When you were enrolled in college or graduate school, your life plan was crystal clear. Like me and millions of other millennials, you expected the next 10 to 15 years to go off without a hitch. A degree (or two) in hand. A meaningful career with infinite opportunities for promotion. A rock solid relationship. House-buying and childbirth on the horizon.
Then, the other shoe dropped. You have the degree(s) in hand. Still, everything else seems a bit foggy. Maybe you landed that dream job but have grown disgruntled with the work. You find yourself still single and casually dating when everyone around you is heading down the aisle or naming their first baby. Or, worse you feel stuck in a lackluster relationship. Your ultimate goal was to make a difference in the world yet you find it increasingly difficult to even see a purpose for climbing out of bed each day. The verdict is in: adulthood is hardly anything like you pictured.
Meet the quarter-life crisis. It's a psychological phenomenon quite similar to the mid-life crisis although it occurs much sooner and generally without the apprehensive divorce or pricey sports car.
Sounds scary, huh?
Just a Phase
If it's any consolation, you are not alone. One survey estimated that as much as 3 out of 4 emerging adults between the ages of 26 and 35 experience a quarter-life crisis. According to Dr. Oliver Robinson, quarter-life crisis researcher and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich, the existential crisis experienced in early adulthood includes four phases:
- Phase 1 involves a commitment to a job or a relationship or both that leaves the young adult feeling stuck. Robinson states that, in this phase, "you can leave but you feel you can't."
- Phase 2 brings with it the notion that change for the better is possible. This stage may bring with it a break-up of sorts when individuals remove the mental or physical constraints that are holding them back.
- Phase 3 entails a process of picking up the pieces and rebuilding.
- Phase 4 is a commitment stage in which the individual strives to prioritize life events that align with his personal values and goals.
Researchers state that most 20- and 30-somethings successfully navigate the quarter-life crisis in 2 to 3 years, coming out the other in end much better for it. In other words, it gets better.
Here's how to reap the potential benefits of your quarter-life crisis.
One thing is for sure, you will constantly face indecision and doubt in the various areas of life. However, if you learn more about yourself during this stage, you can pinpoint issues before they get out of hand and do what it takes to resolve them. Knowing your likes is important, but likes may not always be readily apparent to us. They change as we do. On the contrary, recognizing your dislikes and what you don't want out of life is rather easy.
Perform an assessment of the people, jobs, and situations that do not serve you or contribute to your personal growth. Get rid of them, if possible. If it's a family member or coworker, create boundaries and exercise distance.
Many of us QLCers are in this position because we have been too busy looking over the fence—or scrolling down our Facebook newsfeeds—looking at all the ways our neighbors have it better. Remember, comparison is and always will be the thief of joy. Analyzing other people's lives removes your focus from your own path, which should be priority.
What's more, have you ever considered that your neighbor with the perfect career and gorgeous fiancé could be in crisis just like you? Seeing that 3/4ths of our age group is having an identity meltdown, it's entirely possible that she feels completely lost about her own purpose. Don't assume your outside point-of-view on her life is an accurate one.
Figure Out the Role of Work and Passion
Those of us in a quarter-life crisis may feel conflicted because what we realize we love to do years after graduation is totally not what we studied in college. Personally, I ran into that very issue: degrees in psychology, but an avid desire to write. By examining all the different career paths in psychology, I found middle ground that allows me to use my degree and live out my passion.
Think beyond the box. This can mean using your degree for an unconventional career, or working in your industry by day and doing whatever it is that makes you feel alive at night. Work hard and build up your skillset until you can turn your pastime into full-time.
Your quarter-life crisis doesn't have to be spent shivering in fear or just trying desperately to get by. Learn yourself, cancel your subscription to Comparison Weekly, and find the balance between work and your passions that allows you to lead a more fulfilling adult life. Seek advice and support about what you're experiencing. Quit your job if you hate it. Commit (or not) in your relationship. Travel the world. Pick up a hobby and drop an unrewarding one. Capitalize on this time for self-exploration so that you can reemerge more committed and certain of exactly what it is you want to do with your life.