Symptoms

Lisa: Taking a much more holistic approach like, “You are not your job”, first of all. But this pressure that people feel to define themselves through those terms? Stifling.

In your experience, and also for the benefit of somebody listening to this, what would you say are some signs — the internal experiences, how people feel when this awareness of mismatch is beginning to emerge? How does it feel for people?

Megan: Absolutely. I would say the first characteristic, at least what folks come in and tell me most, “I feel stuck. I'm just stuck. I don't know where to go. I don't know where I could go if I wanted to change. I don't know how I got here. I'm stuck in thinking patterns.” I would say stuckness is really sort of the first feeling.

The second feeling often too is actually hopelessness. Just this idea that, “I don't even know where I need to go in general. Not just with my career.” This quarter-life crisis we're establishing is outside of just our career, but hopelessness of, “What is next?”, and, “Do I have any control over what's next?”

I see a lot of, almost, signs or symptoms of lack of control, lack of intention. They're 32 years old, they've been in marketing their whole life, and they're like, “I can't even really tell you how I got here. I had no control,” or, “It felt like I had no control over my career. Now, I believe I don't have any control over my next steps. I need intentionality.” Those feelings, they're uncomfortable, they're disheartening, they're isolating. That's also a really big mark of this.

Comparison seems to happen a lot around this age. Developmentally, we're establishing intimacy versus isolation if we wanted to go into a development model, “Are you going to live in this world alone and go at it by yourself? Do you go out and develop…” Typically, it's romantic relationships, but not always. We now are opening that to social relationships. In that, the developing and establishment of relationships, comparison is really natural. You're looking around and, “How is everybody else doing it?”

Another sign of, “Oh my gosh, maybe I'm at that crisis point”, is looking around and saying, ”How the heck are they doing it, and how have I not got there? How have I not figured it out?” I heard a great quote the other day, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Lisa: That's a good one.

Megan: Oh, it's beautiful, and it captures, I think, the quarter-life crisis because there is this idea, “I'll look at someone's LinkedIn”, “I'll look at someone’s Instagram”, I'll look at someone’s social media platforms to see how they're engaging with the world at our age. “Oh my gosh, they seem to be doing it so much better than I am.”

Feelings of stuckness, feelings of hopelessness, comparison — it's, unfortunately, pretty easy to spot for me, not so much for the folks that are experiencing that.

Lisa: Well, that's why I wanted to ask you because I think, sometimes, half the battle is just that self-awareness of, “Oh, I'm going through this thing, and there's a name for it, and there's something that can be done to help.”

Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

Lisa: Can I ask you about one part of this — and I'm not sure the degree to which this part is in your wheelhouse because I know you're a therapist, and you're a career counselor, and that's your specialization, and I know that you do very holistic work, so people talk to you about, well, all kinds of things. I have more of a relational perspective.

One of the things that I very often hear from my clients at this phase is, particularly, around the sense of — they use the term “being left behind”. Their friends are getting married, they're buying houses, they're starting to have babies or think about it. That piece creates such an enormous amount of anxiety. When they see other people their age, at least, looking like they're moving into these other phases of life that they're not, do you have insight into that aspect of it too?

Megan: Minimal. Just because relationships isn't the direction I had, but absolutely. As I shared, you'll come in for career concerns — that's how it presents originally. We dig deeper, and we realize it is a dissatisfaction with life, with your social relationships, with your financial status even. That’s a big concern for folks is, “Financially, I don't feel stable or independent like I thought I might at this age.”

A lot of it is because they're looking around, and other folks are hitting some milestones that we see in this age group. What I would add to that, and from my personal experience with clients, there's also a reflecting back on the generation prior to us, “What did my parents do? What did my aunts and uncles do?” Just the generation right above us, comparison happens within that too.

Well, by the time my parents were 28 years old, they were married with three kids, and they got a house and a mortgage, and were investing in another property. Someone's 32 saying, “I don't have that just yet.” I noticed, or what I hopefully share with people is think about the context in which those generations grew up in, and accomplished some of those milestones that you're reaching for.

That context is not the same context we're living in now. COVID, a big, big, big, obvious one that has shifted a lot of things. But think about the state of our economy right now, think about our housing market. There are larger societal contexts that make some of those milestones more challenging to meet for folks in this developmental period. Comparisons happening to even the generations above us, not just the generation that we are currently growing up with.

Lisa: That's a really good point. How validating to consider that it's not necessarily your personal shortcomings that you haven't been able to achieve these things that your parents had done. Actually, legitimately, the bar is higher. The cost of entry to even buy a property is so much more than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. Thank you for bringing that up.

Megan: 100%. To swing it back to career, to keep in my wheelhouse here, we've also seen a shift contextually about how jobs line up. The generations prior to us, there was a little more of a linear path — you started with one company, you worked your way up that ladder, you retired from that company.

I giggle with clients to keep it light-hearted. I say, “Find me someone, nowadays, that does that, that starts with the same company and retired from the same company. I'd like to shake their hand and congratulate them on being one of the only unicorns in the world that do that”, 

because we don't follow that same start-to-finish trajectory.

If that's not matching — your parents had that experience, and your experience now looks a little bit more chaotic, your resume has a lot of jumps in it, and you're thinking to yourself, “I'm failing.” No, the job market’s totally different. It's entirely different. It's not going to benefit you to stay in one company from start to finish anymore. You get to change your mind around that context too because it is very, very different.

Lisa: That's a good point. Although, privately, selfishly, I'm sitting here thinking, “I sure hope you're not going to leave Growing Self, Megan”, because I'll miss you so much if you do.

Megan: No, I’m not going anywhere. It’s too early in my career.

Lisa: I have a gift for turning everything we talk about on this podcast to make it a bit about me. There, we've done it, now we can move on.

Okay, another thing that I did want to ask you about. You said, earlier in our conversation, that one of the things you feel are contributing to this experience, that I wanted to learn more about, you said a lack of critical thinking skills. Can you talk a little bit more about that because I'm feeling that that might be an exit door. If people are feeling trapped, I'm imagining this, “In case of emergency, go through this door,” and there’s “critical thinking” written on it. What does that mean, though? What do you do with that?

Megan: Sure. Critical thinking — what a funny phrase that we toss around because I think it does have a very educational connotation to it. But we forget to take those critical thinking skills and apply it to more abstract things: our lives, our trajectories, where we want to go, our hopes, our goals. We could point fingers all we wanted, but it's not necessarily built into our educational system, our work system.

We don't necessarily take the time to pause and have critical thinking moments as it relates to our future, our career. I've got a colleague that I used to work with in higher education who actually brought that to my attention. She shared, “When I'm looking at folks, and I'm trying to get to the root of where this dissatisfaction is coming from or this lack of direction, it, a lot of times, stems from an inability to reflect.”

All these skills are like muscles. If we don't have strong muscles, it's not going to be our reflex to use those muscles. What we get to do, instead, is say, “Hey, let's build up a reflection muscle. Let's see if we can develop your ability to examine a situation, and try to make some sense out of it.” That's why career work works, is because I help you develop those reflexes and those reflection skills.

Some really easy questions, just to start with, it's exactly what we had began with, “What was your original model, or goal, or vision for where you wanted to go, and how is it different?” It doesn't have to be this really scholarly critical thinking. It's just assessing what's happening, and how is that different than what you thought.

Sometimes, just identifying where the changes occurred, that's relief in itself, because we're like, “Oh, no wonder I'm feeling so lost. None of this worked out the way I thought it did.” It opened up space to move into some problem-solving or planning because you've almost diagnosed yourself. “Oh, I am totally in a different field”, and that's okay, “Maybe, I want to get back to my original field, or maybe I don't. Maybe, I'm learning that my vision did change for a really great reason.” Again, through reflecting, it's, “Well, this new vision fits me better.”

I had a life event occur, and I can't go back to that original vision. I take care of my parents now. I had a kid. I didn't finish my educational program. There's a lot of different things that can change a path, but giving notice or meaning to that, saying, “It's okay that it changed.” That's really helpful. I always recommend, start with the reflection question of, “What's different?” Then, assess what's happening presently. “What do you like right now? What is going well?” 

I would even give that as a recommendation before you jump into your reflection and your critical thinking, “What is going well?”, because there's a chance that there are some things that's going well, and it's a practice of gratitude. It's getting your brain into, hopefully, a more positive space. We're pulling from positive psychology here and saying, “What am I doing well?”

It's a strength-based approach. That, even still, is like, “Okay, now, I'm more willing to face critically what's not going right because I know what is going right, and I feel I have a platform to stand on.” It can be a little easier to bring up or begin to strengthen those critical thinking reflection skills when you start with, “I'm doing okay, but I can do better.”

Lisa: I'm so glad you're bringing that up because I think it's so easy for all of us to get very myopically focused on the things that we don't like, and that aren't going the way that we want them to. That's such a good reminder to not forget all of the strengths and abilities you do have, and to be able to keep those in mind as you begin that reflective process.

You know what I'm actually thinking of right now? I'll tell you this. I have been — it's time, Megan, for us to find an internal bookkeeper person for our growth. I have been spending a lot of time lately talking to financial people, which has been fascinating. I usually talk to therapists all the time, so like, “Ooh, this is — they communicate in spreadsheets. What are we doing here?” 

Anyway, I'm always so interested in people's stories, and with talking with these candidates like, “How did you get into this line of work?” It's been so interesting because for a lot of them, it was, “Well, my dad was an accountant, and he suggested that this would be a stable career”, or, “Well, I just kind of XYZ.” But for a lot of them, you can hear through the lines that their passion was somewhere else, that they had wanted to be doing something else.

I remember speaking with this one young woman who had been doing accounting for outside pressures, as opposed to an internal passion for numbers, which is… As I was speaking with her, I was reflecting to myself that this young woman was an excellent communicator. She was clearly very warm and compassionate. I was thinking about that when you were sharing that just a minute ago.

I could see that person being kind of bummed because, maybe, her career isn't going in the direction that she wanted in bookkeeping, but to use those skills in an HR kind of role, or in a mentorship, or something where she gets to work more with people — to be able to be thinking about that and reminding yourself of the strengths, even if they're not totally a fit with a profession you're in currently. I can see that.

Megan: Well, to add to that, that would be a really nice example of values conflict where, maybe, when she did begin her career, stability, family satisfaction, she had those values for her career. Going into accounting, because that's what mom did, that's what uncle did, whatever it is, that was a value for her.

At the time, what critical thinking and reflection also does, at different stages, is that it says, “You're going to change, and you're going to need to assess, ‘You know what, this is in direct opposition to my values now. My values are different, and that's okay. Maybe, I do want to be in a space where being warm, and friendly, and relational is the priority over numbers and spreadsheets.’” And that's okay.

That's not because you are poor at your job, or chose wrong the first time. You have a values change and, quite honestly, I hope you do, because it means you're changing and adapting and you're having experiences that are shaping you. Again, that reflection can almost validate. “I’m not crazy. I didn't do this wrong the first time, I did it for what was right at that time, and that time’s not here anymore. What is right for this time?”

I also heard another great quote. Rich Feller talks about your career, “It's a series of transitions.” That's the best we can we describe it. Not jobs, but transitions because, sometimes, it's a transition out of a job, it’s a transition into a part-time job. You will continue to have these mismatch conversations with yourself all the way up until you retire, you go back into the workforce, whatever it is, because your job is a series of transitions.

If you can remind yourself, “Hey, that's not serving me now, but that doesn't mean it didn't serve me at one point.” You give yourself a little grace. It’s like, “Hey, self, you did the best you could, let's do that again. I know that in a couple years’ time, we're going to reevaluate and make a different choice, and that's great because it's going to serve us in that moment of our lives.”

Lisa: That's very reassuring. Another question related to this, what would you say to someone in this life space who went down a career path, launched her trajectory and got a few years into it, and realized that they do not enjoy the experience of this particular profession — either their values have changed or it feels different than they thought that it would. 

But they are feeling an enormous amount of guilt, or, sometimes, even fear because of the expense it took to get the degree that allowed them to be an attorney or whatever. There's this — I'm not sure if guilt is the right word, but they’re feeling trapped. Maybe they even have student loan debt or if their parents helped them get this degree and they’re like, “Actually…” I'm sure that that's a familiar conversation with you. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Megan: 100%. It's almost an obligation. I’m with you in that…

Lisa: Obligation. There you go.

Megan: But it's not full guilt. It doesn't sit as deeply as guilt can, but it's an obligation, a sense of — I hear this a lot: “I owe it to fill-in-the-blank. I owe it to my parents to try this out. I owe it to my degree to try it out. I owe it to my boss — my boss stuck their neck out for me to be in this position. I need to tough it out”

So the obligation? Absolutely. It, now, contributes to that stuckness. It's not only, “I don't know, really, where I'm headed and how I got here,” it's, “The way out affects other people. Can I actually make this transition?” I think starting with a conversation about how you got into this field, and what it served at that time is important.

I would always start there because I do want to validate, “It has not been a waste of your time, it has not been a waste of other people's times, it's not been a waste of resources in this field. It's just time to transition.” So we start there. Let's make some meaning out of the decisions you did make, and how you got into this field. Validate it.

Then, understanding how you want to transition and what that's going to look like for you. It sounds silly, but it often alleviates the obligation. When you explore values, when you explore strengths, when you explore skills, when you explore interests, identifying the next step, the next direction, it can feel so personal.

I've got folks that say, “Well, I don't really know why I'm here, but I'm going to make this transition,” and they select a different field, and then begin whatever process to get into that field. When it's such a fit, and it's so personal, because it is based on values and skills and experiences and interests, the obligation has a funny way of dissipating.

When you do engage in those conversations with mom and dad who footed that student bill, and you need to explain that you're changing, the idea of not going in this next direction, it's just not an option. You come to mom and dad, and say, “I am so grateful, and I want you to know how that experience that you paid for has set me up to move into this new transition.”

Added from a very personal stance, a leveraging experience happens — that's the second big question I get, “How the heck am I going to become an attorney after I've been a firefighter for all these years? Those skills don't make sense.” Believe it or not, almost every job has transferable skills. That is the beauty of this age that we live in. A lot of jobs have things that we can bring over.

When we go at it from a personal experience, we make meaning out of where you came from, what you've been up to, what you've been building — that lets you also transition into this field with gusto because you're like, “Look, Mom and Dad, if I had not taken that one class, I would never have known I did have this latent excitement for this new field”, “If I hadn't pursued my CPA exam…”

Oh my gosh, that exam right now is the hot topic. I don't know what's going on. I've had more clients come in to me about the CPA exam that's going on. But when they do come on in, and they're getting ready and gearing up to transition, they say, “But you know what, I can use Excel. No one else can use Excel now, and this new field that I'm heading into, it's critical.”

It's not a direct, “You went here, so now you're going into this job.” I did a little meandering, but those skills were direct links. It's a complicated process because it's very individualized. But when we do start with, “Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who are you, and where do you want to go,” the obligation, it will lessen just naturally. Very naturally.

Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: I hear what you say. It's like you have to have this really powerful, exciting “why”. You have to have clarity about what you want to move forward to. Then, that last part sort of releases… But you know what, I'm also thinking right now — you know our colleague, Dr. Lisa? Another fabulous career counselor that I've had the privilege of speaking to.

She talks a lot about your narrative — the story that you tell yourself, and I'm just hearing that and what you're saying too, and it's like changing the story to, ”Actually, you have to have different life experiences and learn about different things in order to create clarity.”

To learn from that is how it actually works, as opposed to beating yourself up that you're changing your mind. That's the story. Actually, you have to do that. Is that what I'm hearing?

Megan: 100%. Those varied experiences contributed to your feelings of stuckness, contributed to this desire to change, and will contribute to your success in your next role, in your next educational endeavor, in your long-term career. That's why starting with, “How did you get here?”, has to be square, circle, number zero. Otherwise, we're going to learn about you, and that's great, and we're going to move you into the next path with intention and very personalized information, but you're right, the “why” doesn't feel as strong.

It can feel like an untold part of your story. I have all of my clients that they come on in and we're going to do any sort of job searching, whatever they come in for — I start with their story. There's a lot of benefits to it, but it's ownership of that story, of that narrative, being able to tell it, not only clearly.

It's an interview skill, it's a resume skill, it's going to help you at job searching. It’s also going to allow you to release yourself and say, “That was critical for me to take that odd job that doesn't fit on my resume anymore. But do you remember that one colleague I met? They’re how I know I need to be in a different field.” Making meaning out of where you've come from, it strengthens your “why”. Absolutely.

Lisa: I love that. Making meaning from where you come from strengthens your “why”. That's so good.

I know we don't have a ton of time left together, but I am curious to know. For the benefit of somebody listening to this right now, and who has been feeling that stuckness, maybe who has been feeling dissatisfied, but also beating themselves up because they don't know what else to do. What would your advice be to them for how to get started in moving forward?

I'm hearing you say that it is very much a process — that asking yourself why. But what are some easy first steps that somebody could do, either on their own or with a career counselor like yourself?

Megan: Absolutely. Step one: Nice, big, deep breath, and acknowledging, like we had started, knowing there's a name for this experience. That in and of itself can be relieving. Take a second to pause and say, “I am going through something, and it makes sense that I'm going through something.” Give that some time to chew on. Big deep breath to start.

I would say, and this could even happen prior to your reflection questions or critical thinking that you're going through, reach out to your network. It is the top thing that gets missed in job searching because we do it in a vacuum. Even folks that are coming in to me, I'm your support network. That's fabulous. I don't know you the way mom and dad does, cousin does, roommate does, partner does, spouse does, grandparents do.

They have a very intimate view, often, into your life, and can speak to some of the dissatisfaction. They can remind you of, “Do you remember when you did make that choice to move into that career? This was going on?” “Grandma, you're totally right. Thanks for reminding me that.”

Always if you can, start with your support network to just pour back into yourself and feel, “People do know me, they love me, they support me.” It normalizes not just, “Hey, I am a person going through this.” A lot of times people are like, “Oh my gosh, me, too.”

Lisa: I was just thinking. This experience is so common, but everybody else seems like they have it all figured out, they seem like they have clarity. Why don't people talk about this more? Megan, what is that about?

Megan: Because these realizations happen at midnight when you're laying in bed, scrolling on social media, and you're like, “Who am I going to call?” No, I’m just joking. But it can be like this obligation that we're talking about, those feelings of guilt, maybe.

Lisa: Like ashamed almost, is that it?

Megan: That's exactly where my brain was going. There's shame around, “I don't have this figured out, I don't know where I'm going.” We are a very curious set of people in the States, and that's great, but how often do we say, “Where are you going with your job? What do you do with work? Are you liking it? Are you having fun?” When you don't have answers to those questions, avoid the questions, avoid the situations you would have those questions —  the holidays.

Lisa: Maintain the facade.

Megan: “I am doing well, I'm fine. Everything is great”, and in reality, you're cracking under all of this. It’s shame-filled to share a lot of that stuff. That's why I say start with your support network because those are people who can hold that shame with you, who are safe, and you can be vulnerable and be like, “This isn't going well.”

Your vulnerability is going to lead to their vulnerability often, and they're going to share, “You know what? I had the same thing happen. You know what? I am currently experiencing that now.” That's the best-case scenario. Like, “You too? Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

Starting with your support network — validating, encouraging. Also, it's going to set you up for job search success because, now, other people, not necessarily in your professional network, but your personal network, know that you're potentially job searching. That is your best tool in networking, is telling as many people as possible that you are looking for a new job because now you're on their brain.

When something comes up in their company, when they see a job posting, they're like, “Oh my gosh, Megan and I just had a conversation about this. She's looking for a job. Maybe, I could pass this on to her.” You begin to leverage other people's networks when you invite them into your own network. It's a really cool — not even a trick of the trade. I know a lot of folks that do that, but we forget that because we are so stuck.

It's shame and guilt-ridden, and we're not feeling great. We don't want to reach out, we don't want to talk to other people and share that experience. Yet, when we do, all these benefits seem to unwind or unravel. I always recommend: take a big, old, deep breath. Start with your support system, see how they can help you. Then, jump into some of your reflection, if you can.

When I look into quarter-life crisis — I was curious how it was being talked about in the media right now. Every article I came across had reflection questions to ask yourself. “Here's what to consider if you do want to make a change, if you are in this quarter-life spot.” You don't even have to come up with the reflection questions on your own, they're all on Google.

Lisa: You can Google them.

Megan: You can Google everything. One day, my job is going to be obsolete because Google will be me, and they will ask all the questions. Spend some time journaling, writing it out.

Lisa: Well, no because I want to bring something up because one of the things — I am all about a good journaling question. I know from my own experience and others’, here's what I think is important: We have blind spots. There are things about us that we don't know, and that's why I think having a relationship, either a trusted friend, a counselor, or a coach, because they can ask you questions or reflect things back to you that you would literally not connect.

Megan: 100%.

Lisa: But I also know that a lot of people, unfortunately, don't have access to an amazing counselor, or a coach like yourself, to be shining that spotlight on, “Okay, but what about this?” To take the personal reflection questions, are there any tricks or tips that you have for people to help themselves get past what they know and access new information about themselves through these questions, or is that just —

Megan: Yes. It's not as easy. It is hard. It's why a counseling or a coaching relationship can be so beneficial, and expedite this process. I have, again, Rich Feller, a colleague that I'm working with — we're talking a lot about unknowns, hidden things, blind spots that need to be resolved. Typically, those blind spots are what keep you from success or moving forward.

A good indicator or a place to maybe uncover that: What are your self-doubts? What are your concerns? What are insecurities? Blind spots often show up in those, and that is something — our self-talk As much as we would like to avoid it, we all know our own insecurities, we all know our shortcomings, we all know our doubts. How to answer those questions — that's a nice place to open up a blind spot.

I'll give an example here. I see this blind spot — I don't know if how I come across in that meeting is effective or non-effective. That's a blind spot. That's probably an insecurity for someone. I don't know how I show up in this space. I'm really concerned that I don't show up well. Start with what your concerns are about yourself. That's a pretty good indicator that might be an area where you could do some work, do some self-exploration, and uncover, hopefully, some of the unknown about yourself.

Lisa: That is such good advice, and I'm so glad that you're talking about this right now. I do say this as a grizzled Gen X-er who is deeply suspicious of many things happening on social media, but it's like there's this sort of, “Rah, rah, positive thinking, girl boss, take no prisoners, you got to manifest,” you know what I'm talking about.

What you're saying is that, actually, the door to cracking into a lot of this stuff is giving yourself permission to tap into the darkness, and go there, and write about that stuff — the part that maybe you're a little bit afraid of. That's really where you can make contact with these. Thank you. I'm so glad we're talking about this. You are a force of good in the world, Megan.

Megan: Thank you. Hey, I'm just here to help. Again, open those blind spots for you. If I can expedite that process at all by saying, “What is troubling you?”, let's go there. Sometimes, it is easier to have those conversations with somebody else because it is scary when you're alone with that journal, and you're kind of having to take a look in the mirror.

Sometimes, having someone that you trust in a coaching or counseling relationship to guide you through that conversation, that's just the little extra support that we do need. Some folks, they're like, “Forget it. I got it. I can do this on my own.” Awesome. Other folks, come on in if it's not feeling like, “This is something I can tackle and resolve on my own.”

Lisa: Well, thank you so much. I'm very grateful, though, that you shared so much actionable advice for people who really do — if I were listening to this, I would have like, “Okay, these are a list of questions I need to think about. I am going to resist this toxic positivity and actually tap into this other stuff”, and really giving people a roadmap if they've been dealing with this. There’s so many people are — for how to begin to move forward again.

Thank you so much, Megan — from me, but also on behalf of our listeners today. This was a lot of fun.


Megan: Thanks for having me on. This is a subject that's pretty near and dear to my heart, considering my personal age, but also just what we're noticing in career trends. Always grateful that someone's willing to listen to me babble about what I'm excited about. So thank you.

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