The Quarter Life Crisis: An Overview

01/09/2017 05:18 pm ET

The Quarter Life Crisis is something we’ve all heard of, and something which any of us have gone through, or are going through. But — what actually is it?

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“The quarterlife crisis is a period of life ranging from twenties to thirties in which a person begins to feel doubtful about their own lives, brought on by the stress of becoming an adult” — Wikipedia

Back in 2000, as I was entering secondary (high) school, I don’t think I’d ever come across this phrase. The same goes in 2007, aged 18, as I was leaving secondary school.

The Mid-life crisis on the other hand, is something that has been talked about for decades, both seriously and tongue-in-cheek. The idea is that, as we approach our middle years in life, around the age of 40 or thereabouts — you see the man buy a nice car, find a younger woman, have a sort of crisis about being middle-aged and wanting to make the most of life.

If you google ‘quarter life crisis’, the search returns more than ‘mid life crisis’, displaying more than 5.8million results. And yet there are still those we raise an eyebrow at it’s mention. One of the main challenges is the fact that there is no distinct definition for it, and that different people seem to experience different things which they term as the quarter life crisis’. But one thing is clear — there are a huge number of young people experiencing their quarter life crisis for one reason or another. I’ve met enough of them, and had open and honest conversations with them about how they are experiencing it, and the effect it is having on them. It often seems to be striking in one’s early-mid twenties, but I’ve known it to happen as early as late or even mid-teens. And it seems to be affecting more and more folks.

Clearly, there is something going on here.

Whilst each and every quarter life crisis looks different, here are what the main versions look like:

1. Career

Not knowing what you want to do, or going through the motions (school -> university -> job) and winding up in a job you don’t enjoy; or where the day-to-day reality of your work is far from what you imagined it to be.

This can be particularly unsettling for, say, a high school student who has done what they’re told and been expected to do, studied “good” subjects and gone on to do a “good” degree at a “good” university, only to land in some sort of corporate graduate scheme where they are supposed to have “made it”, but something doesn’t feel right — whether it’s total disillusionment with the job, or just a lighter sense of not quite being in the right place. I see this happening a lot. This has helped to explain the rise in the career change movement, and the success of communities such as Live Your Legend and Escape The City. Whereas our parents’ generation worked in a job/company for life, this generation is wanting fulfilment from the work we do now, and not to save all our fun for retirement at the age of who-knows-what when we’re old and tired.

2. Expectations

The realities of the ‘real world’ being far removed from those of the expectations. By ‘real world’, I mean the world outside of/beyond formal education. Most of us are told how lucky we are, how the world is our oyster and how we can be whoever we want to be. At the same time, we constantly see stories of those living the high life (and, boy, don’t we all like to show off and give a narrow, biased view of our wonderful lives when it comes to our social media feeds). This awesome article from WaitButWhy does a great job in summarising this danger of high expectations, and how it has led many of us millennials (Generation Y) to be unhappy: Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.

3. Economic climate

Whether we like it or not, 2008 and the years that have followed have seen a tougher job climate, on top of further increase in university fees, higher property pricing and greater overall cost of living.

4. Money

As previously mentioned, our parents’ generation typically went through their education, got a job for life, and secured a mortgage — which could be secured on their basic, entry-level wage. Contrast that with today’s property prices, where the vast majority of us are being forced to rent or live with our parents until well into our 30s, and later. Also — how much money should I earn? This is the question which can cause us a lot of grief, not least because we think we need to earn lots and lots of money, causing many of us to pursue jobs that are well — paid but not necessarily fulfilling. With most of us having student debt hanging over us post-university, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be earning well. When most of us reach the age of 30, having busted a gut, and aren’t on six figures working in a job we don’t enjoy, this can be really unsettling — and quarter-life-crisis-inducing.

5. Relationships and children

Aren’t I supposed to settle down in my 20s, get married before I hit 30 and think about having kids, too? We’re going through an interesting time in the case of relationships; whilst Tinder and suchlike are seemingly encouraging hook-ups, a lot of us (the same people using these apps) beyond the dopamine-fuelled swiping actually just want to find “the one” and settle down. As our friends and others in our social circles begin to get married and have children, the rest of us are made to feel even more anxious to do the same — with a growing sense of “Eek — time is running out”.

6. “Who the hell am I?”

Many of us go through the first twenty or so years of our life following the aforementioned “path”, in sheep-like fashion keeping our heads down. We choose options based on the ones we’re given, make friends with those we’re surrounded by (i.e. in our class), and even our free time just bumming around or doing school work (literally, this was me — I was seriously lacking in a social life). Even those who do have more of a life outside of school work spend little time on finding out who they really are, and how they want to spend their lives. We just jump through hoops and — as we’re thrown out into the real world — we’re at the mercy of wherever we end up.

Note: Remember, the above are just some of the factors which contribute to quarter life difficulties, or a Quarter Life Crisis. Again, everyone is different, and each of us has different circumstances and challenges to contend with. I’d love to get your take on all of this — read on for more on this.

Solving the Quarter Life Crisis

Of course, getting through your quarter life crisis is a lot about figuring out who you are, the sort of work you want to do, and how you want to live your life. However, it also includes less obvious things such as learning to let go, and removing ourselves from our incessant comparisons with those around us.  As these things beginning to become clearer, I believe this is how many of us can successfully navigate these difficult years — happy, healthy and contented.

Oh — and another important thing is that we actually speak to one another about how we are feeling, what you are going through — it is unbelievably comforting to know that you are not alone in this. If we can all open up and share a little, it’ll make all of us feel a lot better. With this in mind — if you’re going through your own Quarter Life Crisis currently, have done previously or are just going through a general rough patch — do share your comments in the box at the bottom.

Want more?

Quarter Life Introvert is a blog dedicated to helping introvert teens, 20&30somethings through their quarter life years, and to successfully combat/prevent your very own Quarter Life Crisis. (Non-introverts are welcome too!). To get exclusive updates, articles before they’re published online, and also a free copy of the soon-to-appear Quarter Life Guide, you can sign up right here.

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