The surprising benefits of a quarter-life crisis
A quarter-life crisis is good for you, really. Powerful words, these are. A life crisis, whether it occurs in your twenties or thirties, is a period of indecision, uncertainty and/or confusion. It may pertain to matters of the heart, identity, career, finances or even physical condition. If you haven’t experienced one yourself, chances are someone you know did. In fact, a 2017 LinkedIn report showed that as much as 75% of 25-33-year-olds had experienced a quarter-life crisis. Many of us are educated, healthy and economically comfortable, yet living lives of hushed anguish; successful yet unsatisfied.
A crisis of this nature often kicks in after a turning point in life – a health scare, work disappointment, breakup, milestone birthday or sudden loss. Something happens to rupture the sails and away you go. It’s a period characterized by restlessness, low energy, disconnect, feeling trapped, lost or directionless, or thinking something’s missing in your life. People might even tell you that you aren’t acting like yourself or it seems like you’ve lost your mojo.
While all very unsettling, this could actually be one of the most productive and enlightening times of your time and here’s why.
1. You’re forced to engage in self-reflective practices
Humans are atrocious at knowing what will actually make them happier – that’s where self-reflection has relevance. People can go years without even recognising that they’re unhappy, without acknowledging that a problem lies somewhere, without actually knowing what makes them tick. Generally speaking, we aren’t taught how to be kind to ourselves or how to be a good friend. We aren’t asked what type of person we’d like to be, what we need out of life or what our values are. We rarely question what we want – until we really have to.
Self-reflection makes perfect sense. It’s the equivalent of checking the temperature and analyzing your portfolio before going on a spending spree. It’s using your very own experience as your teacher to ascertain what makes you feel alive and what doesn’t. In order to truly move towards our ideal futures, we need to be honest with ourselves, omitting all rationalisations and buffering. Being in crisis mode pushes us to do that.
2. You’re desperate and hungry for resolutions
The good thing about a crisis is it creates a sense of urgency. It lights fire under your ass to get you going and snap you out of autopilot. We get so comfortable being uncomfortable and it’s usually when your disquiet reaches fever pitch that you’re compelled to seek answers.
You’re more open during such times than you ever will be and this is when you’re most likely to investigate alternative modes of behaviour. In the experimentation process, you might pick up a new hobby. You may go on a retreat or travel solo to get away, hear your own voice again and refocus your life. You might indulge in radical self-care practices you’ve been putting off for far too long. You put them off because you could afford to, now you can’t.
3. It’s good to fail
A quarter-life crisis could be triggered by perceived failure; losing a job, business losses or a breakup. Dalliances with failure actually broaden your understanding of your desires and motivators. A bad hand ultimately makes you a stronger player in the game of life, and these aren’t just empty words to soften the blow. Truthfully, you’d never question your technique if you won on every occasion.
As it goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If currently entrenched in the depths of despair brought about by yet another flop, this may feel like a far-removed ideology, however, there is as much potential in your losses as there is in your wins.
Simply put, failing helps us learn by teaching us what to do next time around. It gives us the tools to prevent previous roads walked from ruining our new paths and coping mechanisms for the future.
4. You identify your “wants” versus your “needs”
When you already have many of the things you want in life but you still feel lacking, it’s because you never needed them in the first place. Because many of us define ourselves by our consumption identity or status, we think we “need” certain things to survive when really we’d just like to have them. At our lowest point, we’re forced to dig down to find answers to what is really needed to live a life that’s ours.
Many of the things we want bring us little satisfaction in the long run, but the things we need are essential to our very being and survival. We can view the things we need as happiness giving and the things we want as providers of swaying moments of joy.
5. You review the “shoulds”
It’s fairly common to feel unbalanced because you’re not aligned with your “shoulds”; the things you think you’re “supposed to” have accomplished or experienced (often by a certain point in your life). Even mega-famous, Ivy League-educated actress Emma Watson expressed discomfort around being single on the eve of her 30th birthday.
For many, existential crises are spurred on by the tacit (and not so tacit) pressures to follow nice and neat timelines in life. Perhaps you don’t feel grown-up enough because your peers are blazing the trail and adulting with mortgages, cars, and six-figure jobs. Others might feel they’re growing up too fast upon discovering certain body parts migrating southward, fading looks or seeing people on Instagram having a better time on their carefree travelling adventures. You “should” have done XYZ by the age of 30, and now you’re in a panic.
Relying on borrowed wisdom thus far didn’t stitch happiness into the seams, and now you have to make your own blueprint for living your best life. You can no longer use an extrinsic mirror to reflect your innermost desires during this time of personal turmoil. It’s time for life design.
It is my personal belief that we’d all be better off if we did away with the word “should” altogether. This single word is ever so confining, further serving to program us towards certain behaviours and ideologies.
6. You can only go up from here
If you’ve hit rock bottom or you’re languishing in the depths of despair, things can only get better. You can come out of this period and thrive and leverage those moments of disappointment into formulas for growth.
Making the most of your quarter-life crisis
1. Chart your success timeline
Instead of preoccupying ourselves with our shortcomings, it helps to think about how we congratulate ourselves when things do go right in our lives. Devising a success timeline is a worthwhile exercise to remind us that there is life after failure or disappointment.
For your success timeline, get a piece of paper or wherever you’d like to write. Chart a timeline that symbolises your life. Add your personal and work achievements. Choose any date for the start and end with the date you create it. Mark all the successes you’ve had, no matter how big or small. These could be qualifications achieved, risks you took, jobs you got, the day you met your best friend, people you helped, knowledge attained, things you created, raising a family, promises you kept, any landmarks in your life – anything you’re particularly proud of. This is a great way to remind yourself of your accomplishments and to take ownership of all the great things you’ve done in your life and in the lives of others.
2. Make lists
There are various lists you can make which act as exercises for delving deeper into yourself and learning what makes you tick. To engage with your past there are commemorative lists, personal lists to look at your present and goal-oriented lists to look to your future.
Commemorative lists include things you have done that you’re most proud of, accomplishments from the previous year, happiest moments, remarkable people you’ve met and risks you have taken (that did or didn’t pay off).
Personal lists that take stock of where you are now includes cataloguing what motivates you, what your definition of success is, ways you relax when you’re stressed, how you show appreciation and what you like about yourself and your life.
Goal-oriented lists for future planning include a list of skills you’d like to develop, some of your fears and how you can overcome them, your priorities for life, personal promises to keep to yourself, your goals and values, or even a letter to your future self outlining your hopes and imagining they came true.
3. Ask the tough questions
Are you living according to your goals and values? Do they feel in line with your identity? Do you feel connected to your life? Do you like where you are? Did you actively choose to be there? Would you choose to be there again tomorrow if given the choice? Do you get the feeling you’re settling? Are you living the life your soul needs to live? What do you need out of life?
By asking yourself questions, you can get to the bottom of things and examine what’s right and what’s wrong. Only then can you give your life an overhaul.
Ultimately, a quarter-life crisis is a reminder to work on liking your life, and that’s no bad thing.