Navigating Your Quarter Life Crisis in 6 Easy Steps

Welcome to the adult world. First of all, you’re not alone. There are a LOT of Millenials out here trying to learn the ropes. You’ve graduated from college (or not), you’ve been away from home a while (or not), and you’re recognizing that the rest of your life stands in front of you. What are you going to do with it?

The quarter-life crisis hits many young adults in their twenties. This is a period of stress, angst, and confusion caused by the pressures of moving from the predictable world of academics, tests, and stepping stones into the endless decision buffet of adulthood. Studies have shown that choosing a career path and/or unemployment are the biggest causes of the quarter life crisis and cause the most distress for twenty-somethings.

If you find yourself in a downward spiral of self-defeating thought patterns and questions, don’t feel crazy. This is part of the process of settling into adulthood. Again, you aren’t alone. In fact, the only reason I am writing this article right now is because of my quarter life crisis. Remember, every moment of pain is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and decide what you actually want in life. Hopefully, with some self-compassion, patience, and honesty, you can find your way into a new and exciting future that makes you thrilled to participate in the life experience.

Step 1: Press Pause

Congratulations! You are experiencing a quarter-life crisis. The first step in this quest is realizing that you do not have some perpetual and incurable ennui, but rather you are entering a normal stage of development that most people go through in their twenties: a stage that can lead to tremendous personal growth and a great new life.

At this point, you should take a step back from the swirling vortex of questions and doubts circling into a tornado of destruction in your head. Ignore for a moment the panicked voices telling you to quit your job, use all your money to backpack around Europe, and throw caution to the wind. Instead, give yourself a week of making as few decisions as possible, and focus solely on the now. Go for a walk in nature, watch something funny on Netflix, meditate, or read a book. The main point of pushing the week-long pause button is to focus on the here and now and do something that calms you. If the questions pop up again while you are trying to chill out — and they probably will — write them down on a piece of paper to deal with them in step 2, next week. Grounding yourself in reality will help you to re-center and begin moving forward as your calmest self.

“Don’t Panic!” — Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s’ Guide to the Galaxy

Step 2: Face the Discomfort

Now that you have calmed down a bit, it’s time to face the discomfort of the quarter life crisis head on. In my experience, ignoring the pain will only lead to a greater buildup of discontentment and an even bigger existential crisis in the future. Facing the pain when you would rather hide under your covers and eat an entire bag of chocolate truffles can be terrifying, but if you don’t lean into it, you can’t begin to move towards a better life in which you are joyously living your dreams.

Go back to the questions that popped up during your “pause week”. Try to answer each question as systematically as possible. For example, if you asked yourself the question “Do I really want to be doing this job my whole life?”, respond by asking yourself the question, “In an ideal world, what are 10 jobs I would love to have?” Don’t hold back on this one. If your mind says “That’s not realistic!” to any of your responses, those are the ideas you MUST write down. Write down the other ideas too, but definitely the “silly” ideas that pop up. Too often we are trained to choose from a preconceived list of jobs that are acceptable in society. The rest, we are told, will leave us miserable and poor. The reality is, there are LOTS of people making a living as professional musicians, dolphin trainers, coaches, writers, and astronauts. These jobs exist, which means someone gets paid to do them, which means YOU could get paid to do them. Feel free to write down a description if you don’t know the name for the job you’re envisioning. For example, if you love to organize things, maybe you would write down “organizing”.

After you’ve answered your “pause week” questions, imagine your ideal life:

Living- Where would you live? What kind of abode would you live in? Would you live in a house at all or be a vagabond?

Community- Who would be the most important people in your life? What would they be like and what would they be doing? How often would you see them? What would you all do together?

Career- What kind of career would you have? Would you go to the same place every day and have a structured routine or would you have the freedom to move about as you see fit? What kind of salary and quality of life would be ideal?

Mental and Physical health- What kind of free time would you have for hobbies? What kinds of hobbies would you want to participate in? What habits would you do that keep you mentally and physically healthy?

After imagining your ideal life, take some online personality quizzes to discover or reaffirm your strengths and traits. Some free recommended quizzes I have used are 16personalities, and VIA Character Strengths Survey.

Read a few Books

There are books that specifically helped me through this time. Here is a site with books that particularly help with finding yourself.

For me, The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho were two path-finding books that helped me gain confidence in myself and strengthen my inner voice. There are many other sources of inspiration out there, so keep an eye out. You may find just the right thing at the right time.

Step 3: Ask for help

If you’re having a quarter life crisis, chances are your life now does not match up to the ideal life you imagined in step 2. There are probably at least a few changes that you’d like to make, but if you knew how to make them successfully, you would have done it already. That’s where help comes in. Sure, if you are a tough cookie with killer instincts for strategy and laser focus, perhaps you could start making the steps toward your dream life today. My guess is that most of us, especially in this vulnerable and transformational stage in our lives, cannot. We need some help.

We can find this help in many places, but not any place. A quote I heard recently that really stuck with me is,

“Don’t take advice from someone you wouldn’t trade places with” — Darren Hardy

During this time, we must be extremely selective with who we solicit for advice. For example, if your parents are famous for pressuring you to become a doctor or a lawyer and rarely support your dreams, don’t ask for their opinion. You will likely only stress everyone out, or you will listen to them and crawl back into the same situation you were just complaining about. Nope, none of that.

Find a friend, a mentor, or a relative that you truly admire and would trade places with and give them a call. Explain what you are feeling and what you want out of life. This is a perfect time to move towards your dreams. You are young and you probably don’t have too many outside commitments to eat your time and energy. Listen to your “sages”, and see what hits home for you. You don’t have to accept all of their advice, but chances are you will get lots of love and a few nuggets of wisdom that will carry you forward. Do this with multiple people, if you can.

I also recommend finding a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (especially if you have a history of anxiety and/or depression) or a Life Coach that has stellar reviews and a solid reputation. This may be an investment, but if you are struggling to find clarity, this is an excellent choice that will allow you to work with an impartial third party towards your goals.

Step 4: Research and Make Some Moves

All this will work will have been in vain if you don’t do anything afterward. After you have gone through the process of path finding and discovering yourself again, you probably have a good idea of where you want to end up. You may not, however, know how to get there.

Research and send out emails to people who have experience working in the field you are interested in. For example, if you want to be a dolphin trainer, research dolphin trainers’ education, salary, and career trajectory. Do you have to go back to school to do this job? How much do they make? What is the job growth? Don’t let the answer to any of these questions discourage you, just educate yourself. Also, you may be surprised at how successful cold emailing someone who had your dream job can be. The worst thing that can happen is they don’t respond, or they email back with a nasty email — but ultimately that reflects poorly on them, not you. The best case scenario is that you get a lot of valuable information and/or opportunities from someone who has your dream job.

After learning more about the main jobs you are interested in, narrow your search down to two main options or combine some options to make one mega-awesome dream job. For example, if you like dancing and working with kids, think about becoming a ballet teacher or start a hip-hop dance class for kids at a local studio. Essentially, see if you can start making money off of those things that you love — or at least moving in that direction. Apply to graduate school for a degree, start writing a novel, take a free course online, or take an acting class. Basically, do SOMETHING that moves you toward that dream you have imagined for yourself.

Step 5: Let Go

If you have decided to move towards a new and exciting career, relationship, place, or lifestyle, you will have to give something up. These may not be facets of your life that you necessarily love, but they are things that you have grown accustomed to, attached to, or saddled into. As painful as it may be to stop meeting with the knitting group that constantly gripes about money problems, the work parties in which everyone gets wasted, or the relationship that would take too much effort to break off, it needs to be done. If it isn’t making you happier, it’s got to go. Fill your newly unearthed time by working towards your goals and dreams, and taking care of your mind, body, and spirit.

Continue to take steps away from the things that didn’t make you happy and towards the life that you have envisioned for yourself.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau

(Side note: This may not include your main job just yet. As you are transitioning to your new and fabulous life, you will undoubtedly need some source of income.)

Step 6: Be Open to More Growth

And now you’ve arrived at your perfect life and nothing will ever go wrong again and you will live happily ever after! — Ha! Actually, no.

We are constantly growing and expanding beings. We are always finding new problems, new and interesting things to do, and different and better ways to look at life and the world. If you move towards your dream and learn to cultivate your inner voice, you will spend much of your time in that happy place, but it won’t be all the time. The important thing to remember is that you will always be evolving, and that’s what makes life so beautiful and interesting. Embrace the growth and the change, and know that you are a remarkable, irreplaceable, and loved member of the world community. By taking the courageous step towards your dreams, you have done what so few people choose to do at this juncture in their lives. While other people may bury their deepest and most passionate desires, you will be living a life that excites and fulfills you.

There IS a spark in the darkness of the quarter life crisis. To move forward, you must stoke the inner spark into raging fire that drives you past your doubts, over your fears, and beyond the naysayers. In the words of Buzz Lightyear, “To infinity, and beyond!”