My life has been filled with questions, insecurity, and instability the last couple of months. I am going through a ‘quarter-life crisis’.
Some have said, “At least you’re going through this now when you’re still young and can try things out without having committed 20 years of your life.” But that might be one of the causes of the quarter-life crisis. Whereas the midlife crisis is elicited by regrets around too much security and routine, the feeling of anxiety and dissatisfaction that young adults feel around their situation in life in their mid-twenties is caused by the lack of security, the anxiety around not knowing what to do next and where they will be in a few years from now while feeling the pressure of time, the “age 30 deadline”, as Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., calls it.
While I recognize having many options is a privilege, sometimes it can feel overwhelming and paralyzing to want to find the best one for me but not knowing which one it is. I want to do work that is meaningful to me and others, that enables me to use and develop my skills and talents and that supports my quality of life. But I don’t have a specific plan for my future yet. I have like 100 because I wish I could pursue 100 different careers in 100 different countries. I don’t know which step to take next.
In order to deal with this phase in my life in a productive way, I need to remember the following few things.
Understanding the quarter-life crisis
The four phases
It helps me to understand the science of what I am experiencing so I know generally what to expect. And as it is often with these things in life, nobody is going through it in the same way or even in the same order. But according to a study conducted by Dr. Oliver Robinson of the University of Greenwich, the quarter-life crisis tends to have four phases that usually occur in this order.
Phase 1: You find yourself in a commitment –to a job, person, or social group — that you doubt you want in the long-term.
Phase 2: You end your commitment. This results in anxiety about future uncertainty. You try to figure out what you want, what your values and beliefs are.
Phase 3: During this time, it feels like shit is hitting the fan. You try different things, experiment with alternatives, explore your identity, make frequent changes and often feel emotionally unstable. You focus on figuring yourself out.
Phase 4: In this phase, you start to commit to new roles that feel more authentic to you. They are more aligned with your values and who you want to be.
Phase 3 and I
I’m currently in phase 3 and have been for the past six months. A big part of why I don’t know exactly what to do next is because I am lacking the necessary self-awareness. I don’t know exactly what I want. I know what I don’t want and this might be the best place to be when you don’t know what you want. So my approach to determining my next career step has been trial and error. When I think something might be a great fit, I give it a shot, and if it isn’t right, I’ll try the next thing that I think might be the right choice for me. So far, it has gradually brought me more self-awareness.
However, pretty regularly I get frustrated when it feels like I’m going in circles, stagnating. I’m frustrated that I’m not moving more quickly, especially when I try to actually get experience in a certain career but get stuck in the job application process.
But then I remind myself that it’s about taking one step at a time. And if one thing doesn’t work out, the other might. I remind myself that I need to have faith in myself and trust my instincts that I will find my purpose that aligns with my personality. And then I just need to keep going because a big part of success is perseverance.
Ignoring external pressures
Probably a lot of the pressure I impose on myself is motivated externally. When I compare myself to my peers who seem to have it figured out, I wonder why I am taking so much longer.
Again and again, people tell you that comparing yourself to others is unhealthy and pointless because everybody has their own path. We all know it. Sometimes, it’s just easier said than done.
What helps me to remember is listening to motivational speakers who have found happiness in their careers; like “Smiley” who gave a Ted Talk about his journey of quitting his secure job against many people’s advice in order to pursue his dream because he wasn’t happy with security without purpose and reminds his audience that without purpose many are left unfulfilled by their work regardless of what their social media feed is curated to convey, or people like media marketing guru, Gary V, who calls on everybody to explore their options until they have found their right path, regardless of what their peers do and how long it might take them.
I probably favor these types of advice, because it resonates with what I like to believe is true. But people like Smiley and Gary have found happiness while following that error-and-trial approach against other people’s judgment, so as all-time favorite Mindy Kaling (and I) would say: “Why not me?”
You’re not alone. Surround yourself with like-minded people.
I’m not unique in this experience. Unlike how it may seem on social media, when I reach out to my friends and supportive peers, many of them are going through the same experience. Talking to people who empathize with you and have faith in your ability to find your right path your own way is encouraging. Surround yourself with believers. Connect with people who trust in their ability to find something that marries their purpose with their personality because in their belief in themselves, they will inspire you to believe in yourself too.