What is a Quarter-Life Crisis and Why You Need One

Quarter-life crisis can feel like drowning

A Quarter-Life Crisis isn’t something to be feared or shameful of. It’s actually something to be embraced. And if used right, it may turn out to be the best thing to ever happen to you. It was for me and the millions of other young adults who’ve been through one. Here’s why.

When I think back to my early and mid twenties a flood of relief rushes over my body.

“I’m so glad that’s over!”

We’re all told that our twenties are going to be the best years of our lives. That this is the time to make mistakes, discover who you are, have multiple partners and just live your best life. After all, YOLO, right?

My early twenties looked NOTHING like that.

Don’t get me wrong though. I was YOLOing hard. But instead of it being this happy, fearless, care-free embracing of life, it was more like a desperate scramble to escape from the anxiety, confusion and deathly sense of feeling lost I was going through.

The rest of my efforts and energy were directed toward looking like I had this whole “life” thing sussed out. While on the inside, a storm so wild and turbulent was building it would make the hardiest big wave surfer put down their board for good.

What was I doing with my life?

“What the f*&^ am I doing with my life? And why was I put here? Am I really happy? Is this the best I can do? And what’s the point of all of this anyway?”

I was consumed by questioning my existence, my career, financial situation, relationships and overall life purpose. My whole life was laid out in front of me right up to when my financial planner reckoned I could retire. The problem was that I didn’t like what I saw.

There was no excitement, no passion and no room for really stretching myself and discovering what I was truly capable of. All it took was a quick glance ahead to see that there was no prospect of experiencing real fulfillment either. It felt like I was on a meaningless conveyer belt inching me toward the end of my life with each day that passed.

Bring on the guilt

What made matters a whole lot worse was that I didn’t feel like I had anything to be upset about. Have you ever watched one of those YouTube videos where someone thinks it’s a good idea to throw a little fuel on a fire, over-pours and finds themselves recovering from a mini explosion and looking around as if still trying to figure out what hit them? This was like the extra fuel.

I was relatively healthy, I had a degree from a highly-esteemed advertising college, I still had my parents, I had a job and was making money… I had a lot to be appreciative of so I couldn’t understand why I was experiencing this deep conflict and unhappiness. Subsequently, I became riddled with guilt and shame, which caused me to spiral out even further.

It turns out I was experiencing what Abby Wilner coined a Quarter-Life Crisis, which, according to The Guardian, affects 86% of millennials, who report being bogged down by insecurities, disappointments, loneliness, and depression. Excellent, I was bang on trend! And I would later realize that it was going to be the best thing to happen to me.

What is a Quarter-Life Crisis?

Quarter-Life Crisis is challenging

Well, it’s not so different from its older cousin, the midlife crisis, except that you’re much less likely to buy a Harley Davidson and leave your partner for someone half your age. Mainly because you couldn’t afford a Harley in your early twenties and because you’d go to jail for dating someone half your age.

The Muse defines it as a period of intense soul searching and stress that occurs in your mid twenties to early thirties. However psychologists have agreed that this can kick in from the tender age of 18 and last on average for two years.

According to Dr. Nathan Gehlert, “The typical sufferer is highly driven and smart, but struggling because they feel they’re not achieving their potential or feeling they’re falling behind.” That was the worst part, feeling like I could be doing so much more with my life but not having the courage to leave my comfort zone and discover what that was.

How do you know if you’re in the middle of a Quarter-Life Crisis or approaching one?

At Flourish & Thrive we’re all about prevention being better than cure. So in this case, if we know what signs to look for, it becomes a lot easier to prevent yourself from slipping into a several-year hole of emotional turbulence and psychological upheaval. And if we know we’re already in the midst of one, well, we don’t need to let a good crisis go to waste. We can use it to catapult ourselves toward the life we truly want to be living. We’ll discuss the benefits of a good crisis a little further on. There’s light at the end of this tunnel!

Characteristics of a Quarter-Life Crisis are:

  • Feeling “not good enough” because one can’t find a job that is at his/her academic/intellectual level
  • Frustration with relationships, the working world, and finding a suitable job or career
  • Confusion of identity
  • Insecurity regarding the near future
  • Insecurity regarding present accomplishments
  • Re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
  • Disappointment with one’s job
  • Nostalgia for university or college life
  • Tendency to hold stronger opinions
  • Boredom with social interactions
  • Financially-rooted stress
  • Loneliness
  • Desire to have children
  • A sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you

These emotions and insecurities are not uncommon at this age, nor at any adult age for that matter. However, in the context of the quarter-life crisis, they occur shortly after a young person enters the “real world”, which is a lot more competitive, tougher and less forgiving than they had imagined. And school, college or uni doesn’t prepare us for that.

Don’t Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Overcome your Quarter-Life Crisis

Fortunately the Quarter-Life Crisis doesn’t have to be something to fear. In fact, it’s the perfect catalyst for deep and meaningful change – if “used” properly. When I was in the midst of my Quarter-Life crisis, I had a choice. I could succumb deeper to the depression or leverage the pressure and conflict as a force to take my life to the next level.

Taking the second option has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made. What was once a confusing struggle of identity and purpose has now become a rich and fulfilling adventure of exploration and discovery. What I love most about it is that it’s an adventure without a destination. When we fearlessly open our hearts to life and honour our core values, life becomes more meaningful, joyful, exciting and awe-inspiring than we could ever imagine. And the further down this path we journey, it continues to get even more so.   

If you feel this call to adventure like we did or if you’re in the midst of a Quarter-Life Crisis, reach out to us. You don’t need to go at it alone. With the right guidance, tools and systems, your life can become the epic adventure it was meant to be.

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