I had never even heard of the term "quarter-life crisis" until my fifth year as the Hindu Chaplain at Columbia University. During a conversation over lunch, a student told me about it, and then towards the end of the school year another student gave me a book called "Quarter Life Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties" by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner.
The term is similar to a mid-life crisis, but it refers to the plight of students in school or right out of college trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. When I ask senior students if they know about their plans after they graduate, they give me a consistently similar response: "I have no idea."
It's not just one thing that leads to uncertainty and even panic which is labeled as the quarter-life crisis. It can be a combination of factors. All the facilities and conveniences a college campus provides will no longer be available: on-campus residential housing, eating facilities, medical & counseling facilities, security, and clubs and organizations for students to meet other students.
It can be even more intense if you can't find a job after graduating, or if you find something in your field and realize that you don't want to do this for the rest of your life, and you regret all that time and money spent on something you no longer want to pursue.
Moving back home with one's parents isn't the most attractive option, as it can feel a bit restrictive, and it can make graduates feel like they're regressing. Not everyone is affected by all of these concerns, but even one or two of these concerns can push students to act in extreme ways to resolve their situation. One such example, which I found quite shocking, was in a HuffPost article that describes college women engaging in sexual acts with wealthy older men in exchange for money to pay off their student loans.
The root of the problem is that right from our childhood we've been driven and pushed to achieve material success and social status. The equation we've been memorizing all our life is that material possessions, position, and success equals happiness, but there are so many people who get all of this and still feel empty inside.
We've been running full speed ahead, pedal to the medal, and we never stop to consider what's really going to make me happy. We've almost completely ignored our spiritual needs.
Material things can only give us so much. They can only provide temporary satisfaction for the senses, for the physical body and mind, but they do little for the heart and soul. It's quite amazing that we've hardly ever been seriously encouraged to pursue the needs of the soul, and we may even have been been discouraged to pursue our spiritual needs.
It's no wonder that so many people hit a brick wall at different stages of their life, whether it's in their 40s and 50s or even in their twenties, during the "quarter-life' crisis.
The fifth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita explains:
One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.
Just taking care of the needs of the body and ignoring the needs of the soul is like watering the leaves, fruits, and flowers of the tree and forgetting to water the actual root. It's just a matter of time before we come face to face with a quarter or mid-life crisis.
The sooner in life we're able to implement into our lives, on a consistent basis, spiritual practices of meditation and yoga, with the intention of understanding the true nature and needs of our soul, the better chance we have of preventing such a crisis from hitting us in the face. The crisis happens because we lose sight of who we really are, and we can't figure out what we're supposed to do.
The Bhagavad-Gita helped me get through a very difficult time in my own life; which I would call a quarter-life crisis. My family's multi-million dollar business had collapsed causing us to lose our house, cars, and savings. We were left with nothing. I was 21 years old and felt like my life had turned upside down. I had lost all sense of direction and had no idea what my next step would be. This is the first time in my life I started to explore spirituality and considered building a spiritual foundation.
The wisdom of the Gita taught me that material things are temporary, that they come and go like the winter and summer seasons and that I shouldn't be disturbed by their disappearance. I learned that becoming overly attached to material possessions and positions will only lead to frustration, as at some point, they will be taken away by the power of time.
The wisdom of the Gita encouraged me to focus on the more permanent things in life, such as understanding the eternal nature of the soul, and how the purpose of life is to re-establish our lost relationship with God. Once we're en-route to re-establishing that relationship, many other aspects of our life become clearer.
The problem is that we get so caught up with all of our material affairs and we wait for something to go wrong before we take action. The recommendation of the Gita is to make sure each day we incorporate some meditation and reflection into our lives. This may very well prevent the "quarter-life" crisis from happening, and at the very least, if it does happen, it can provide us with the coping mechanisms we will need to get through it.