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 I’m covering in this article. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is a career counselor and coach, and we are 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 you can 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.
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Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis
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.
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.
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.”
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Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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