If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you or someone you know are in your mid-twenties and are going through some things.
Maybe you’re feeling some crushing self-doubt, a dose of financial insecurity, a sprinkle of heartache, a smattering of feelings of isolation, and perhaps even a dash of complete mental and emotional breakdown.
You might even say you’re in a crisis, or even, since we’re talking about this, a quarter life crisis.
I get it. I’ve been there, personally, and I’ve worked with thousands of people who have been there too. So take a deep breath, settle back in your chair, and set all those stressful feelings aside, at least for the moment. You’re in the right place.
In this guide, I’m going to share everything I know about quarter life crises. We’re going to talk about the definition of a quarter life crisis. We’ll diagnose whether you’re in one in the first place. And finally, I’m going to share all the tips, tricks, and methods I’ve learned from getting one masters degree, writing four books, teaching thousands of people, and experiencing just about every life train wreck possible in my twenties.
One thing I should mention before we begin: This is a good guide. Maybe even a great guide. I’m really proud of it, to be honest.
But there’s only so much we can cover in 2,500 words on a website. So if you need more help, you should get my book, 101 Secrets for Your Twenties. Or my other book, 101 Questions You Need to Ask In Your Twenties. And while you’re there, you could also grab my book 25 Lies Twentysomethings Need to Stop Believing. (Listen, I’ve written a lot of books involving numbers and twenty-somethings in crisis. They’re all great though. I promise. You should get them. Read them. Put them under your pillow and let their happy words sing you to sleep at night. You’ll be happy you did.)
Alright, enough of that. Let’s get started, shall we?
Quarter Life Crisis Definition
First, what is a quarter life crisis, anyway. Here’s my definition:
Quarter Life Crisis definition:A period of uncertainty experienced in your 20s and 30s as you’re crippled with anxiety, fear, and an identity crisis over the direction and quality of your life.
Yes, this quarter-life crisis definition sounds pretty daunting.
But I’d argue that a quarter life crisis is not only common and experienced by millions of people, it could also be the best thing to happen to you.
Heck, in my own life, a quarter-life crisis is solely responsible for me becoming an author and using my writing and speaking to help thousands of people.
Countless people are facing the same lost feeling you may be facing today.
So hang in there. You’re going to survive this and come out stronger. That’s not just an overused cliche. It’s the darn truth, okay?
But first, are you really going through a quarter life crisis? Let’s take a look at the checklist below and see if this describes your experience.
The Quarter Life Crisis Checklist: 25 Signs You’re Going Through a Quarter Life Crisis
If you’re wondering if you’re really in a quarter life crisis, here are a few things that might be true for you. Count how many describe your situation and keep track of your score for the end.
1. You glare at your cat in the morning as you get ready for work and say, “Gosh, I wish I had your life.”
2. “Am I ever going to feel like myself again?” Is something you ask. Every day.
3. A Harry Styles or Matt Maeson song comes on and you start crying. By yourself, or around friends. Or in the middle of a coffeeshop as strangers slowly usher their children away.
4. You don’t think life feels like it’s “supposed to.” At one point, you thought you’d have your life pretty much figured out by your early twenties, or at the latest, by your late twenties.
Now you’re scrolling through Instagram wondering why all your friends are experiencing the success you were supposed to.
Quick bonus secret here from my best-selling book 101 Secrets For Your Twenties: “Life will never feel like it’s supposed to.”
Because what the heck is “supposed to”? Who holds the blueprint for my life—down to the number of kids, salary, and size of my house? Who decides what “supposed to” means?
“Supposed to” is a lie. A fairy tale. It is the stealer of peace and productivity. It is the leading cause of Obsessive Comparison Disorder with everyone who “has it better.”
No one has it all figured out. No one holds their first child with all the answers. Not many walk right into their passion from the graduation stage. Not everyone gets married like they’re “supposed to” or climbs the corporate ladder full of broken rungs.
If we keep trying to live other people’s lives, who is going to live ours?
5. You’re reading this article right now because you Googled: “Quarter Life Crisis?”
6. Visualizing yourself 15 years from now doing your boss’s job makes you throw up a little in your mouth.
8. Your monthly routine of expenses being greater than your income is dawning on you as a serious problem.
9. The feeling, “There’s got be more to life than this,” occurs to you several times per week at least.
10. One or more of the following describes your life:
A. You’ve moved six times in the last four years.
B. You’ve had six jobs in the last four years.
C. You’ve had six boyfriends in the last four years.
D. You’ve had six girlfriends in the last four years.
E. You’ve had no boyfriends/girlfriends in the last six years and you’re scared your boyfriending or girlfriending is broken.
11. You’d pay top dollar for a moment of clarity where you would know exactly what to do in your situation.
12. You feel like you’re being crushed by either anxiety, unemployment, or just crippling student loan debt — you know, like most Millennials these days.
13. Your part-time, temporary job at Starbucks has lasted
six months two and ½ years.
14. You binge on buying brand names to try and cover up your current situation that you’re broke.
15. You find yourself repelled and compelled by church at the same time. You ask God for help one day and then you’re yelling at him the next. Your faith is a roller coaster and you’re pretty sure your seat belt is about to come undone.
16. You see so clearly the two roads in front of you. A life of comfort and a life of risk. And you’re not sure you have the right car or directions to go down either one.
17. You surf the internet so much at work every day that you literally hit a point where you don’t know what else to search for.
18. You laughed and cried when you first read 21 Secrets for your 20s.
19. Everyday life feels debilitating. Making a budget is completely debilitating.
Even thinking about doing your taxes. Debilitating. Buying groceries. Debilitating.
Doing dishes. Cooking dinner. Looking for job opportunities. Calling your mom back. Calling your best friend back. Picking up the phone at all. DEBILI-FRICKING-TATING.
So you watch four seasons in a row of _________, while Instagram stalking exes and enemies.
20. The phrase you dread hearing the most at work is, “Congratulations, you’re getting a promotion” because you’re getting pushed deeper down a career path you despise.
21. You dream about going back and punching your Smug-College-Self who was so sure had all the answers.
22. You feel like every time you’re a bridesmaid or groomsman, an angel loses its wings.
23. You seek out a mentor for answers one week and you avoid them like the 8th grader with bad BO, the next.
24. You have no idea where to go for answers. Or even, how to find the right questions.
25. You’re 99.7% sure a road trip would fix everything.
Well? How did you do? If you identified with more than five of these signs, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably in a quarter life crisis.
But don’t worry! All is not lost. You’re going to get through this, and I’m going to help.
In the next section, let’s talk about a few things to keep in mind to survive and then thrive when your mid-twenties do their best to destroy your sanity and sense of well-being.
7 Steps to Survive a Quarter Life Crisis
Now that we’ve gone through some of the signs you’re experiencing a Quarter Life Crisis, how do we find help to get through the crisis?
How do we journey through a quarter life crisis and come out the other side alive, kickin’, and ready to thrive?
(By the way, if you prefer listening to reading, check out my the episode of my podcast All Groan Up titled “Are You Going Through a Quarter Life Crisis?” You can find it here or listen below. Don’t forget to subscribe!)
Now, here’s some hope and encouragement if you’re ready to turn your crisis into a Quarter-Life Breakthrough.
1. Crisis is Normal
First, it’s important to know that this is a common experience. I’d go so far to say that experiencing crisis in your twenties is like having gas after eating a steak and cheese burrito.
Just because you don’t want to admit you’re not feeling your best, doesn’t mean we don’t all go through some tough times. (Sometimes caused by our own choices.)
By the way, it’s almost a certainty that your own parents went through a season of intense questioning and difficulty in their twenties, too. They didn’t just teleport to success and stability. If you ask them what their twenties were like you might find out that as your parents got their lives together, they went through their own stuff that sounds a lot like yours.
I love what author and teacher Parker Palmer wrote, while in his 60’s, about his own existential crisis and long season of turmoil that started in his twenties:
“When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about their darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known…I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race.” – Parker Palmer
2. Embrace the Life Transition
All transitions start with an ending. For better or worse, you don’t just teleport from broke twenty-something to successful and happy middle-aged person.
Just like a break up with someone you hoped was “The One”, when you’re in major life transitions you’re breaking up with an important season of your life. You’re cutting the anchor that held you in that port, and as it splashes in the water it’s bound to produce some waves.
When you graduate from college, move across the country, leave friends or family – you’re not only leaving that place, familiarities, routines, and memories, but you’re also leaving who you were in that place.
You’re saying goodbye to one season and even more dramatically, waving goodbye to who you used to be.
As you journey through this crisis, you’re going to lose some parts of yourself and your identity that once seemed really important to you. Sure you’ll take bits and pieces with you, but just like that huge, comfortable couch in a bachelor pad, some big things will get left behind as you make different life choices.
Here’s the thing, though. It is smack dab in this void of “what now?” where you’re going to make the most progress in your life.
Maybe a quarter life crisis is not just a stage to pass over, it’s a transition process to marinate in.
As I write in 101 Questions You Need to Ask in Your Twenties:
Transitions are not simply a bridge to the next important season of your life. Transitions are the most important seasons of your life.
Let the overwhelming feeling of “I have no idea where I’m going” guide you to where you want to be.
(Want to hear more about thriving through transition and change? check out my podcast episode “How to Make Change and Transition the Most Important Seasons of Your Life.” You can find it here or listen below. Have you subscribed yet?)
3. Limit Obsessive Comparison Disorder
Until you cure your obsessive comparison disorder you will continue to light your internal crisis on fire and then feel the burn.
Obsessively comparing yourself to others, becoming more and more frustrated that your _____ doesn’t look like theirs, is the absolute most effective way to take your crisis to eating-raw-cookie-dough-with-a-serving-spoon levels of unhealthy.
So stop it.
You’re your own person. You’ve got your own life and your own journey.
Just because Susie has a better job and a better Instagram feed and better… okay maybe this isn’t helping.
You get what I’m saying though. The best thing you can do in the midst of a quarter life crisis is focus on you. As they say in Al Anon, start by “keeping your side of the street clean.”
4. Kill Unmet Expectations
Maybe it’s time to put to death the unrealistic ideas of how instantly amazing your adult life should have been before these unmet expectations kill you over and over again.
Success doesn’t happen in a day, it happens in decades.
You are in the exact spot you’re supposed to be. It just looks nothing like the picture on the front of the brochure.
All the time, effort, struggle, and strain that you’re experiencing is not a roadblock to your success. It’s a stairwell that can take you to the view you were praying for all along.
(You still have to do the climbing, though.)
5. Engage with a Crisis Community
We need to get better at talking through the struggle.
As I write in my new book 101 Questions You Need to Ask in Your Twenties:
Let’s stop putting on the My Life is Amazing” Magic Show when no one’s in the audience to even watch. “
So many twenty-somethings are struggling, we’ve just become proficient at living by the deadly condition of MCDS —My Crap Doesn’t Stink — even when it’s smelling up our entire living room.
6. Don’t Sit and Stew and Simmer
Open up the windows. Let in some fresh air. Go for a run. Heck, maybe sign up for a marathon. Start yoga. Go to a church service. Read some books. Watch a movie every twentysomething should watch. Volunteer at a retirement home.
If you have no idea what you’re doing in your life, just pick something that you know can’t be bad and just run with it. Beginning a healthy habit—even one—is a great first step to finding a new life path.
Sometimes the best answers come when we stop sitting around obsessing over finding them.
7. Ask Yourself Good Questions
There’s nothing more important to getting through a quarter life crisis than the questions we are asking.
Most people let life just happen to them.
They never ask what they really want and how they’re going to get there. So they take that promotion for a job they never wanted in the first place—guaranteeing further misery in their professional life.
They marry the wrong person because they weren’t asking the right questions about their romantic relationship.
They become a one-hit wonder in front of a crowd one day, then the next, the bottom of the stage falls out and they go into hiding, cycling in and out of periods of isolation.
“If you don’t start with good questions,” I write in 101 Questions You Need to Ask in Your Twenties, “and keep asking yourself these questions as you are called to adapt and change, how can you formulate any worthwhile answers?”
Don’t get me wrong, this process isn’t always easy. It takes grit, honesty, and courage.
But if you’re not asking any strategic questions about what your quarter life crisis is telling you, then how are you going to find any worthwhile answers?
Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
- Am I struggling to make it appear like I’m not struggling?
- Am I seeing the other side of people’s Instagram photos (you know, the side they’re not exactly posting pictures of)?
- If I’m not going to pursue a big dream, am I willing to drive a 1993 Honda Civic with no power steering, no air conditioning, and no right mirror for 15 years?
- What kind of friendships do I have—Jetpack Friends helping me fly or Anvil Friends repeatedly pulling me down into some dark basement?
- Do I love from my insecurities or from my strengths?
Get a lot more questions (and one or two answers) in my book 101 Questions You Need to Ask In Your Twenties.
You Can Thrive Through Your Quarter Life Crisis
Being in your mid-twenties can feel like a pug trying to climb a mountain. It’s slow, noisy, and un-pretty, but one tiny step after another and you somehow make it to the top.
Invite others with you on this journey. Ask good questions. And keep warring for hope. Before you know it, your quarter life crisis will be a thing of the past.
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.
My quarter life crisis what forced me to explore and figure out what path I really wanted to go down in life. It encouraged me to think and be intentional. It prodded me to write my thoughts down and devote my life helping others going through crisis with all the books I’ve written. This juncture in life can open career opportunities, evaluate relationships, address your financial situation, and more. Don’t spend decades of life wondering what could have been.
A quarter life crisis is simply an invitation to ask “what and why?”
Sometimes life will dismantle you so that you can be rebuilt stronger.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below on what ideas you have for making it through a quarter life crisis. What major life milestones are you facing? wWhich of the above tips could you take action on today to start moving forward with a new direction in life?
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