If you’re reading this then the number one thing I need you to know is that you’re not alone.
‘How to navigate a Quarter Life Crisis’ is my most well-attended workshop (pre-COVID) and webinar (post-COVID) topic. Literally, packed out rooms every time.
But maybe you missed my webinar so I thought why not write a post outlining the basics of a Quarter Life Crisis (QLC). In this post you will learn:
- Definition of a Quarter Life Crisis
- What the ‘symptoms’ are
- Why it’s happening more often nowadays than before
- The 4 stages of the Quarter Life Crisis
- How I became a QLC survivor (and thriver)
- The 4 things that helped me get clarity and get out of the QLC cycle
- How you can navigate yourself out of it
Make a cup of tea, get cosy, and let’s begin.
What is a Quarter Life Crisis (QLC) and who experiences it?
It’s a time of turmoil, uncertainty and confusion. A lot of time is spent soul-searching and re-evaluating work, relationships and one’s life. According to research, 86% of the Millennials in the UK are going through it.
Generally a QLC hits in your mid-20s to mid-30s. But I’ve coached those in their late 30s, early 40s too. It’s less an age thing and more a state thing. If you identify with the symptoms below, then forget the age and join the club.
I think I have it! What are the symptoms?
When you feel:
Anxious, overwhelmed, confused, doubtful, lost, stuck, philosophical, frustrated, stuck or just down on yourself.
When you think:
- What if I never find anything that will make me happy?
- How come everyone else has it together? When did they get the memo?
- Why can’t I find a job that makes me happy and pays me well?
- Will I ever be successful?
- Will I ever stop the job hunt and the worry?
When you spend most of your time:
- Worried about your unused degree, feeling its weight on your shoulders
- In a thought tornado of anxious thoughts about the future
- Indulging in negative social comparison
- Constantly job hunting. It’s practically your second job and your hobby.
- Looking into travelling or relocating
- Hating your job and your colleagues
- Googling career consultants, coaches or tarot card readers – anyone that might have the answer
- Going to talks or signing onto webinars about ‘finding your passion’ or ‘ finding fulfilling work’
- Looking at courses or retraining options.
Yes, yes, yes! Why is this happening to me?
Crisis is a dramatic word, but do you know what it actually means? Crisis means turning point, a change in direction, a decisive point.
The Greeks defined ‘Krisis’ as a power of distinguishing, decision and choice. A much lighter and more empowering way of looking at it!
All that’s happening is you’re outgrowing your life. Just like you outgrew your teenage clothes, you’re outgrowing the decisions that you, your parents or society first made about your career and life choices.
Nothing has gone wrong. I know it may not feel great, but this is a wonderful time of exploration and growth. you get to choose exactly who you want to be, how you want to live and who you want to surround yourself with. You get to write the rules to life and to redefine success on your own terms.
Why didn’t my parents’ generation have QLCs?
House prices – they weren’t astronomical, so making the next adult step and buying a place wasn’t such an unattainable leap. We’re now living in markedly different times, but we still have our parent’s ideas of what success and happiness looks like. We haven’t paused to think about what our version of success is. So we go on aiming to buy a house, when actually getting a mortgage may feel like a trap because you’re not sure you want to stay in this job or in this country. You may want the freedom to travel and work remotely – an option that wasn’t available in our parent’s generation. So relax. A car, house and kids before you’re 30, is not the only marker of success. And drop the deadlines. Just because Forbes has a 30 under 30s list does not mean that anything after 30 is a failure. I truly believe, 30 is just the beginning.
Facebook & Instagram – there was less social comparison. Why is that important? Because if you haven’t worked out your version of success, you’re naturally looking to others for guidance. And seeing all the different possibilities sometimes does the opposite of igniting us with hope. It can make us feel like we’re not doing enough, like we should be living life more fully.
Less guidance, more uncertainty – because the world is changing at such a fast pace, Millennials know more about the world than their parents do (Baby Boomers or Generation X). It’s so natural to look to your elders for guidance. They’ve been there, navigated their way through work, love and life at your age. Surely they can help? Well, with the world of work changing so fast, the generation above us won’t be as aware of the job options or naturally in touch with tech as Millennials are. In their day, there were only a few places you’d look to for work, mainly paper-based. Nowadays we have a huge range of channels – LinkedIn, job boards, recruiters, company websites, Twitter, etc. And the types of jobs available have also changed a lot. So it’s easy to feel alone when parents don’t have the answers – who do you turn to? Your peers know as much as you do. Your cousins, your friend’s older siblings may be able to help you…but only if you have questions about their sphere. What if you don’t know what sector to go to? Who do you turn to then? Obviously I’m totally biased here, and I would say a life and career coach. That is the person best equipped to guide you.
Will it ever end?
I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but it will pass if you take the right steps. Trust me. Running away to go travelling or jumping into a new job will provide quick relief (escapism always does), but it won’t get to the root of the crisis, and you’ll soon swing back round to the same feeling you had before.
To get to the root of the crisis you need to embrace the crisis, drop the panic, and try a different strategy. Not changing your outer world (by changing jobs, sectors or countries), but exploring your inner world (more on how below).
It may also help to know the stages you will go through.
According to Dr Oliver Robinson, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology who has researched QLC, this period has four stages:
- Feeling ‘locked in’ to a job or relationship, or both
- A growing sense that change is possible
- A period of rebuilding a new life
- The cementing of fresh commitments that reflect the person’s new interests, aspirations and values
QLC is a topic close to my heart. I spent my 20s hanging out on job boards, jumping from one job to the next, from one industry to another hoping that this one was going to be The One.
I thought I’d cracked it at one point. The solution is not another job in the UK, it’s to pack it all up and start over in another country (For me that was Argentina).
But that didn’t remedy that gnawing feeling that I hadn’t reached my potential, I wasn’t capitalising on my strengths, and Every day that passed, I thought I was running out of my time. ‘I thought I would have figured this out by now!’ It was frustrating, spirit deflating and emotionally exhausting.
So I know all the things you’re thinking and what you’re going through.
It all started to change for me when I finally gave the job hunt a rest and decided to change strategies completely. I stopped trying to change my outside (job, sector, country) and started to look inside.
Questions that turn problems into possibility
- What if the reason you’re not seeing your dream job is because it hasn’t been created?
- What if the reason you’re not fitting in to any jobs or organisations is because you’re meant to stand out?
- What if you all this searching was meant to happen to build inner reserves in you and to equip you with needed capabilities?
Instead of job hunting, I started job creating.
No, I didn’t become self-employed straight away. And that’s not the only answer.
The answer, that I discovered, that worked for me and for my clients, is to crystal clear on 4 key things:
- What are your unique strengths?
- What is meaningful and fulfilling?
- How do you want your work life to look and feel like?
- How and where do you want to be challenged and grow?
That’s the secret sauce.
Sounds simple, but let me tell you, everyone, and I mean everyone, fails at number 1, let alone getting through number 2.
Strength spotting is not as simple as thinking about them and writing them out. Your natural strengths come so easy to you that you don’t even think twice about them. Strengths get revealed and discovered.