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Is the quarter-life crisis the new midlife crisis?

We’ve all heard of the midlife crisis, but could a quarter-life crisis be just as prevalent? An increasing number of people are feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed in their mid-20s. What causes these feelings and how can we deal with them? Let’s find out. 

Picture it. You’ve finished studying, you’ve done a little travelling and it feels like everyone around you is getting either married or pregnant.

You could probably do that too. Or should you focus on your career? Or travel more? Despite having so many options, all you seem capable of doing is sitting on the floor trying to do deep breathing because it’s all just way too overwhelming.

Enter the quarter-life crisis.

For a few years now, the quarter-life crisis has become more of a thing. A 2018 study conducted by LinkedIn showed that this period of uncertainty can begin as early as 25, up to your early 30s, and is brought about by a feeling of unease in all areas of life, from careers to relationships.

But why are young people feeling like this? Millennials and Gen-Z surely have the world at their feet.

Now what?

Pandemic aside, we’re able to travel and work abroad more easily than previous generations ever were. We’re sexually liberated and higher education is becoming more accessible. So why is it that so many of us experience this period of sheer and utter panic in our 20s and 30s?

In the same way that we frequently scroll through Netflix for half an hour and end up watching Friends again anyway, the amount of choice we’re faced with after coming to the end of our previously structured life plan is overwhelming.

When you’re at school, it’s quite often the done thing to follow the path to either higher education, an apprenticeship, a gap year, or any of the other ‘normal’ things people seem to do in their early 20s.

When all of that’s over, however, you’re left feeling like a deflated balloon asking yourself, ‘now what?’

A lot of the online content on this topic suggests that these feelings are triggered by not owning property and not having a career or a relationship. But there’s so much more to a quarter-life crisis than that.

Therapist De-Andrea Blaylock-Solar pinpoints one of the key stages as feeling an urgent need for change. She explains; ‘It’s this need for change but not knowing what that change needs to look like in order to be fulfilled.’

Identity crisis

The quarter-life crisis is undoubtedly an identity crisis. Maybe you thought that your degree or your travels would define you and help you ‘find yourself’ (whatever that means). However, in your mid-20s, you still find yourself struggling to figure out who it is you want to be.

There are people on social media flaunting their relationships and remote working from the beach. LinkedIn influencers are telling us all to hustle more. YouTubers make us feel like maybe we could do that too. Outside influences like these can cause a lot of us to feel confused, nervous and not good enough all at the same time.

There’s so much information and choice available to us today. Along with the pressures of social media, it’s no wonder young people are feeling lost.

Mainstream media is filled with success stories of young overachievers. Just take the Forbes 30 under 30 list, made up of musicians, scientists and entrepreneurs all under the age of 30. For those of us that don’t yet own a business or have a Ph.D., this ‘inspiring’ content can actually prove to be quite triggering.

There are evidently a number of factors at play when it comes to the quarter-life crisis. But what can young people do during times like these?

Getting through it

The first step is arguably freeing yourself from the pressure of ‘finding yourself’. None of us are supposed to know exactly who we are by the age of 25. The rest of our lives would prove to be quite dull if we did.

Therapist Tiana Leeds emphasises the need for patience during times like these, stating, “”Try to zoom out on your life to remember that you don’t have to figure it all out as a 25-year-old, a 32-year-old, or a 35-year-old person.”

Struggling to understand who you are can be a desperate feeling. However, identifying your values and the things that are most important to you can help to provide a great sense of clarity.

When it comes to trying to figure out what to do with our lives, we all need to focus on the values we individually want to live by.

For some of us, activism might feel like a significant value. For others, being a good friend and providing a support pillar for the people around us is where we find fulfilment.

The whole point is not to allow outside influences, from social media to societal pressures, to muddy the water too much. The first step to understanding who we are is by first identifying what’s important to us.

For some, an identity crisis is just something we have to go through in order to do a little self-reflection. Yes, it’s desperate and overwhelming but it can also be inspiring, causing us to think in ways we never have before.

So maybe it’s time for Gen-Z to work their magic, embrace the chaos, and redefine what it means to go through a quarter-life crisis.


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