In the grand scheme of things, 29 isn’t so old… is it? There was a time when I felt I had the world in my hand, ready to face any challenge thrown at me and climb the career mountain to attain my dream job.
That was about four years ago. Now here I am—never did make it up that mountain. I’m not where I expected to be at this point in my life. None of the items on my bucket list that I was so sure would have been long ago crossed off have been accomplished. And now I’m at the quarter-life mark, feeling like I have nary an accomplishment to my name.
The years tick by with increasing speed and I sit in neutral.
Fact or Fiction?
Though it may seem that the self-loathing in which individuals nearing 30 engage is silly and self-important, in truth, this period of “woe is me and my life is a quarter of the way over” is becoming a common occurrence. The quarter-life crisis is to 20-somethings today what the midlife crisis was to men who left their wives and bought flashy sports cars a decade or two ago. The quarter-life crisis is becoming such a common occurrence, in fact, that researchers have begun exploring the causes and studying the phases of this phenomenon.
The Crisis Process
The British Psychological Society has conducted research on this topic and distilled the entire process into five phases. If you feel as if you’re slipping into the black abyss that is the quarter-life crisis, becoming familiar with these phases could assist you in seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
- Phase 1 – An individual entering the initial phase of a quarter-life crisis begins to question… everything. He doubts every choice he’s ever made with regard to education, career and relationships. He suddenly comes to feel like he’s made some serious mistakes and that now he’s trapped.
- Phase 2 – After realizing he’s trapped as a result of these perceived horrible choices, the quarter-life crisis sufferer begins to feel the uncontrollable desire to escape. He suddenly feels stifled by what his life has become and wants to hit the undo button.
- Phase 3 – In this phase, the crisis sufferer pulls the proverbial trigger, quitting the job he feels is so unfulfilling and composes a “Dear John” letter to his romantic partner.
- Phase 4 – Now free from everything that was holding him back, the quarter-life crisis sufferer suddenly feels he has nothing left in his life, as he has given everything up. In this phase, the crisis sufferer begins to rebuild, seeking a new job, starting new relationships and experiencing new things.
- Phase 5 – This concluding phase of the quarter-life crisis is the least action-packed. In this phase, the crisis sufferer simply settles into his new life, learning to live with the world he has built, committing to his new job and moving forward with his relationships.
This whole quarter-life crisis business can be quite life altering, leaving some wondering, “How can I avoid this?” In truth, you may not be able to. While some individuals find success in avoiding turning their lives upside down, others can’t, no matter how many times they attempt to go to their happy places and remind themselves that everything is okay. If you try, day after day, to tell yourself that you’re content with your life, but you can’t convince yourself of this fact, a quarter-life crisis may be inevitable for you.
But look on the bright side: quarter-life crises aren’t always bad. In fact, the same British study that yielded information about the phases of the quarter-life crisis process found that 80% of individuals in the study who went through this crisis came out the other end happier and more content with their lives.
Perhaps the quarter-life crisis is really not a crisis at all, but instead an opportunity to initiate change and take control of your life. Many people who go through such a life-altering phase use it as an opportunity to become better, more well-rounded individuals, a process which may involve seeking out a new career path, learning new skills by taking an online class or two, or even traveling the world.
So where does this leave me? Can I avoid my crisis? Do I want to? Who knows? What I do know is that I’m not alone in feeling the world is spinning around me and I’m experiencing a case of motion sickness so severe, not even the largest dose of Dramamine can settle my stomach. I guess we’ll see, as the calendar pages turn, if I end up moving through my own quarter-life crisis, or instead finding a new level of happiness with my life as it currently is.
You can follow Lindsey Harper Mac on Twitter at @Harpermac11.
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.