How To Deal With A Quarter-Life Crisis

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After the bubble of student life bursts and young adults enter the “real world,” some will struggle to find a direction or a career.

Engulfed in disappointment over where their life is headed, they will feel constant, overwhelming stress, deep anxiety and uncertainty over their choices. In other words: the quarter-life crisis.

It’s not usually on the minds of new graduates, but undoubtedly it’s a predicament many of us will grapple with.

“It’s a period when you realize your life may not be how you dreamed it would be,” says Dr. Karyn Gordon, one of North America’s leading relationship experts.  “I wouldn’t give ‘quarter-life crisis’ as a diagnosis. It’s a term like Generation Y or Generation X. It’s more like a trend, and there’s a continuum with this trend.”

According to Karyn, most people experience the quarter-life crisis between the ages of 25 and 30, and it can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

“One response is to make decisions that are unlike them or act in ways they normally wouldn’t act. This could include cheating on a significant other or spending too much money. Or they become numb and go into hiding, which worsens the situation,” she says. “If left, it could develop into something much more damaging, like depression.”

She insists the most effective strategy for young adults is to face their problems head on.

Meghan Thompson – now a happy, successful 26-year-old – took this approach when she found herself unemployed with a mountain of student debt to pay off.

“I definitely had a quarter-life crisis. I was stressed and upset about being unemployed despite having seven years of education,” says Meghan, who has a degree in Geography from Wilfrid Laurier University and a diploma in Urban Planning from Fanshawe College.

“It was when I sent my resume to about 50 planning firms in Ontario and none had openings for entry level that the situation got very scary and frustrating.”

Meghan started questioning her decisions and, while it would have been easy to withdraw, she instead shared her fears with family and friends.

“I realized that there were opportunities available outside the province. Another goal of mine was to be in a good relationship, so I looked at positions in cities where I knew I’d meet more people. Anything in my field that was entry level I applied to. Soon, I was offered a job in Edmonton. I’ve made friends here, and I’m seeing a great guy,” she says.

“The best thing I did that I would advise others to do, is to apply for lots of jobs and figure out what your priorities are.”

Another new graduate, Brock University Political Science grad Erik Mistal, faced a quarter-life crisis during the recession.

“When I graduated from university in 2009, I sent out dozens of resumes and didn’t get a single response,” he says. “I wanted to start my adult life but was stuck.”

Frustrated and loathing the uncertainty, Erik decided he couldn’t sit around at home waiting for something to happen.

“I took a job as a labourer with a property maintenance company and did that for a year and a half. Eventually, a friend suggested I’d be good at public relations, and told me about an information session a Toronto public relations agency was holding. I went there and was immediately captivated. I decided to go to grad school for PR,” he says.

Determined to avoid as many obstacles as possible this time around, Erik completed several internships in the PR industry to gain experience, attended networking events and landed a great job this summer.

Yet for others, a firm push from someone else is needed to escape the clutches of the quarter-life crisis. Karyn insists this is important to remember, especially for older individuals who are asked for help.

“Older generations often think Gen Ys can’t handle much stress so therefore this quarter life crisis is just blown up.”

Have you ever faced a quarter-life crisis? How did you handle it?

Photo credit: Untitled by Andi Jetaime on Flickr

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About the author

Jacqueline Martinz graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2008 with an honours bachelor of arts in English and Global Studies. She has written for The Globe and Mail's Canadian University Report Card 2011, Metro, The Toronto Star's Speak Your Mind blog and CTV News Channel. When she isn't writing, Jacqueline enjoys playing the piano, sailing, and exploring Toronto.