How to recognize and tackle a quarter-life crisis
Use these tips to conquer your quarter-life crisis and actually enjoy your 20s.
Things seemed to be going so well. You graduated college, found a job right away, and even scored a great apartment. But every morning, you wake up feeling lost and confused about every aspect of your life: your career, your friendships, your dating life, and even the hobbies you used to love. Your life feels lackluster, and it seems like everyone else in your life—friends, family, co-workers, even people you swipe past on dating apps—have it all together while you’re suffering in limbo. You're going through a quarter-life crisis.
What is a quarter-life crisis?
You’ve been so busy “keeping up with the Joneses” (or the Kardashians) that you’ve forgotten to focus on what makes you happy and how to make that happen. “This is where I see most twenty-somethings get tripped up. They feel this pull to create a life they think they should have, instead of creating a life that feels authentic to them,” says Tess Brigham, a San Francisco–based psychotherapist and life coach.
Okay, we know that it’s definitely easier said than done, so we asked experts for tips in spotting and—more important—overcoming a quarter-life crisis.
You have “should syndrome”
One of the major symptoms of an early-life crisis is “should syndrome.” You are so busy thinking about what you should do or should want that you’re not thinking about what you actually want.
“You find yourself should-ing all over your life,” says Brigham. “You can only think in terms of what your 20s should look like, and you feel like you failed in some way because your life doesn't measure up to the fantasy you had in your head about adulthood.”
You suffer from “comparisonitis”
Your friend just got engaged, your boyfriend just got promoted, and your sister just landed an awesome new job. You’re happy for them, really you are, but you can’t help feeling a bit of “I’m-so-happy-for-them-but-why-can’t-that-happen-for-me.”
Stop comparing yourself to people you’re close to and also every single person you follow on social media. “This leads to feelings of envy and worry that you have basically failed at life while everyone else seemingly has no hardships,” says Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation, a California-based resource for entrepreneurs. Everyone feels envious sometimes, but if you’re in a constant state of jealousy, it’s a sign that you aren’t happy with your life.
You’re in a meh state of mind
You know when there are so many choices on Netflix that you can’t choose? It makes you feel apathetic and like none of the decisions are the right ones. That same feeling can apply to your life, but the stakes are much higher than deciding to watch something new versus watching Legally Blonde for the thousandth time. “You don’t feel inspired or excited to do much of anything and while you’re not happy at work, there is nothing else you want to do that’s calling you, so you remain stuck and frustrated with life,” says Brigham.
Getting out of an early-life crisis
Now that you've identified the signs that you might be going through a quarter-life crisis, what do you do next? Here are four strategies to get you focused and help you conquer this part of your career.
Marie Kondo your life
It ends up that what helps you organize your junk drawer and your overstuffed dresser can also help you get through your quarter-life crisis. Take a tip from Marie Kondo and figure out what sparks joy.
Brigham suggests focusing on one area of your life at a time. Make pro and con lists and ask yourself tough questions, or brainstorm what makes you happy and what makes you stressed or sad. “Once you have a clearer idea of what brings you joy and what drains your energy,” says Brigham, “use these new insights to start to take action.”
Stop comparing yourself to strangers on the internet
Think of social media as a highlights reel. You’re seeing the best moments of someone’s life, not the times they broke up with the person they thought was “the one,” or took their dream job before realizing, as Taylor Swift would say, it was a “nightmare dressed as a daydream.”
“It’s our perpetual ‘first date, job interview, dinner with the future in-laws’ selves. Social media is not real life,” reminds Brigham. Take a social media detox or at least limit the amount of time you mindlessly scroll through social media, she says. Use that time to focus on your own life, not those of strangers or that guy you took chemistry with—and had chemistry with—in college but haven’t talked to in years.
Phone a friend
When you’re going through a tough time, don’t try to handle everything on your own. “Overcoming usually requires some outside support because an external source helps you get out of your own head, provides objective feedback, and can hold you accountable,” says Erika Martinez, a Miami-based psychologist. “This can be a friend, a parent, a life coach, or a therapist.”
Ban the “coulda, shoulda, woulda”
It’s hard not to fall into the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” spiral. Instead of thinking of what you should do or should’ve done differently in the past, tune out the noise and tune in to your needs instead.
“Stop thinking in terms of what you think your 20s should look like, and start thinking about what you need to do today to create more meaning in your life and what will guide you to a more hopeful future,” says Brigham. “Ask yourself what is it that you, and only you, want to do.”
What you would do or want if other people’s expectations didn’t matter? “We make so many choices based on what we fear other people are thinking. So, when you start questioning yourself, you need to remember this is your life and you're the only one who gets to live it,” says Brigham.
Turn to the experts
Whether you’re starting a new career or trying to figure out what you want your career to be, having access to the best resources is key. Need help with that? Join Monster for free today and you’ll get weekly emails filled with expert career advice and job search tips. You can also upload up to five resumes—each tailored for the types of the jobs that interest you. Knowing what you want to accomplish is half the challenge, but once you’re focused, it’s a lot easier to achieve your goals.