Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve felt less and less certain about what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know what kind of career I want, what kind of relationship I should be in, or how I want to live my life. It feels like a quarter-life crisis. How can I figure out who I am and what I want? How can I get out of this rut and start moving forward again? – Chinna in Edmonds, WA
Chinna, a quarter-life crisis, or a challenging epoch, can be very difficult to navigate. When you are in the thick of the situation, finding balance and the tools to become unstuck are pivotal guides. As expected, there is a lot swirling around in your question.
The first step is to evaluate your current life pulse. It is closely tied to step two, assessing your immediate career goals. Last are your personal and professional road maps which are continuing to develop. When you take it as a whole, it can be overwhelming, so it’s best to break these into manageable portions. This will enable you to have immediate wins and advance.
The hardest part can be getting started. There are infinite quarter-life crisis resources to probe and I want to make it easy for you. Below, I’ve outlined the process I use when I’m feeling stuck or lost. It helps me get my thoughts and feelings sorted, and the biggest bonus from this system is identifying my next path.
Let’s look at your day-to-day activities first. Make time for introspection and complete pursuits which provide clarity. An exercise I find useful is to create a list of actions which pique your sense of delight or arouse inspiration. Starting with a blank piece of paper, draw three columns. At the top of the first column write “Activity.” Column number two is “Feeling,” and number three is “How to Enhance, Minimize, or Alter.” It will look something like this:
I’ve included a few quick examples as a guide. Most likely you will fill both sides of the sheet. Grab a second sheet and keep going if needed. Once you have completed the exercise, review what you have mind mapped and look for patterns of things that excite you or speak to your core values. If you have a spontaneous negative thought of “I can’t do all of this,” pause and change your thought to an affirmation, such as “I have enough time for the things that matter.” We choose how to spend our precious time. While I can never do everything in a day, I will prioritize all of the parts that are important and reserve time within my weekly schedule.
While you are doing this exercise, include areas of interest you would like to explore. This may be stuff you want to try or learn more about. Maybe karate lessons or how to make a soufflé. Whatever your jam is or sparks curiosity. Trying new things is a sure-fire way to shake up your doldrums and discover a new passion.
The next step is assessing your immediate career goals. Be honest about where you are today, creating an inventory of your skills and accomplishments. Then capture areas of growth and development. That handy yellow memo pad is again the perfect tool. If you struggle with blowing your own horn, meet up with close peers at work and do the activity together with mocktails or wine in hand. You’ll have fun and learn about the skills your co-workers admire.
This map of self-discovery should include columns for your motivations and emotions for each skill, accomplishment, or opportunity listed. How and why are you motivated? What are your feelings for each listing? Gaining a better understanding of what drives you is a powerful outcome of this exploration. These insights will be crucial to navigate past your quarter-life crisis. Below is a short example to get you started.
Now you are ready to bring what you have done together and build an actuate vision board. I call it an “actuate” vision board because it’s all about putting what I have learned in action. With scores of options, choose a simple and easy platform for your vision board. It could be Pinterest, the Corkulous App, or – my favorite – an old-school bulletin board. I have a circular bulletin board that I love, as it signifies how everything is interconnected.
In the center, place a circular ring representing your daily and weekly cycle. The middle ring is work and career goals. The outer circle are your aspirations, ventures, and dreams. Then add post-its, cut-outs, and pictures representing the two exercises you completed. In the outermost band, find images, phrases or quotes, and objects symbolizing your life journey. It could be a trip you long to take, or a place you love revisiting. Perhaps it’s a person you admire and want to emulate. Maybe it’s a home you want to own one day.
It may look like:
Place your board in a place of prominence so you can add to it and keep it at the forefront of your mind. Pursue it at your own pace. It may help you to work on your actuate board over a week or two, or you may be jazzed and dedicate one evening or afternoon to make it. Tweak and refine as you go. You have the power and freedom to make a new choice as you create your board.
Select the pieces or actions you want to explore first, and move those into your daily and weekly routine. Seek avenues to broaden your career with the areas you have prioritized. Focus on your journey as you discover new paths, experiences, and activities. Expand the things that inspire you and feed your soul while shedding those that leave you cold or blasé. Investing in yourself with this time and these exercises will lead you forward through your quarter-life crisis.
Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.