Conquering the quarter-life crisis

By Jenny Ford

The real world comes at you like a punch in the face, sometimes. You’ve just graduated, landed your first job, or find yourself in the same long-standing relationship. Suddenly, it hits you: “What the heck am I doing with my life? Where on earth do I go from here?” It becomes blindingly clear that your career or relationship isn’t where you want it to be.
Here comes the quarter-life crisis! Believe it or not, quarter-life crises – QLC, for short – are all too common. Some researchers say they’re a natural part of getting older. A QLC typically takes place during your late teens to early thirties. It’s a time where you feel doubtful about your life, which is often brought on by stress from becoming an adult. Some of the symptoms include feeling lost, scared, lonely and confused.
In fact, the quarter-life crisis was identified as one of eight crises everyone goes through in life, according to psychologist Erik Erickson. (Don’t worry; it’s crisis number six, so you only have two more to go!) The struggle comes from trying to form meaningful relationships through friends, family, dating or marriage. If we don’t form these relationships, we feel isolated and alone, Erickson stated.
It’s a matter of working through the QLC and finding new direction – this could take months or years, but that’s not unusual. Eighty per cent of people who’ve gone through a QLC say they feel happier with their life post-crisis, according to interviews conducted by Oliver Robinson, a U.K. psychologist and researcher who studies the phenomenon.
Robinson has also identified four phases people typically go through when experiencing a quarter-life crisis. If you can figure out how to confront each phase, you’re well on your way to conquering the QLC and leading a happier and more fulfilling life.
Feeling trapped
The first phase is a moment of realization – you hate the career path you’ve chosen, your relationship is going nowhere, or you feel you’ve accomplished nothing in your life so far. There seems to be no way out!
We all go through bouts of uncertainty and have bad days where we hate our job, our school or our significant other. Reflect to see if one of these is indeed the problem. Are they temporary issues, or has your stagnant relationship been dragging on for a year? Is there no room for growth in your job? Finding the problem and the correct solution may take some time, but don’t be afraid to make that leap into a new chapter.
Missing the old life
You’ve quit your job, ditched your boyfriend or girlfriend, and suddenly you feel paralyzed. What have I done?! You start missing your old life when things were simpler and more steady-as-she-goes. Anxiety and depression start to set in.
About 15 per cent of people going through a QLC develop a mental illness due to this anxiety. If depression becomes life-crippling, it’s time to seek help from a specialist.
The key is to continue moving forward. Try not to concentrate on the present but the future. To work through this point, be involved and get out of the house. Find hobbies that take you to different social circles and get you thinking about a new life. This is a chance to explore your options.
Second-guessing yourself
You’ve started to move forward now; you’re exploring new relationship options or searching for new career opportunities. Perhaps your search for a new career path isn’t going as well as you hoped, or the dating scene is looking bleak. Suddenly, the straight path you envisioned is looking a little twisted. You start second-guessing the new road.
Don’t worry if it takes time to find a career you really love. Pinpointing a new direction takes a lot of self-reflection, research and time. The answer won’t be obvious, but that doesn’t mean you’ve made a bad decision.
Again, keep moving toward your goals. Set your mind on one doable action you can accomplish each week. Sign up to volunteer somewhere, join an online dating site, or research one new career option.
Become comfortable with yourself first. Explore who you are and the rest will follow. Going through a QLC is about finding what you don’t like, too. Try everything and assess if it’s the right fit. If not, that’s alright. You’re moving closer to finding what you love.
Getting back to normal
You’re finally out of the woods. You start to feel like yourself again. You begin to feel happier, confident and fulfilled. Congratulations! You’ve survived the QLC. How long it takes to get to this point depends. It could take a few months; it could take a few years. We all deal with change differently. Discovering the right career or relationship direction takes time and reflection, too.
Now that you’ve succeeded in conquering the QLC, make sure to keep your happiness in check from here on. Taking time to make sure you’re happy is time well spent.

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