You’ve finally graduated and you have landed a good job. In your roaring 20’s and 30’s, you expect that your career should be going places. You want to look forward to more exciting things on the way. But why do you feel a little lost and dare we say it… even disillusioned and trapped? If you suspect that you may be struck by quarter-life crisis, read on for tips on how to make a paradigm shift and get out of that funk.
*All names have been changed.
Describing himself as a “go-getter and high achiever”, *Kenny has had a relatively smooth path in his academic journey. He’d always done pretty well in school and made it into his dream course in the Business school of a local university.
When he graduated in 2019, Kenny felt lucky that he landed a job as a financial consultant in a bank right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. “I was enjoying financial security, in the industry I’d been psyched to join for years. I was ready to work hard and make big bucks. I even set myself the goal to buy myself my own private property before I turned 30.”
At first, Kenny, who considers himself a people person, enjoyed his work. Friendly and outgoing, he had no problem building up rapport with his customers and was doing decently well. He faced stress meeting his sales targets at times, of course, but he was generally on track. But three years into his job, at the age of 28, he started feeling down.
“Some days, I felt as if I was wasting my life away. Even fun activities like hanging out with my friends felt meaningless and a chore. I felt like my original goals were not worth chasing after anymore, yet I didn’t know what else I should do. I wasn’t suffering from depression but I definitely felt lost and purpose-less. I felt like I was just going through the motion day after day but there was no bigger plan to work towards,” recalls Kenny.
He felt embarrassed and isolated, as if he was a loser for not having the same drive he used to have. When he finally confided in his friends, he was surprised to learn about peers who felt the same way. For some, it was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Watching loved ones or even themselves fall sick, especially in the early stages of the pandemic when there was still a lot of confusion and fear, made some of Kenny’s friends feel that racing up the career ladder felt even more meaningless. “That was when I realised that quarter-life crisis is very real,” says Kenny.
What is quarter-life crisis?
Quarter-life crisis, according to Collins dictionary, is defined as “a crisis that may be experienced in one’s twenties, involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one's life.” In an article she wrote for Forbes.com, psychotherapist Tess Brigham elaborates that it is “when you’re faced with the reality that your life is not what you thought it was going to be. It’s an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence. You’re faced with the feeling that maybe you’re not being true to who you are, but you’re not quite sure who you’re supposed to be, either.”
To make matters worse, some cynical older people may think, “Pfft! Strawberry generation!” and dismiss your struggles. However, this sense of uncertainty and even anxiety can be a very real issue for many young people. If you find yourself stuck in this rut, here are 5 ways you can help yourself manage a quarter-life crisis.
1. Seek support
By this, we don’t mean binge-complaining with your friends who all feel the same way. Misery loves company but do surround yourself with wise company that can help lift you up. This can be a mentor at work, trusted family or friend whom you can speak honestly with. If they have gone through the same, they could give you valuable advice about how they overcame it.
However, if you fear that you would be judged, consider taking to an unbiased life coach or a mental health professional, especially if you feel your mood is sinking fast. There is no shame in seeking help and the sooner you get support, the better.
2. Start with a paradigm shift
“If you’re going through a quarter-life crisis, don’t panic,” wrote Tess Brigham in an article for Forbes.com. In fact, she sees a silver lining: “While it may feel stressful and overwhelming in the moment, a crisis is the perfect time to re-evaluate your life and start making better choices.”
That paradigm shift – using your crisis to change your life – may not show you immediate results but by taking that first step, you are mentally setting yourself on a new, positive course. Tell yourself firmly that you may not be there yet, but you will be in a better place soon.
3. Don’t get sucked into pointless comparison with others
Yes, it is tempting to compare yourself with your peers. It is especially rough when you see them doing better than you financially, flaunting their fancy labels or new wheels on social media.
Adam Smiley Poswolsky, who authored the Amazon bestseller ‘The Quarter-Life Breakthrough”, shared in a TEDx talk about his personal, and others’ experience fighting their battles. “Instead of comparing yourself to everyone on Facebook, start figuring out what it is that you want,” he advises. “Don’t climb the career ladder to nowhere; build a career that matters to you.” He suggests “aligning your unique gifts with the impact you want to have on the world, in a way that supports your desired quality of life”. He also reminds us that nobody has it all figured out, so don’t put undue stress on yourself by trying to keep up with the Joneses. At the end of the day, remember this: you are on your own journey.
4. Be patient and kind to yourself
It can feel overwhelming and very disheartening to find yourself feeling burned out and lost. Along with the loss in self-esteem, some even feel a sense of guilt. *Penelope, a teacher in her late 20s, says, “I’ve only been working for five years. When I compare myself to my parents, who worked hard all their lives to provide for the family, I feel guilty and keep pushing myself to feel better quickly.”
Being hard on yourself will only worsen your mental health. Be kind and patient with yourself. While you don’t want to wallow in self-pity, recognise and acknowledge that you are facing challenges at the moment; it’s not forever. All you need is to take that first step. Which brings us to our final point…
5. Create a plan, no matter how simple
A big part of the dreaded quarter-life crisis is feeling directionless. By writing, and committing, to a document, it helps you see clearly what you want, and how to get there. Career coach Deb Johnstone suggests that you start by identifying your Top 3 values, then create your bucket list. Choose the top item on your list that you’d like to prioritize for the next 12 months.
Then list down everything you need to make your goal happen, and identify any possible challenges and specific tasks to do, to help you succeed. Give yourself achievable tasks with a deadline to complete each item. By structuring your plan with actionable steps, this will help you to make regular progress. When you are able to hit your targets, that sense of achievement will also help you manage your quarter-life crisis more confidently!