The quarter life crisis is a real thing. It’s something I’ve been grappling with recently and the more I spoke to people, the more I realised that they, too, are struggling with it. Soon feelings of isolation and thinking I’m the only one who feels this way gave way to the realisation that hey, this is a thing. It’s very real and it’s not spoken about but people need to know they’re not alone – this is NORMAL.
For those of you who might be wondering if I’ve had one too many glasses of wine and meant to say midlife crisis, no. I’m speaking about that time, specifically in your twenties, ranging into your thirties, in which you feel lost. Like a proper rebel, I did the one thing I was taught to never do in university: I went to Wikipedia for a definition (this is, after all, an opinion piece): “Common symptoms of a quarter life crisis are often feelings of being ‘lost, scared, lonely or confused’ about what steps to take in order to transition properly into adulthood.” If you just felt chills running down your spine or had what Oprah so affectionately always called an “Ah-ha moment,” odds are you have, at some point, been bitten by this mythical creature.
For me the weight of the quarter life crisis came tumbling down onto my shoulders as soon as I officially finished studying (“for now,” as I would sometimes say to make myself feel better). Suddenly I had no more excuses to be in the job I was in. Suddenly the label of “student” didn’t excuse still not paying my own rent. By this stage it felt like I should be able to stand square on my own two feet and be a fully-functioning, successful adult that’s received a gold star on their forehead for having grown up. Except, I’m not and I haven’t. I didn’t go into the career that I set up a ten-year plan for and I can’t begin to think of having kids because that’s a thought too scary for my crazed-out twenty-something brain to begin to process. More and more the great things you did at a tender age start to fade in your memory and you become plagued by only one thing: what am I actually doing, where am I going, and how am I supposed to get there?!? Sometimes I feel so inadequate that I have to stop and remind myself of all the things I’ve done that I am proud of. I have to remember how I felt during those times I was on top of the world and I have to tell myself that I will have that again. I have to remind myself that I am fantastic and I know so much and have amazing potential, even if I don’t feel like it’s being seen or recognised right now.
During my discussions with people about their quarter life crises I had some raw conversations. The youngest person I spoke to was twenty-two and the oldest thirty-six. While each person’s experience is different, most often people feel that they aren’t where they thought they would’ve been by this age. One person I spoke to said that the hardest part about all of it was that after all the struggle, after the intensely hard-fought journey they’ve had, they’ve worked so hard for their degree and it’s not what they want to do. What was the point of it all? On top of that, many people often don’t know what to do after graduating. One guy I spoke to had this to say:
“Last year I worked for this one company and they were very condescending towards me because I did Political Sciences. They wanted me to do the job but at the same time every time I suggested something they shut me down because I’m young. Payment was also just a joke. So I decided to go back to school and I’m only wanting to do Masters now because of job security. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with my life after that. Where do you go next? It’s frustrating. I don’t like to compare myself because I feel success will come when it comes. But if it wasn’t for my parents, what am I on my own? Would I be able to live a life on my own? And I can’t at this moment in time. That’s frustrating. What is my degree worth? I kind of feel hopeless.” That’s real.
During the quarter life crisis it’s often normal to feel like you aren’t performing and you’re not achieving what you dreamt of achieving in life. “I view myself as average. For me being above average means having world-changing capabilities and at this moment in my life – being twenty-five – I don’t think that I have world-changing capabilities. I feel like there’s nothing really amazing about me and I feel that that’s the worst – when you know you can change the world but you don’t know how.” Sometimes you might know what you want to do but you just don’t know how.
Personally I think the shining devil of the quarter life crisis is comparison. I am sure I won’t be the first person to tell you not to compare and I certainly won’t be the last. When you see all the people you went to school with entering certain phases, you can’t help but compare yourself to them. It starts with the engagement phase which leads to the wedding phase and house buying phase and soon your Facebook is filled with baby pictures. Perhaps you see how well other people are doing and you, too, would like to buy your first house or invest in a stock market – isn’t that what successful people with money do? The problem is that the time frames in which we do things have changed. People are no longer getting married at age nineteen and having their first baby as they exit their teens. Things like gap years exist and people are taking time building careers and discovering who they are – at their own pace! There’s no yardstick anymore which you can use to judge if you are where you should be. And that’s Ok. It’s just scary sometimes.
Sometimes the only obstacle in your way of doing what it is you want to do or making that change is yourself. You might be scared that you regret taking a big risk or you might simply lack the faith in yourself to take the leap and do what it is you truly want to do. Trust your gut. If you want to travel, do it now BEFORE the serious job and family responsibilities overwhelm you. Can’t really see yourself spending the rest of your life with a particular person? You either shouldn’t or you should do what you must to realise that you want them in your life. Sometimes you need to forget what is culturally acceptable or what society expects of you.
Can you do what it takes to move past this phase in your life? Can you make it work? It may not be that you’re going through an existential crisis or that all you need is the perfect job or perfect partner or more money or certain opportunity or, or, or … sometimes you just need to move through it to get past it. When all these thoughts overwhelm me, I think back to a conversation I had in which I felt it will be alright: “I can tell you with full confidence and surety that it might not be in one year, it might not be in two, it might not even be in ten but there will come a time in everyone’s lives that we will be at a point of so much happiness. It might not be the thing you plan now because everything changes …but you will reach a point of utter success inside you.” And when you do, you always have the midlife crisis to look forward to.