When I was 25, I was just out of grad school and making a good living at a "real" job for the first time in my life. Nay, it wasn't just a job--it was a career. I was also going through an exhausting on-again, off-again break-up with my first love. And to top it off, I was living alone in my own apartment for the first time, which was creepy and exhilarating in equal measure.
Despite all these transitions, I didn't feel that overwhelmed or stressed. I was too busy learning how to be an adult and learning my profession to dwell on any quarter-life-crisis-type feeling under the surface.
But as I looked around me, I noticed my peers going through the first throws of their existential see-saws. Some were not satisfied with their job. Others started worrying that they'd be "alone" forever, and dove into dating frenzy. Still others were bored or lost, and tried to assuage their confusion by distracting themselves with ill-advised relationships or haphazard goals.
I figured that my time would come soon, too. I was right. But my "quarter-life crisis" wasn't exactly a "crisis" in the time-bound sense of the word. It didn't feel like a sudden, urgent thing. Instead, it had crept up over a span of three or four years, culminating in a gradual upheaval of everything familiar to me: home, job, industry, relationship, and social circles. It was a constant uncomfortable feeling of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, until I reached a pinnacle of frustration that made me think "f*ck this sh*t!" pretty much on a daily basis.
Also, there's the minor detail that this didn't happen in my twenties. It wasn't a quarter-life crisis, so much as a... one-third-life crisis?
Now that I've come out the other side, and I've watched many of my peers come out the other side, I call BS on the so-called "quarter-life crisis". That phrase is used colloquially to refer to a temporary but intensely stressful time in a young adult's life during which she questions her identity, life choices, and life purpose.
It's a relatable enough description of growing into adulthood, but it doesn't quite capture the nuances of real life. No wonder people joke about quarter-life crises so much: they're often seen as brief, inconsequential phases of angst before becoming a grown-up.
But the experience is very real and often quite painful for the person going through it. I believe what people think of quarter-life crises is actually very different from what they actually are.
Here's some common misconceptions about the so-called quarter-life crisis:
1. It is a right of passage into adulthood, like a weird developmental stage.
Truth is, a quarter-life crisis denotes a feeling, not a stage. It can often be experienced as a cluster of feelings: confused, dissatisfied, unfulfilled, lost, self-doubting. While vulnerability (like when you're undergoing many life changes) can accentuate these feelings, they can technically crop up at any time in a person's life.
2. It makes you irrational, irresponsible and reckless.
Truth is, a quarter-life crisis does not make you impulsive. If you're honest with yourself, you'll realize that your life crisis is enticing you to act upon long-held, deep-set values and desires. Instead of dismissing them, consider listening to them. I'm not talking about going eat-pray-love or quitting your job on a whim. I'm talking about sitting with the fact that you desperately want to escape, and digging beneath that. Why do you want to escape? From where do you want to escape? Where do you feel like you belong instead? Chances are, whatever desires or feelings are making you want to book a ticket to Iceland right now are rooted in some unmet needs that have been trying to get your attention for a long, long time.
3. It's something with a start and end.
This misconception assumes that a life crisis is just a "phase". Truth is, it's an ongoing cycle that has the potential to transform you and your life. Let's not minimize what you're going through. This uncomfortable thing you're feeling? It's called living. You're constantly learning and reevaluating what's important to you, and that tension in your body is there to propel you to take action towards those things.
4. It will go away by itself.
This is a half-truth. It will kinda-sorta go away if you ignore it to death, just like every other feeling you've ever stuffed down. But if you're feeling brave, see what's under the hood. At the root of your quarter-life crisis, are you feeling burnt out? Is your lifestyle draining your energy? Do you yearn for meaningful and creative work, but spend most of your day doing mundane tasks? Again, you can either interpret your quarter-life crisis as a phase and side-effect of becoming an adult--or, you can use it as information to change your mindset or life for the better.
Maybe instead of saying we're going through a "quarter-life crisis", it would be more accurate to say that we're going through "life-long learning" or something. Feel free to help me think of more glamorous ways to say that.
But really, it's not very glamorous work. It's hard to make real changes in your life, and it's scary to let go of the familiar way you do or see things. This isn't just a coming-of-age phase that twenty-somethings go through. It's real life, happening right now.
So here's a rather tongue-in-cheek challenge for you today, since that's the mood I'm in. I challenge you to listen to that "f*ck this sh*t!" feeling, and ask yourself what sh*t you need to let go of. What about your life has become intolerable? Only when you face up to this hard truth will you be able to start taking steps toward something better.
Here's to the first step,