Managing a Quarter Life Crisis

Where it comes from and how to solve it

In the past decade or so, a new term has risen to our vernacular – “the Quarter Life Crisis.” I hear it from many of my clients and it’s all over the blogging world. In a quarter life crisis people are re-evaluating their life and often struggling with where they are, who they are, and what they are doing.

So why is this phrase all over the place these days, and what can we do about it?

Though it’s tempting (and I hear it all the time) to just blame millennials for wanting it all or being too impatient, I think there’s more happening here – and a way to fix it before it spins out of control.

All of a sudden, I don’t know what I’m “supposed” to do

This quarter-life crisis often shows up when you’ve had a lack of intention through adolescence and early 20’s. This is not your fault. Who is really intentional in adolescence or college? Only a select few go through the self-reflection required to determine what they want out of life instead of blindly following what others tell them to do. And we typically call those kids angsty when they’re going through it, so it’s not exactly a desired state.

Think about it. Through your adolescence and early 20’s, you really have one focus – to do well in school. Sure, extracurriculars play a role for many, and of course there is the drama of friendships, boyfriends and girlfriends, and rows with mom and dad. But for the most part, you get very clear feedback that if you’re doing well in school, you’re doing well in life.

And then, all of a sudden, there is no school and there are no rules. There is no “right” way to live. There are no universally accepted goals.

And now you’re supposed to figure it out yourself.

Knowing what you want in life is a skill! It takes practice. So if you aren’t sure what you want your life to look like in your 20’s (or even early 30’s), it’s ok! Keep thinking on it, and you’ll get better. Self-reflection becomes easier the more you want it, and by thinking about what you want out of life now, you’ll hone in on a clearer, more realistic picture to guide your actions for success.

I want it now!!

If you’re in a quarter-life crisis, you might feel that you aren’t making the impact you want to make. Impact is big. It’s one of five pillars I have my clients define in identifying their career goals. It’s absolutely important to care about the impact your work makes or could make as you progress.

But making an impact takes time. We have a patience problem. And it’s largely because of technology. With technology, we can get everything we want immediately. But career satisfaction and the ability to make a huge impact with your work won’t come immediately. They take time.

From one impatient person to another, I know your frustration.

But really, who do you know that loved the work they did in their 20’s? Think of people that are established, successful and have made a big impact with their career. The Zuckerbergs of the world aside, most people have to put in the time and learn the tools of their trade from experienced professionals (who also had to put in their time to learn the tools of their trade) before actually making an impact on the world or their profession or industry.

If you’re feeling like there’s no point and you’re not sure what you’re working for, set some goals and make a plan. This will remind you that you are headed somewhere! And developing a plan will ensure you will actually get there and give you more purpose today.

One of my favorite quotes comes from an interview I read a while back with Ken Burns. When asked if – in today’s fast-paced world with a short attention span – he worries about the success of his epic documentaries, he replied:

“Duration creates meaning.”

It’s stuck with me because it’s true. Find meaning in the duration, and stick with it. You’ll get there.

But everyone else is happy now!

Well, maybe. But probably not. The truth is, no one’s projecting self-images of dissatisfaction or struggle, so it can feel like you’re the only one that’s not making a difference or in your dream career.

But you’re not. Trust me. I’m in business because there are plenty of people dissatisfied with their careers.

If you’re really feeling alone, find a good friend, buy a bottle of wine, and dish. When you start to open up, others will too. This doesn’t have to be a sob fest, but an open, honest discussion of what you’re struggling with at work.

You might get great advice from your friend. Or, better, you might be just the comfort your friend needs but wasn’t strong enough to ask for. And, if the wise words from Gandhi hold any water:

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Manage through the crisis

Know that this will shift for you. Before you upend your life and buy into the “I just have to find myself” belief, try these steps.

  • Stop listening to others and define what you want in life
  • Practice patience and know you will get there
  • Find a support system

And if you’ve tried all this and you’re still feeling lost, why not give coaching a shot?  Coaching will help you find direction – your direction – and provides the support you need in a difficult time. It can truly shift your quarter-life into a time of excitement and opportunity  – which is what all of life should really be about!


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