We’ve all heard about the 40-something year old who wakes up one day, realizes he is middle-aged, quits his job, buys a Lamborghini, and moves to Costa Rica. TV shows and a host of movies satirize this epic mid-life meltdown.

But what about the Quarter Life Crisis?  Could it be a “thing,” too?  Wikipedia has dignified the term with an article, so it must exist.

Many of the young women I talk to describe the symptoms of this often-challenging time of life:

  • They’re around 25-28 years old.
  • They’ve worked at their first job post college for a number of years, and the excitement of being a new professional has worn off.
  • They feel generally stuck in many areas of their lives.
  • They want to change jobs but feel unsure if they should stay in the same field or change directions.
    • Should they take a pay cut to try something they may enjoy more?
    • What about investing in graduate school?  Is it worth the time and money?
  • They’re pondering the quality of their romantic relationships or lack of romantic relationships.
    • For those in relationships, they’re contemplating if they should take the next step – get married, have kids, etc.
    • For those not in relationships, they wonder if they will ever meet that right person and how to go about meeting that person.
  • The thought of moving to a new city, town, or state has entered their minds, and they are wondering if a move would help them climb out of the rut in which they find themselves.
  • They feel anxiety rear its evil head and maybe some depression too.
    • They may experience panic attacks or near panic attacks as they think about the future, yet they feel unable to make decisions.
    • Their quality of sleep may be poor, and they feel generally sad and apathetic.
  • And then, they can’t stop thinking, processing, and worrying because they want so badly to escape their fears of this life stage and the what ifs…

What’s going on?

From a psychosocial standpoint, renowned developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, would say these women are experiencing the crisis of the Intimacy vs. Isolation developmental stage.  They are grappling with what life would mean if they don’t form quality, long-lasting relationships that will carry them into their later years of life.  Or, they are still working through previous life stages such as Industry vs. Inferiority or Identity vs. Identity Confusion, causing angst and the inability to move into adulthood well. (Here’s the link to the Wikipedia article on these developmental stages, too).

From an emotional perspective, some of these women are wondering what to do when the life-script they wrote as far back as elementary school isn’t coming to fruition like they thought it would.  For some, this means their professional goals have not materialized.  For others, it means that they thought they would be in committed relationships, married, or having children by now.  Some women experience both the professional and personal challenges.

Hope seems lost.  Discouragement and despair set in.

What now?

First, it can seem counterintuitive, but it’s helpful to view this season of life as a gift.  Often times, a new season is just around the corner – either in one’s career, relationship status, or living situation.  This stage of life hurts now, but it will not last forever and it’s often the avenue for needed change, growth, and maturity to take place.

Secondly, it’s enormously helpful to talk through those unfulfilled dreams, questions, and emotions with a counselor.  Processing this stage of life and the feelings that come with it can lighten the emotional burdens one is carrying, while receiving helpful wisdom from an empathetic co-journeyer in life.  Periodically, we need help brainstorming the diverse possibilities and the different routes our lives could take aside from the prescribed stories we wrote for ourselves long ago.  Counseling is also particularly helpful for those who feel they are experiencing anxiety and depression.

Finally, depending on one’s spiritual beliefs and practices, opening up oneself in surrender to her Higher Power while asking for guidance and grace for her next steps can be enormously freeing and helpful.  Praying, meditating, and practicing mindfulness often usher one into a place of peace and groundedness when life feels chaotic and stressful.

We live in a culture that tells us the 20s are the best years of one’s life.  For some, they are.  For others, these years become more rocky and challenging than planned.  If you find yourself in the latter group, rest assured, you’re not alone in this season.  Life may not look exactly like you planned, but experiencing this season could bring more blessings and opportunities than you ever imagined.

If you feel like you are experiencing the Quarter Life Crisis, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the counselors at the Falls Church Wellness Center.  We are here to walk through this life-stage with you.

Betsy Christian, a Resident in Counseling at the Falls Church Wellness Center, is a survivor of the Quarter Life Crisis.  She enjoys processing this life stage with fellow co-journeyers, playing piano, exercising, and doting on her niece and nephews.