During a visit to my hometown Perth, I was excited to catch up with friends who I had not seen since our graduation ceremony. Not so ironically; over a smashed avo brunch, we shared laughs and tears about life post the mortarboard. But I was surprised to hear that my group of intelligent and high-achieving friends were all able to relate to each other’s inability to find work in the once buzzing capital city and were now settling for the not-so-perfect job or remaining in their customer service role with fear of being rejected again. Others were questioning whether they were satisfied with the career path they had chosen 5 years ago and one even declared she had chosen to pursue her master’s degree, purely to pass the time until she was convinced this was the field she wanted to work in for the rest of her life. I joked that they sounded like they were experiencing their mid-life crisis, but that’s actually when we started talking about the very real and relatable; quarter life crisis. Never heard of this strange concept? Thinking it is just another “millennial cry for attention”? Well the research is in, and the truth it out – this is just as real as the mid-life crisis.
What is a quarter life crisis?
For a better understanding, let’s compare the two types of crisis. A mid-life crisis affects those, on average, within the age bracket of 40-50, and often takes place when one reflects on what they have not achieved in their life by this point or the feeling that they have failed to achieve their goals. It is often triggered by important life events such as health deterioration, relationship breakdowns, job loss, or simply asking themselves “is this it?”. We’ve all heard of the effects this can have on a person; my favourite being the impulsive purchase of an Italian sports car, or jet setting to a detoxifying yoga retreat in Bali.
But prior to this, you may have had or be having a quarter-life crisis. Firstly, it is not reflecting on what you haven’t achieved, but rather reflecting on the tormenting decisions of which path to take in life. During the quarter-life crisis, young adults between 20-30, often have the horrifying realisation that they lack goals, or that their goals are highly unrealistic. More commonly, the quarter-life crisis is a feeling that you are not in a place in life that you thought you should be at this time, so you start to question your decisions and stress about how this is going to impact your future self.
It has been said that the quarter-life crisis affects around 86% of millennial’s and based on what I can see, this crisis hits the hardest during the transition from university to (the perfect) career. Research shows that a large contributor to the quarter life crisis is the culture shock that graduates experience after they leave university. After years of learning how to succeed in their education, university graduates are being thrown, blindfolded, into the overwhelming world of work, with no real knowledge of how to succeed in it. I’m hearing common conversations like “I was an honours student at university… Why do my colleagues treat me like I’m at the bottom of the food chain?” As my father taught me early, “you may be intelligent, but you are not yet wise”, and it seems my peers fail to see the difference in the workforce. I think academic institutions are failing to best prepare their graduates of the issues they will face such as; the difficulties in finding work immediately after graduation, or rectifying the misconception of what individuals expect life will be like after they finish their studies compared to what it is really like, as well as how to tackle the sudden feeling that graduates must immediately have their life all figured out after their studies.
The four stages of a quarter life crisis
Given statistics show such a high percentage of millennial’s are having a quarter-life crisis, it has become less of a “will I?” and more of a “when will I?” experience this. Knowing the stages of the crisis will assist you to manage it in future or better prepare someone you know who is struggling.
- Phase one starts when a person begins feeling unhappy or trapped in their career. People often describe it as a claustrophobic sensation, where you feel stuck and start questioning whether you are doing what you are meant to with your life.
- Phase two is when there is a realisation that your life can change, so you experience a mental or physical dissociation with your current life.
- Phase three is about change. You begin to experiment with new possibilities and find a new path in life.
- Phase four is when you emerge from the quarter-life crisis with a new passion for life and reconstruct your routines to suit a new interest.
How to handle a quarter life crisis
The conversation at my brunch had become deep and sombre while my friends reflected on their crisis, but the incredible thing was, everyone felt more inspired and driven after talking about their fears and confusions with each other. So my first point of advice to those who feel swamped in their quarter-life crisis is to find people who are going through or have gone through this as well because you will be pleasantly surprised that you are not alone, and talking about it in a safe and open environment is extremely therapeutic.
My second point of advice is to not be afraid of changing your environment. This could mean a physical move to a new city or changing the group of people you socialise with. I personally made the move from Perth to Brisbane with the aim to get a head start on my career, and experience change and independence. I have found the distance from my regular environment has allowed for important reflections on what I want to achieve long-term, without the noise of my normal life. I am not advising a permanent change in all cases – it could be as simple as taking a holiday or volunteering, which also gives you the opportunity to try a new life before making any dramatic changes you can’t reverse!
Thirdly; set realistic goals. Life is what you make it! I would advise getting to know your passions and dislikes as soon as possible because this will help you pursue a path that interests you. Once you know what you like, think about where you see yourself in 5 years and what kind of life you hope to achieve. When you know the answer to these questions, work on developing a plan of attack to reach them. This will motivate your attitudes and behaviours in all that you do. The truth is, we need to stop comparing ourselves to other people’s standards and goals and develop our own! So often we are directed by our parents or the media and trust in their guidance, so not surprisingly, many people are looking at their chosen careers with confusion later.
Finally, I would advise you to get on top of your finances, starting now! This is a note to self because I am definitely guilty of a regular shopping spree. But the truth is, feeling financially stuck strongly contributes to the quarter-life crisis anxiety. Simply setting up a financial plan will ease the transition out of the crisis and into “adulthood”, and you’ll definitely feel more in control wherever you chose to take yourself.
Why the quarter life crisis is actually good for you
While the quarter-life crisis may seem awful at the time, research has shown that most people actually come out the other end more positive, and are genuinely thankful for the experience. In fact, it has been shown that having a crisis early actually reduces the chance of having another in your mid-life! Just think of it as a 2 year period that forces you to re-evaluate your decisions. The quarter-life crisis also opens you up to new and exciting possibilities that you might never have thought was possible. This could be your opportunity to be your best self, so don’t ignore the itches! At the end of the day, a quarter-life crisis is just you growing into your fullest capacity.
Ashleigh Jones – Consultant