Updated: Apr 30, 2019
Do you feel like sometimes your life isn’t going in the direction that you thought it was going to go? When you were little you thought you wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor, a singer, an astronaut… and what you are doing now is totally different than that. Even what you thought you were going to do as your career in high school or college didn’t pan out. Maybe the track you thought you were supposed to be on is so far from the track you are currently on that you are starting to freak out a little.
This, my friends, is called a quarter-life crisis. A quarter-life crisis is when where you thought you would be as a young adult and where you actually are now do not align. It is defined by clinical psychologist Alex Fowke as “a period of insecurity, doubt, and disappointment surrounding your career, relationships, and financial situation". You had big dreams, and you changed course completely, gave up, or even tried your hardest and failed to make those dreams a reality. And when you have this realization… you kind of panic. You panic because you do not know how your life got so far off track. You panic because you feel like you are a failure, even though your not. You panic because you are confused about where your life is heading now. Well, the good news is you are not the only one.
Tangent time: When I had my quarter-life crisis, a little over a year ago, I did more than panic… I completely freaked out. So here is a short chronicle of my quarter life crisis. I feel like it is only fair to share my experiences with you. A lot of people who know me may not even know about this part of my life, but I am sharing it with you… So as embarrassing as this may be, here I go. When I was in high school I worked a series of minimum wage jobs. After graduation, I decided that I needed a better job since I was finally an adult. In my quest for a “grown-up” job, I found an opening for a job as a Corrections Officer, and to my surprise, I was qualified. So I applied and I got the job. I loved it so much that I decided to study Criminal Justice so that I could become a Criminal Defense Attorney one day. I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice while bartending my way through school. Then I applied for law school... and I got in! My dreams of becoming a lawyer were finally coming into fruition. Then… I failed the first semester. Talk about literally failing at your dreams. After years of hard work and sacrifice, all the eggs I put in my basket were shattered.
After this failure, I became really depressed for a time. Plan A did not work out… and I didn’t even have a plan B, so what should I do?
After the initial depression wore off, I realized that the question was not “what should I do now?”, but “what do I want to do now?” I could literally do anything. The world was my oyster! All I had to do was figure it out.
Ultimately, this revelation made me appreciate my current occupation. I actually really love bartending; I just always felt like it wasn’t a real “career”. But why not? Because society made me feel that way. I also make very good money bartending; better than some college graduates. But how could I make that money work for me? That question is how I started my journey with personal finance. Long story short, as cliche as it sounds when one door closes another door opens.
So now, after this long personal tangent, you can see how quarter life crisis’ work and how normal they are. Many people experience this overwhelming feeling of misalignment between their dreams and their current reality. According to The Guardian, the quarter-life crisis is so common it affects 86% of millennials, who report being bogged down by insecurities, disappointments, loneliness, and depression. But how do you even end up in a quarter-life crisis?
There could be many reasons, however, I feel like these five reasons are the most common.
You compare yourself to others: You measure your success against the lives, careers, and relationships of those around you. Maybe your friend landed their dream job after college and your still struggling to find work? Maybe your coworker got the promotion you thought was rightfully yours? Maybe your supervisor is younger than you, more accomplished, happily married, and even finds time to work out and eat right while all you can seem to manage is to barely get your work done in a timely manner without having a mental breakdown? You see your peers where you thought you would be and you just aren’t there yet.
You changed your mind about what you want to do: This is veeeeeery common. How many people pick a career they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are young and actually still want to do that same thing after they have matured? We as individuals change. We grow up. Our interests change. Many college students change their majors, multiple times. Many college graduates get a job in their field and decide its not everything they thought it would be. Through the trials and tribulations of our lives, we outgrow certain things and even people. We discover ourselves. The person you were in the past is not the person you are now. So it’s no wonder many people change career paths at the quarter-life mark. It is perfectly normal to have an “ah-ha” moment and decide that the path you are on is not for you anymore.
You “gave up”: For some people, the road to the career they chose is long and hard. At some point, some people realize it’s too hard and they no longer want to work towards that goal or it’s simply just not worth it anymore. This is perfectly normal as well. A lot of people hear the words “gave up” and immediately get defensive. It is ok to give up something you are no longer passionate about. In fact, I think it doesn’t make much sense to continue to invest your time, energy, and money into anything you don’t want to do. So essentially, it’s not really “giving up” it’s more like “breaking up” with your old dreams.
You “failed”: I would say this one happens less than the aforementioned reasons, but it hurts waaaaay worse. You did everything you were supposed to do. You went to school and you got good grades. You went to college you were doing well. Maybe you even graduated and got your “dream” job. Then BAM, you suddenly fail. For some, reason one and two come into play here; you changed your mind about what you want to do with your life or you gave up, so your lack of passion is what lead to your failure. For others, failure comes as a big ol’ surprise. When you work so hard at something for so long, sacrifice so much, and you literally give it your all only to fail, it can be soul crushing.
Life changed course: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, life happens. Things occur in your life that completely change its course. You get a once in a lifetime job opportunity. You meet someone. You get pregnant. Someone close to you dies. You have financial issues that stop you. Long story short… s**t happens, and sometimes that derails your plans. There is literally nothing you could have done to stop these life-changing events from occurring.
Now that you know the reasons you could end up in a quarter-life crisis, how do you deal with it?
If the reason you ended up in a quarter-life crisis is because you compare yourself to others than there are two possible solutions. The first solution is to STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE! It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing in their lives, career, finances, or relationships. Worry about you boo boo. Life is not a competition. Everyone’s lives run on their own timelines. Just because you are not where you thought you would be… yet… does not mean that you won’t be. Have patience and continue to work hard. The second solution is maybe it’s time to deviate from your original plan because it simply isn’t working out anymore and it is not what you want to do. You just need to adapt.
If the reason you are in a quarter-life crisis is because you changed your mind about what you want to do, failed, gave up, or life changed course, the solution is the same. Plan A didn’t work out… so figure out Plan B and get to work. I know I make it sound super simple, but there are many variables that go into redirecting your entire life. How do you figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life? Sounds kind of gloomy, but in reality, it can be really exciting! You can do anything you want now! You can totally change career paths and go back to school for something new. If the idea of going back to school makes you literally want to pull your hair out and roll up in the fetal position while rocking back and forth and weeping softly, like me, then there are many other options. You could open your own business, become a writer, a painter, a personal trainer, a realtor, a chef, anything really. You could finally do something that really makes you happy. And if you don’t figure out what your Plan B is right away then that is perfectly normal. There can be Plans C, D, E, and F too. You can experiment with a variety of career choices, even simultaneously. Just try new things until you find your niche. Do some soul searching. And most importantly, do not panic… you will figure it out eventually.
Side Note: If your old dream is still your dream then keep pushing for it. Maybe you got off track a little, you lost focus, or your a little burnt out. Do not give up! If you still want this, then keep working at it, and you can still have it.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many times your plans don’t pan out, as long as you correct course and keep on hustling. There may be many times in your life when you take a step back and realize that you might not be where wanted to be. Anytime this epiphany happens just assess the situation and correct it. Ask yourself, “why do I feel this way and how can I fix it?” Then work on correcting the situation. These revelations might even be the thing that pushes you to the next level.
You and you alone are in control of your destiny. Conquer your quarter-life crisis like a BO$$!
Once you have taken charge of your career path then you can focus on optimizing your money to reach financial freedom. The road may be long and hard, but you got this!