Why your Quarter Life Crisis is the best thing that could have happened to you

Quarter-Life Crisis (def): Experienced in one’s twenties, involving anxiety/fear/confusion over the direction and quality of one’s life.

But what if I told you that experiencing a quarter life crisis is the best thing that can happen to you?

Yes, this turbulent season in your 20’s where you’re emerging into adulthood, and in the process, feel like you’re getting the insides ripped out of you like crab legs at a Las Vegas buffet. Yes, this season will be the most important season of development in your entire life.

Let me explain.

Thank you, Quarter Life Crisis

Life Lived Linear

Growing up we live life so linear. Middle school. High School. College. Grad School. Cubicle job.

Climb that step so you can climb the next and the next and the next…

don’t question. don’t look back. don’t turn.

Climb you fool. Climb!

higher.faster.farther.further.

We earn degrees, corner offices, 401k’s — but is plodding up a stairwell the way we want to live?

Time to Explore

The Quarter-life Crisis is simply when you finally stop climbing the stairs and start exploring the unknowns of the 15th floor.

The door locks behind you. You strain your eyes but can only make out a dimly lit hall that appears to never end. You feel stuck in a Stephen King novel and at any second train headlights might start hurdling toward you.

No syllabus. No textbook. No professor with a flashlight to shed light on all the answers.

No, just you and an endless amount of rooms.

All you can do is start opening doors.

And it’s a tad terrifying, if we’re honest. Because exploring the dark has always been that way.

Because we’ll enter rooms that smell like mothballs and old pee.

Because we’ll get lost and there’s no assurance that we’ll ever find our way out.

Value of the Quarter-Life Crisis

But the more rooms we go in, the more the maze begins to make sense. Exploring in the dark is not easy. But our eyes begin to adjust. We start learning how to really see.

We learn how to fail.

And struggle.

And persevere.

We learn that sometimes life must suck before it’s sweet.

We learn that sometimes life will dismantle you so that you can be rebuilt. 

We learn how to explore again like we’re eight years old in the field behind our house.

Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
― Gilda Radner

We think back to our life on the stairwell and realize it wasn’t much of a life after all.

So yes, I’d rather we experience crisis now. I’d rather we ask questions when we’re twenty-six years old and have the rest of our lives to live it. Than when we’re freaking-fifty-five with so much of our lives already cashed in.

Lost With Confidence

A Quarter-Life crisis, as Professor Robert Quinn writes in Deep Change, is really about being willing to get “lost with confidence”.

I can honestly say now, I’m thankful for my quarter-life crisis.

If we don’t learn how to explore now, then we’ll really be lost later. 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Have you experienced moments of Quarter Life Crisis? Can you see any ways it’s benefited you?

Not sure if what you’re experiencing has the makings of a Quarter-Life Crisis? Here’s 25 signs it might be a quarter life crisis.

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Like advice from a wiser, funnier, older brother Paul's been there, done that, and wants to save you some pain and some trouble.

– Seth Godin, New York Times bestseller and author of The Icarus Deception

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  • http://www.quellingtheqlc.com John

    Paul, great post and very interesting website. I’m looking forward to the release of the book. I’m writing on the same topic, but from a slightly different direction… looking at the pyschology and economic literature has to say about what can be done to “quell” the anxiety brought on by, as you say, emerging adulthood, or plainly, the quarter life crisis. I’m looking forward to interacting with you more and hope you get a chance to read some of my (emerging) thoughts at quellingtheqlc.com

    • admin

      Thanks John. You offer a very thorough and insightful look into the research and history of Emerging Adulthood and the Quarter-Life Crisis. Well done sir. Looking forward to connecting more as well.

  • http://sparkpunk.com Zak

    I really appreciate the stance/direction you took on this…and yes, it does feel like a “crisis,” at least for 8 months out of the year.

    The prescribed “linear life” is a tough one to unravel—get everyone on board all at once, and there’s a good recipe for mass chaos.

    But, like you, I’m all for a little chaos in my own life now than lots of chaos (not only in my life, but my wife & kids, too) down the line.

    • admin

      Thank you Zak. Yes, better we ask the hard questions now, than delay them for when life becomes intricately more complex.

      And thank you for introducing me to Alan Watts video below. Definitely was the fodder needed for this article. Cheers

  • http://thomasmarkzuniga.com TMZ

    So good. Been thinking lately about how life used to be so easy in the sense of what you described, as taking one logical step after another. And then…the great unknown. After graduating college in ’09, it was definitely a year or two of scary wandering. Since relocating in a totally different part of the country two years ago, it’s been more of an exciting wandering. I get the feeling that another scary wandering portion is looming up ahead, but there’s still so much to be learned and experienced in these wonderful mid-20s of mine. Stoked. Thanks for the reminder to get lost with confidence!

    • admin

      Thanks Thomas. Being able to get “lost with confidence” is so hard and nebulous most times. But for me it’s learning to operate with peace, assurance, and joy amidst a back-drop of unknowns.

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  • http://www.fallintotimtation.com Tim

    Learning to fail is such a hard thing to do. It is so worth it to be able to find yourself though. Maybe the hardest part is learning to get back up after you fail.

    • admin

      Thanks Tim. I’ve definitely learned the hard way that the ability to “fail well” is the most crucial piece of learning we can have within this Groan Up process.

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  • http://highlifeinthelowcountry.com/ Aly

    I enjoyed reading this and the 21 secrets post. In May I turned 25, lost my job and was dumped. Everybody feels pity for me, yet I feel gratitude. I am being forced to “explore the 15th’ floor. I find it humbling and exciting all at the same time.

    • admin

      Love your comment Aly and perspective. A comfortable job, in my opinion, is worse than no job at all! Keep exploring. It’s freaky and lonely, but I swear the right room is just around the corner.

  • http://Website Tawni

    A friend of mine shared a link to the 21 Secrets on FB and as soon as 5:30 rolls around I am going to pick up your book for some weekend reading material!

    I have been on the “15th floor” for a month now. At the begining of June I came home from a week long vacation and realized I didn’t want to keep climbing. A week later I quit my job, packed up everything and moved away from the only place I’ve ever lived. It has been the most liberating experience of my life to date. And everytime it gets a little scary or I have a quiver of self-doubt I keep telling myself that I am only 26 and still have YEARS to “figure it all out”.

    I’m so excited to read your book!

    • admin

      Thanks Tawni! You’re awesome and it sounds like you’re on your way to an exciting exploration.

      But don’t go look for the book quite yet because it’s not yet released. :) It comes out March 2013. Please subscribe to All Groan Up so I can make sure to send you updates: http://feeds.feedburner.com/allgroanup/LfIO

  • http://Website Irina

    I just graduated from college with a degree I will probably never use, no job, nursing school apps pending and $31,000 in debt. Feeling lost and terrified is my new daily routine. I needed a post like this to remind me there is still an entire 15th floor to be explored.

    • admin

      Well said Irina. Keep exploring. Once you get passed the dark and dingy, the view is worth it

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  • http://Website Bethany

    I’m turning 25 this year and it seems like all of my friends my age are either married, thinking about getting married, or still partying like college freshmen. I’m at this weird middle ground where I don’t want to party until 4 am OR get married. Both options sound rather awful.

    Also, my political/religious views are SO different than anyone else that I know in my age bracket (and my family for that matter) that I feel like a freak-and am reconsidering almost everything I thought I believed.

    I’m currently a registered nurse working full time for a non-profit that I grew up volunteering for. You’d think I have “the life”…and don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for my job and the ability to work/use my degree, but something inside wants to be different-move away-explore the world-stop being so predictable & responsible…

    This article (and the 21 secrets for your 20’s) sounds exactly like what I’m experiencing. THANK YOU for posting this-I may have just found my new favorite website. I can’t wait to read your book next year!

    • admin

      Bethany, thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts.

      “I’m at this weird middle ground”. Well said. I know so many can relate

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  • http://tiffanyreriksen.wordpress.com Tiffany

    My quarter-life crisis ended up in a session of re-evaluation of my life- (http://tiffanyreriksen.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/25/)

    Deciding I would suffocate if I didn’t leave the country, I texted my best friend and told her we were going to Ireland. We left two weeks later.

    It was simultaniously the most irresponsible and best decision I could have made. I wouldn’t trade getting out and exploring my “15th floor” for anything.

    Luckily, I handled 26 with a whole lot more grace…
    http://tiffanyreriksen.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/cheers/

    Thanks for this post- loved it. Reaffimes so many things for me.

  • Hana K

    I had my “crisis” when I decided to quit grad school after completing university in 3 yrs. It was such a long academic road for me, although I was good at studying and good at getting A’s, it was always one after the next of advanced classes in elem middle high school and then getting a degree for the most stable career with great pay.

    Once I didn’t have school I had so much time to do whatever I wanted and it was weird at first but so freeing. I started exploring the 15th floor as you say and found much more happiness and depth to my faith, hobbies and relationships and just finding myself. It was the best experience that has shaped my parenting values and my own life values. There is so much more than just a single path from school to job in life! I’m grateful I found that out earlier than later.

    • admin

      “There is so much more than just a single path from school to job in life!”

      Well said Hana! Love it

  • http://Website Elizabeth

    I just came across this site which was referred. Its amazing how everything is broken down for confidence and reassurance! I am 26 years old and will be 27 next month! For the past 3 years, I have been feeling completely lost and worried about where I’m going! I am a Wife and Mother to 2 young children. This, I feel, consstitutes as major accomplishments in my life. However, I need to know that life in general is not over for me. Where am I going? What am I for? What am I supposed to do? When and how?…etc. I am SO relived that there are many others my age that are going through this and that it has a name! So, thanks for posting!

    • admin

      Elizabeth, thank you for this amazing comment. Sounds like you’re asking the right questions. And you’re right that you are definitely not alone in this journey. Thousands are traveling right next to you.

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  • http://Website Ryan

    I am currently experiencing this quarter-life crisis you speak of at age 25. I started taking a anti-anxiety pill, seeing a therapist for the first time, living at moms, and have a college degree. I agree that in the end result it should be beneficial but living it I cannot say I enjoy it. Any recommendations to make it a more pleasurable experience?

  • http://Website Jannie

    I am happy that I stumbled upon this site. I first heard of the term “quarter life crisis” from John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” (which I then found it funny that you mentioned J. Mayer in your 25 signs for quarter life crisis post). It’s so easy to feel so alone because, as you’ve said, it is dark and it’s scary. But I can honestly say that friends of mine have also been feeling the exact same thing if one asks them. And I always do. I always ask and I always pry because talking calms the nerves that have been going haywire for me the past years. Anyway, that was a tangent to my real intention- wanted to say thank you. Putting this out there makes it sound not-so-scary. And even though I’m terrified, I’m still excited at the same time. I’m also a natural-born helper. I love helping people, and the wisdom I can grasp from you and this site may also help me provide comfort to those who are as lost as I am. And lastly, I’ve never heard of the proverbial “15th floor” either. But putting a name to this dark and shadowy place where one can easily get lost in puts me at ease. At least I can somewhat say that I know where I am. So there. Thank you.

    • admin

      Jannie – You’re awesome. Thank you for these kind words and thoughts. You’re spot on when you saying so many people are experiencing the same questions and fears. We’ve just become so good at hiding that fact behind Facebook Updates. Pumped All Groan Up can help shed some light to a conversation mainly going on in the dark and dusty corners.

  • http://herquarterlifecrisis.com Bree

    Great read as I have recently launched my own blog at herquarterlifecrisis.com
    Good to hear Im not the only one trying to get it right in life.

  • http://Website Sam

    How funny that I stumbled across this today. I’m definitely going through this right now. I got married at 20, will be 26 soon and now have a 2 1/2 yr old daughter. My career is not what I want to do, my husband is great, but I feel like I’m missing out on something. I’m having a hard time putting my feelings into words right now. I feel like I’m stuck at an impasse and either way I go, someone’s going to get hurt and be frustrated, including myself. But it’s good to know that other people are in similar situations. Im going to do my best to maybe make some changes during this quarter life crisis. Thanks for you me post. :-)

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  • http://Website Cathy

    My father once told me “The light at the end of the tunnel is not a gorilla with a baseball bat.” I immediately thought of this upon reading your article.

    We are programmed, conditioned, and expected to live life climbing. I was “successful” on the surface: coveted job, scholarship covered school, and fancy title to boot. Yet, I was absolutely miserable. It took several family members at a wedding to convince me that stopping to explore the 15th floor would be a risk worth taking. Currently, I’m opening up doors and exploring hobbies that I never thought of before. Is it easy? No. After 1.5 months of job searching, I’m still fishing but know that being “lost with confidence” is much better than being stagnant with angst.

    Thanks to Facebook, I’d say it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you’re NOT doing or feeling. No one wants to admit they are struggling with some of the very same issues. Your messages on this site are inspirational flickers of light on the 15th floor and I honestly thank you for that.

    To everyone else on the 15th floor…continue dreaming, stay busy, and keep knocking on doors.

    • admin

      Well said Cathy!

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  • http://Website Rachael

    I asked a 40-something if it is possible to have the quarter life crisis before 25.

    I was met with an astounding YES.

    Life was so linear in college, and even before that…and before that…and before that. It’s linear backwards and forwards!

    When I got into my entry level job just before college graduation, as soon as I got to the last step down the stage stairs, I tripped. Luckily, nobody noticed, but that’s all I’ve been doing is falling all over the place like a clueless holiday shopper at Walmart.

    Friends have disappeared into wedding land then baby land while I’m sitting here panicking. I didn’t even know what to do at a green light today and I’ve been driving since sixteen. That’s how lost I feel right now in the big bad “seriously we mean it now” world.

    First world problems, no? Hahaha!

  • http://Website Rasheeda

    I’m so happy I stumbled upon this! I’ll be 23 next year and I’m in chiropractic school. I did three years of undergrad and doing duel enrollment on my doctorate now. The problem is, I rushed undergrad to get to professional school and now I regret it. I was told to slow down in life but I thought I just wanted to be a doctor by 25. Now I have so much regret and all I want to do is study abroad in Barcelona and emerge myself in the culture to become bilingual. I’ve found that this is my passion but my parents are angry and my parents have always been proud of me. I’m so scared to drop out and follow my dreams of learning spanish because well, staying in chiro school is safe. But I’m absolutely miserable. I cry quite a bit and feel so alone. I’m afraid of failure, the unknown, but also the even bigger regret I’ll have if I don’t take the risk and follow my dreams. I feel as though I have no idea who I am or even where to start to find out. Up until now, I had my life all figured out in a time line and I’ve recently realized that life however isn’t so black and white but many shades of gra and gray is very foreign to me.

    • admin

      Well said Rasheeda and I know many of us can relate.

      I say go for it. The pain of “what if” is much stronger than the pain of failure going for your dream. You’ll fail some on the path to being a chiropractor and you’ll fail some on the path to your dream, so might as well fail towards what you know in your heart you should do.

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