Are you in the midst of a quarter-life crisis? Hello, fellow Millennial — you’re not alone. A recent survey asked thousands of Millennials aged 25-33 if they’ve experienced a quarter-life crisis: a full 75% said yes.
Going through quarter-life crisis isn’t enjoyable. For a period of time — some studies say an average of 11 months, others say several years — you feel like life lacks meaning, you have no clear purpose, you’re locked into responsibilities that no longer feel right, and you’re suspended in a pseudo-adult identity.
How can you move beyond the quarter-life crisis?
There isn’t a magical escape door. The best way is straight through — the hard, fast, and most effective way forward. In this article, I’ll give you 7 guiding questions you can ask yourself during the dreaded quarter-life crisis that befalls 3 out of every 4 Millennials.
The Quarter-Life Crisis: What Is It?
Sometime between graduating college and reaching the mid-30’s, many Millennials find themselves in a vacuous space — they are not youth anymore, but neither are they full adults. This phenomenon has been described in the following way:
Our childhood visions for our lives, moulded by listening to parental anecdotes of their milestones and reinforced by TV and films, are no longer realistic. Due to unaffordable housing, less job security and lower incomes, the traditional “markers” of adulthood, such as owning a home, getting married and having children, are being pushed back. This has left a vacuum between our teenage years and late 20s with many of us feeling we’re navigating a no man’s land with zero clue when we’ll reach the other side.Juliana Piskorz, The Guardian
The quarter-life crisis is a period of existential disruption. But unlike teenage angst — which is socially acceptable — living in rented accommodation, eating instant noodles, and working a dead-end job at age 27 produces overwhelming emotions that aren’t as easy to swallow. We no longer have an exasperated mother standing outside our poster-plastered bedroom door sighing, “it’s just a stage.”
Is it a stage? Or have we permanently, irrevocably messed our lives up forever?
Part of the quarter-life crisis is the uncertainty of not knowing if these feelings of purposelessness will ever be resolved or not.
But rest easy. In most cases, it is. You can move more quickly through your crisis by asking yourself these seven guiding questions.
Question 1: What Makes You Feel Trapped?
Millennials going through quarter-life crisis admit to feeling trapped in the wrong job, the wrong relationship, the wrong life choices, or all the above. Can you identify the exact situations that are triggering your feelings of distress? Psychologists have identified five unique stages in the quarter-life crisis, and the first one involves identifying the causal factors. If you feel pressured and trapped but don’t know why, start by finding out what piece or pieces of your life don’t feel right.
Question 2: Are You Having a Bad Day or a Bad Direction?
Don’t underestimate the power of a string of bad days…or weeks. Maybe you got the work project no one else wanted and now you have to complete it with a colleague that grates on your nerves. Humans have a tendency to be very shortsighted, and we often evaluate “life” based on very temporary situations. A string of bad days or weeks can be a powerful influence on your sense of coherence and passion in life — but don’t fall for the trick of “bad day = bad direction.”
On the other hand, if you realize that your boss, business, or boyfriend won’t be changing in the foreseeable future, it might be time to call it quits. Sometimes enough bad days, stacked on top of each other, do make a bad direction. Ask yourself if your negative feelings are due to temporary or long-term situations.
Question 3: How Good Are You at Handling Money?
For those who admitted to experiencing a quarter-life crisis, the single biggest cause was financial. Just over half of respondents (53%) were spending more than they make each month. Large student loans, unexpected job market realities, or poor spending habits can spiral quickly into crisis levels of debt. 49% of 25-33 year-olds feel stressed because they are not earning enough. Is this part of your own personal situation? What is the reason for your financial difficulties? Can you genuinely say that the causes are entirely beyond your control, or would you say that perhaps some reasons might relate to your lifestyle choices and budgeting habits?
Millennials are the first generation to be financially less well-off than the previous one. For that reason alone, it might be a good idea to look for alternative financial options and budgeting mentors that can help. Ask yourself if your money practices are contributing to your feelings of desperation.
Question 4: What’s Your Dream?
Millennials have big dreams of greatness. Surprisingly, though, we are often unsure of what that means or how to make it happen. 59% are unsure about what to do next in their career or in life, and 22% of this age cohort have turned in their notice without having another job lined up waiting for them.
This phenomenon of highly skilled, ambitious young adults with no clear aim in life is part of what fuels the growing life coach industry. Motivational speakers like Simon Sinek have gone viral as they take Millennials step by step through the processes to “find your why.” Do you know what your dream is? Really? Putting your finger on the noble cause that moves you can go a long way to resolving your quarter-life crisis.
Question 5: What Have You Grown Out Of That You Can’t Let Go?
The quarter-life crisis is the sidewalk crack between the pseudo-adult and real adult. As you go through the rough transition to regular adulting, it’s natural to expect that your identity will change and be refined. Do you have areas in life where you’re holding onto habits, lifestyle choices, clothing styles, or relationships that don’t really “feel” like your best adult self? Did you imagine yourself eating healthy homemade Buddha bowls but find yourself subsisting on Hot Pockets? Do you admire those business casual outfits on Insta but can’t give up the comfort of your Crocs?
Nothin’ wrong with Hot Pockets and Crocs. But there can be a problem if your perceived values are not the same as your operative values. Recognize that this period is a time to make changes, a time to let go of old patterns. Ask yourself what things in life no longer fit. It might be something as big as a job or relationship, or it might be something small like personal style or housekeeping tactics. However, you may find that the small things are symbolic of larger shifts in values that are already taking place.
Question 6: What Steps Can You Take Today to Find a Mentor?
You probably already feel like you’d like to have someone to help you through this rough patch. In general, Millennials don’t have the same reservations about seeking personal help like previous generations. Having a mentor is great, but take care who you choose. Like one article from Forbes reminds us, it’s not a good idea to ask a stranger to mentor us — unless you’re willing to pay money for his/her expertise. Here are a few ideas for finding a mentor:
- Get a life coach
- Find a therapist
- Talk to a clergy member or chaplain (if you work in a hospital or in the military, there are usually assigned chaplains)
- Seek out an older family member or friend that you admire
- Join a Facebook group or forum for dealing with quarter-life crises
- Open up to your parents (they probably won’t have a clue what you’re talking about, so it might be a good idea to send them a few articles first)
Ask yourself — is there something you can do today to find a mentor?
Question 7: What’s Keeping You from Making Positive Changes?
The data tells us that the average Millennial hits rock bottom and stays there for six months before taking the necessary steps to sort out their quarter-life crisis. This might be due to a lack of awareness, pure busyness, or feelings of denial. Whatever the case, though, there’s no need to stay down once you realize you’re at the bottom.
Ask yourself what’s keeping you from making positive changes.
Are you confused and unclear about how to reorganize life? Get a life coach. For as little as $25 per week, you could get in touch with someone who can mentor you through your quarter-life crisis.
Do you know what needs to change but you’re afraid to take those steps? Visit your local library and check out some memoirs and biographies of famous people who have made tough decisions. Gain inspiration from others.
Are you financially trapped in your present situation? Find someone who can advise you on making radical changes.
Are you locked into your current situation by toxic or manipulative family members? Are you afraid of their hateful response if you change your life path? Learn how to draw healthy boundaries (I recommend this and this book.)
Don’t be afraid to grapple with tough questions. Ask yourself, what’s really holding me back from changing? Then, let the axe fall.
Aren’t you glad that the quarter-life crisis is temporary? Doesn’t it make you feel better to know that three-fourths of everyone else your age is going through, or has gone, through the same thing? No sweat. You’ll be over this in no time. And thankfully, most people who have endured this experience say that it transformed them into their best self.
So don’t resist the quarter-life crisis. Embrace it as your purifying furnace, and use these guiding questions to help you get through to the other side.
Best wishes on your journey,