“I’m 29 and I Haven’t Done Anything”: How to Deal With Quarter-life Crisis

Dec 12, 2014 by

Hitting the big 3-0 can be an existential crisis like no other. This milestone brings with it a certain sense of dread and panic, making you question everything in life. Including yourself.

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Image: flickr.com/photos/flavijus

“Have I accomplished anything yet?”
“Am I stuck in this rut forever?”
“Does my success mean anything?”
“Is my life going anywhere?”

Welcome to the quarter-life crisis, a special kind of ennui afflicting 25- to 35-year olds. Regrets, anxiety, depression – these are the unknowns that rear their ugly heads during this period. According to a 2011 Gumtree poll, 86 percent of youngsters today feel that they have to succeed financially and romantically before entering their third decade of life.

Great psychoanalysts have weighed on this phenomenon for centuries. Erik Erikson suggested that this is a matter of intimacy versus isolation, while Carl Jung believed it is a period of great upheaval, in which individuals feel compelled to contribute to the greater scheme of things.

In short, these are times that suck. Here’s how you can grapple with this period of transition:

  1. Chart new territory.

If you feel like your career has stalled, and you have been miserable with work for more than a year, it’s time to bid adieu. Even if you do better at work, you will have to surmount the tide of first impressions and the reputation that has preceded you. You are better off starting from a clean slate somewhere else. You would want to be with an employer that sees you with new eyes.

  1. Don’t just bail.

Don’t just leave in a huff, though, lest you want to repeat history and its mistakes again. Test the waters first. Reflect for at least a month before making the big dive. Before dumping your boyfriend/girlfriend, for instance, see if there’s still anything salvageable in the relationship. Ditto with your job; you still have bills to pay. See if it’s just new types of tasks that have been missing from your working life. Find out if you’re just looking for a healthy work-life balance.

  1. Compare not.

If the thought of Lorde at age 17 scoring a number one song doesn’t make you wince now, it will during the quarter life crisis. One hallmark of the crisis is a tendency to stalk batchmates online to find where they are in life in relation to you. Others research the ages of celebrities when they first got their big breaks. Alas, comparisons will always be futile; someone will always be better than you even if you compare yourself to starving children in India. Putting on a front on social media will not elevate your lot either. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have anything to be proud of at this point in life. You would rather be remembered as the one who always made people feel better about themselves than a Tony-winning wunderkind renowned for stinginess.

  1. Just mope.

Sometimes you just have to let it all out. Empty the tissue boxes. Throw rocks over the cliff (don’t jump). Just mope. You can do it without tippling or getting high, by the way. Keeping it all in would only lead to serious mental health issues. It is of the essence to go through the motions of self-introspection before moving forward. If you find the blues hang longer than comfortable, however, turn to a professional shrink.

  1. Keep trying.

So, let’s say you jumped the gun and decided to quit your job/dump your paramour. Then, all of a sudden your new job/lover tastes like ashes to you. Such feelings of indecisiveness are normal. Keep sampling; keep searching. Enjoy the journey and don’t forget the lessons it imparted to you.

  1. Dream big…

Create a dream board with of pictures signifying where you want to be and what you want to become. This board will be a daily reminder to pursue your ambitions, through the highs and lows of motivation. However, make sure to pair dreams with action. Every week, do one thing that would move you closer to your goals – be it updating your CV, joining a club to meet new people, etc. Pinterest is a very 21st century way of creating dream boards.

  1. …But create small, measurable goals.

While it is imperative to always dream big, steer your future in the right direction by making baby steps. Jot down a list of goals and then plan a timeframe for when you want to achieve them (travel to Paris by age 33, make a hundred thousand bucks next year, etc.) For each goal, create achievable objectives (save up a thousand each month for Paris ticket, scrimp on eating out, etc.) Above all, be kind to yourself. Should you fall short, just make up for it next time.

  1. Don’t feel pressured to ‘be a woman.’

Quarter life crises can be especially cruel to women. Many feel compelled to get hitched to the next available man, for fear of ending up a childless spinster. If you can relate to this, keep in mind that desperation to find a husband leads you to lower your standards when dating. You could risk overlooking the negative traits of who you think is The One.

  1. Learn new skills and take up new interests.

You’ve heard about the child prodigies. How about those people who only became the master of their field at a later age? To feel better about yourself at present, learn a new skill. Now is as good a time as any to learn a language too. Mix up your hobbies. Life should not bore you to death. Excite yourself.

  1. Money is not the be-all and end-all.

Many people consider themselves in a quarter life crisis because of an unhealthy cash flow. Others are in a crisis for the exact opposite: They make too much money. Success is truly relative, and for some it’s perfectly acceptable to leave six-figure jobs in exchange for something truly enlivening.

  1. Wait it out.

A quarter-life crisis is not forever. It will cease as surely as the sun rises in the east. According to researchers at the University of Greenwich and Birkbeck College, there are four phases in the crisis. It starts with the “illusory sense of being trapped,” whether it’s a job and/or relationship. In the second phase, you’re undergoing “emotional upheavals,” which will turn out to be a catalyst for change: You sense something more on the horizon. Phase three is when you finally jump headlong into the unknown.

Phase four is game over of the crisis. You have successfully extricated yourself from obsolescent commitments. All in all, the crisis can last months, but waiting for the end will be all worth it. You will feel happier than ever—at least until your midlife crisis.

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