After finally getting a good job in my industry in 2016, by early 2017 I realized it was making me miserable. At the encouragement of my family and after a lot of reflection, I resigned from my position. But instead of feeling free to pursue new opportunities, all I felt was crushing certainty that I had somehow failed. I felt like I had given up my one chance to achieve my dreams and succeed in my career. It seemed like my college education had gone to waste. My stress at the student loan debt I’d accumulated was through the roof. I felt like a burden on my husband, who supported me financially. This sense of failure developed into depression and anxiety that manifested in constant headaches and stomachaches. For about six months, I was in the throes of a quarter-life crisis.
We’ve all heard of mid-life crises. Stereotypically, they result in middle-aged men buying red sports cars or starting new relationships with people a decade or two younger than them. But as shallow as these behaviors may seem, the mid-life crisis is rooted in a deep fear that one’s best years are already behind them, and they have little to look forward to in the future. Today, these crises are no longer limited to middle-aged men. Many millennials are now facing what’s known as a quarter-life crisis.
What is a Quarter-Life Crisis?
Like the mid-life crisis, the quarter-life crisis is based on an unsettling dissatisfaction of where our lives have gone so far and worries about where they’re going in the coming years. The differences lay in the specific reasons we have these fears and how they manifest and, of course, at what age the crisis first creeps up.
Many people in their mid 20s to early 30s go through a quarter-life crisis. In fact, some 75% of us face one at least once in that age span, and it usually lasts about nine months. While previous generations have certainly gone through the same sense of doubt and insecurity at this age, it’s been more pervasive for millennials.
The struggle has been compounded by the recession that hit when many of us were entering college or just starting our careers. And while we’re the most educated generation yet, we’re also saddled with more debt – those who took out student loans owe an average of $26,700 – and earn less than our parents did at this age. We also enjoy more opportunity to compare our lives to others courtesy of social media. All of this leads into the onset of quarter-life crises.
Why Do We Have Quarter-Life Crises?
There are myriad reasons why 25-35-year-olds are experiencing quarter-life crises. One of the top culprits is finding a fulfilling job. While unemployment is decreasing, 51% of millennials feel they are underemployed. With our higher education rates, we’re also quite ambitious. Many of us feel pressured to succeed in our careers, and, realistic or not, feel that we should be well on our way to that success by now. And for the 20- and 30-somethings that do have good jobs, many are doubting whether they even like the company or industry in which they work.
Tied up in our careers is our financial security. It’s no secret that millennials face staggering debt in the form of student loans. That debt has delayed this generation in buying homes and starting families. It’s also resulted in increased anxiety and depression among 20- and 30-somethings.
On the flip side, quarter-life crises can have some basis in relationship woes, too. Many may feel pressure to find “the one,” and navigating the dating world can be disheartening. On top of romantic relationships, friendships also undergo major changes during this life stage. As we grow older, people can grow apart. It may be difficult to make new friends, and we seem to have less and less time to spend together. Even maintaining family relations can seem exhausting. This can all lead to feelings of intense loneliness.
Overall, quarter-life crises can be characterized by feeling uncertain about the major decisions you’ve made in your life. Are you in the right career? Are you with the right person? Should you follow your passions and pursue something new? You may compare yourself to the seemingly perfect lives of others. You may feel like a failure – whether you’re letting your family down or are failing yourself.
How Do We Overcome a Quarter-Life Crisis?
With so many troubles weighing us down, it can feel impossible to climb out of this quarter-life crisis, but there are ways to overcome it.
First, realize that you’re not alone. Nearly all of us have gone through – or are currently in the midst of – a quarter-life crisis. We all want to find success and happiness, and probably change the world for the better in the process. Don’t feel bad about the chaotic emotions you’re facing. Talk to your friends – you’ll likely find that they’re right in it with you. Talk to your family or significant other. Not only will you relieve some of the tension that’s been building up, you’ll likely find some comfort in sharing this experience.
Next, take a hard look at why you’re feeling this way. What is the root cause of your quarter-life crisis? It might be one thing, or it might be ten. For me, my crisis was rooted in anxieties about my career and managing my student debt. Whatever the reasons might be, get to the bottom of this and uncover where your insecurities or hang-ups are coming from.
Once you’ve identified the problem(s), find a way to resolve them. You may want to visit a career guidance counselor. Perhaps you need to make room in your life for a project you’re passionate about. You don’t have to resolve this issue on your own. It can help to confer with family, friends, and guidance professionals. You may want to join a group and get ideas and honest feedback on your struggles and ideas. These support networks can provide just the push you need to let go of whatever is holding you back and start on a new path.
This is all easier said than done. It can be difficult when you feel trapped by your circumstances. Anxiety and depression make it even harder. But no matter what, know that this quarter-life crisis won’t last forever. As awful as it may feel now, it may even be the catalyst that leads you to new, greater things.
It may help to gain some clarity by taking a step back and giving yourself a chance to experience life without the burden of expectations. Take a walk. Work out. Read an inspiring book. Time and budget permitting, take a vacation somewhere. Do volunteer work, go to a spa, paint something. Whatever it is, do something that clears your mind and allows you to re-center yourself. Self-care, creative expression, and curious exploration will give you the chance to open your mind to new ideas. It can be just what you need to move forward out of this rut.
When I went through my quarter-life crisis last year, it took me a few months to figure out what to do. I started by focusing on my personal goals: Learning piano, improving my Spanish, reading regularly, and building up my music website, Hidden Jams. Having some sense of purpose and staying productive were good for me emotionally, even if it wasn’t getting at the root cause of my crisis: my floundering career and stressful student loan debt. Eventually, I saw a career guidance counselor and resumed applying for jobs. It wasn’t until I started working here, at Petite2Queen, that my tension started to dissipate. I was in a position that allowed me to grow professionally and gave me the means to chip away at my student loans. Now, a full year after my quarter-life crisis first struck, I’m feeling confident and ready to take on whatever life throws me next.
Quarter-life crises are common, and as terrible as they may feel, remember that you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself as you work through this phase, and be prepared to make some changes in your life. It might take weeks or even years to get to where you want to be – or where you think you should be now – but the journey there will be worth the time. We’re all on our own path, so just focus on you and finding what makes feel fulfilled. With some self-care and help from your support network, you will come out of this quarter-life crisis feeling better prepared for the life ahead of you.
Amanda Whitbeck is Vice President of Operations at Petite2Queen. Since earning her master’s degree in Global Entertainment & Music Business from Berklee College of Music, Amanda has played key roles facilitating growth at start-ups. She’s also worked in diverse sectors of the music industry, from live events promotion to entertainment journalism. She brings her expertise in music business, writing, and website development to Petite2Queen.