Quarterlife Crisis! What is It?

by Vibha Dhawan on 10 September 2010 6 comments

Your mid-twenties or early-thirties is usually when you have the desire to define yourself, set yourself apart from the rest. It is an age of utter confusion and internal turmoil, an age where you constantly contemplate what roads to take and who to travel with. Is it really true? Does something like a quarterlife crisis really exist? Maybe.

I recently came across the lyrics of the song "Twentysomething" by Jamie Cullum, and I was completely startled when I first read it. How is it possible to express a state of utter confusion with such accuracy? As the songs title suggests, a person going through a quarterlife crisis should be able to relate very deeply to the lyrics. What is so different and unique about being 20-something, and why have we not heard about this before? Does it only relate to the modern generation?

It's an age when we achieve complete freedom to our lives for the first time: financially and psychologically. With technology advancing at the speed of light, the physical distance of the world has been minimized, offering infinite opportunities. Suddenly, after following rules and guidelines for over two decades, we are set free to define ourselves and choose our paths. All the generic milestones have been accomplished, and the universe is our playground. We can define ourselves the way we want, achieve success to the limits we desire, and indulge in life to the extent our morals allow. There is no one to instruct us, no one to lead us anymore. It's like following a guide to the summit and then being left alone. Not only do we not know where to go now, we question why we are here in the first place.

For some, this is the most exhilarating period of their lives. They can finally pursue their passions and do what they've always wanted to do. For others, it is when they realize that the job they are in is nothing like they had imagined. They took the first job they were offered after graduation to pay off their loans without ever foreseeing the unhappiness this could cause.

And the misery begins. You dislike your job, stop looking forward to socializing with friends and colleagues, stop enjoying the things you used to enjoy, and life suddenly seems colorless and dreary. You have nothing to look forward to, nothing that makes your eyes sparkle or your tummy tingle, and you ask yourself: What happened to the excitement in life, the desire to fly and touch the sky?

OK, so things may not be the greatest right now, and life may not seem very appetizing, but there is always something you can do to get back on track, overcome the anxiety, and march towards the path of true happiness.

Know that you are not alone!

Though it may seem so, be assured that you are not alone. There are hundreds or even thousands of fellow 20-somethings out there who have no idea what to do with their lives. Though all your friends may be settling down, buying houses, and getting married, don't be afraid that you'll be left behind if you don't jump onto their boat. Everyone is different and life is not a race. It's the journey that matters. You need to ensure that yours encompasses what your heart really desires. Don't live in fear. Don't be like the bird who never risked flapping her wings but longed every minute of her life to touch the sky.

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Discover yourself

Whether this involves going on a short vacation or taking extended time off to travel the world or volunteer on the other side of the globe — do it! It will help you spend some time alone and give you an opportunity to know yourself better. Don't take the world's criticism to heart; you are not wasting time or being irresponsible. To be truly happy, you need to be at peace with yourself. You simply have to find your passion in life, though be aware that it will evolve, grow, and change with you over time. Doing a nine-to-five job that you already hate will only cause additional distress, lack of motivation, and ultimately depress you.

Though finding your passion is a time-consuming process, finding the thing that makes you jump out of bed every morning and look forward to your day is the key to happiness. You've simply got to love what you do to live a fulfilled life. Can you imagine a life where every day is a mystery, something you can't wait to solve or simply indulge in?

Try something new

You'll never know what you like if you don't venture out of your bubble and expose yourself to the world. Try different things and keep an eye on yourself. What did you enjoy? Was there something you were skeptical about or something that made you nervous? What made your eyes sparkle or what makes you look back and smile? Explore the world. You'll be surprised at what you discover in the process. You might share a smile or laugh until your eyes tear up, you might make everlasting friends or maybe even enjoy something you never thought you would. Step out of the safety net and dare yourself.

Don't jump into changing careers just yet

Sometimes, there is a tendency to hop back into school to get a different career. Maybe this one you will love. Maybe this education will not disappoint you. Try to see the vicious circle you may be repeating. Every 20-something longs for their college days. The carefree life, the fearless attitude, and being with friends again can be quiet alluring.

Ensure that you are going back to school for the right reasons. I personally believe that after obtaining a degree from college, changing careers may be easier than one thinks. Though additional education will be required for specialized fields, you may be able to get some experience in the new career as an intern or a volunteer with your current qualifications, giving you an opportunity to see how it is before you make a commitment.

A quarterlife crisis is just another phase of life, like the teenage years that have passed and the mid-life crisis that's to come. How you go through this phase is partially influenced by past choices, and decisions made here will greatly affect your life to follow. The harder you work to learn about yourself now, the easier you will float through the next phase of your life.

So buckle up and take control, experiment and make mistakes, and finally steer your life in the direction that truly makes you happy.

This is a guest post by Vibha Dhawan. Vibha enjoys writing about life, from questioning the bases of our existence to wondering why we feel the way we do. She's fascinated by little things in life. It doesn't take much to make her smile. Read more by Vibha:

 

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gt0163c

I think a lot of the quarterlife crisis comes from reaching "the goal" that society pushes people towards from a very young age.
You do well in school so that you can get into a good college. You do well in college so you can get a good job. You get a good job so you can...there's not a lot of definition about what comes next, especially for those who don't marry in or just out of college. And for those who move away from family and friends to take that first job, I think it's even more difficult.

Trying to figure out your place in the world when there's not a very detailed road map can be scary and stressful. And without a good support system of family and friends (and friends who are family you just don't happen to be related to), young adults are going to have a difficult time.

What can be done?
For those in this situation, reach out to those around you. Get to know the people you work with. Make friends of all ages. Get involved in some sort of community and find a place where you can help people as well as being helped by people.

For those who are past this stage, reach out to those who are in it. Get to know the "new kid" at work or church or the gym. Invite them over for dinner or to come out with you and your friends for an event. And not just once. Do what you can to involve them in your life and get involve in their life. Don't forget holidays, especially for those without family in the area. And not just the big holidays. See that they've got somewhere to go and people to be with on Memorial Day and 4th of July as well as Thanksgiving and Easter.

For those who haven't reached this stage yet, know that it's coming. Especially if you're going to stay in the area after college, get to know people off campus. Get involved in a community that you can be involved in after you graduate. If you're not going to stay in the area, before you leave, talk to those people you already know. See if they know anyone in the area where you will be moving. Perhaps there's an established community you can become a part of. Better yet, perhaps there will be people waiting for your arrival, ready to welcome you to the area and the family.

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Des

I think this is a great article, and definitely something to ponder. As a person in this phase of life (mid-twenties to early thirties), what I find even more depressing is that its not really a "quarter" life crisis, but rather a "third"-of-your-life crisis, optimistically. Out of curiosity I once put my birth date and estimated death date (based on the IRS life expectancy tables) into a count down timer. It said "your life is 33% complete", which was a major wake up call.

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Guest

I wanted to clarify that getting an internship is NOT easy. You NEED college credit for ALMOST ALL of them AND they WANT to work with 19 & 20 year-olds. Not people past college age. I am 26, have been in this crisis since I came out of college and saw that I went from helping professors with their manuscripts to ordering lunch for a bunch of executives who thought I was young trash that needed to move up the ladder to have the cush life that they FINALLY earned at their ripe old age of 45. I have suffered from SO many bouts of unemployment, so many times of pure idleness applying to jobs, networking, aimlessly trying to fix whatever it is that I obviously messed up. People love my work but the only places I've gotten in the door are in companies and jobs where I'm often the most educated person, even among management. Pay is crap in your 20s so I don't get where people got this idea of spending all this money on drinking with friends on the weekends when I can only afford to go out twice a YEAR. I found myself desperate and now I'm in grad school studying to be a teacher which is something I absolutely do NOT want to do, but at this point, I'll be almost 30 by the time I graduate and I need to not be such a f****** loser.

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Anna

I like what you have just said, it is so true. I'm also 26 struggling to figure what I wanna be in life to not end up as a loser. I never went to the Uni, it just didn't happened for me. I was made redundant twice in the recent two yrs but I knew it was for the better even tho It wasn't easy at first I didnt despair I was happy to loose my second burden 9-5 boring job in administration. Just did my PTLLS, enrolled for another teaching course this time support at schools, although I am not sure whether I want to be a teacher, simply because English is my second language so I would have to finish the Uni, another 5 yrs studying or more. I don't think I could manage that, although I love to learn I am doing plenty of part time studying, in so varied subjects, usually evening courses. I am striving for challenges and so on. The recent challenge It was volunteering in a local theatre helping out with stage management among people with leaning difficulties. Now, that's something I would never think of doing but when proposition came I simply took it and I am enjoy it now. Now I'm thinking of taking some acting classes so I could grasp the concept on performing on stage. It gives me that feeling that maybe I could be doing this in the future, helping people out who really needs it.
Recently I've applied for an Internship to charity organisation as I'm thinking of becoming fundraiser, campaigner, I would like to get involved in the events and be pro-active. I am still waiting for the outcome but that interview was like I was aplying for a manager position already, it lasted over half an hour and I didn't know what to expect afterwards. Anyway What I was gonna say, just wanted to let you know that you're not alone even it sounds lame, heheh I can relate to you, and just wanna say: never give up. Your efforts will pay off. Just try to do what you can relatively enjoy and stay positive - the most constuctive way od being I have learnt!
All the best!

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Kristina

Once, not long ago, having a job was a way to put food in your belly. Period. I think people overestimate how fulfilling your average job needs to be. Our forefathers and mothers understood that working hard was just part of life, and didn't waste so much emotional energy trying to be happy every moment. It makes me sad to see able-bodied, healthy young people wasting so much of their precious youth worrying about such things. Find a job. Pay the bills. Enjoy your spare time (many more hours than even our recent ancestors enjoyed), and stop worrying so danged much. Stick with something longer than a sound byte, like the author of this piece suggests, and you might find contentment in.... being content.

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Intrigued

Great Analysis which has me thinking now....Am I missing something? Love your article and feel it will help loads of people to realize what they are doing with their lives....good luck with yours!