How Navigate Quarterlife

Photo by Johannes Plenio

If you feel the rumblings of a Quarter-Life questioning in the distance, the good news is that you are not alone, and there is a straightforward path to making it through this crisis.

What is a Quarter-Life crisis?

While the mid-life crisis (ages ~45–65) has been a more common phenomenon throughout the history of society, the third-life or quarter-life crisis (ages ~25–40) on the whole is rather new, for more than just history’s aristocratic segment anyway.

Prior to the 21st and 20th centuries, marrying and starting families soon after childhood or finishing school provided a major source of life meaning and fulfillment, or at least served as a decades-long distraction from existential questions about life. Young adults were kept busy from their early 20s until mid-life (age 45–65), when their children left home and a mid-life crisis might occur amidst the empty nest’s sudden space for reflection.

In our mid-to-late 20s, we begin to experience for the first time in life the natural aging of our bodies/mind, our first encounters with death or other serious loss as adults, a rising difficulty in maintaining ties with friends after the close-knit communities of school, and the first pangs of stagnation after the acceleration phase in work/career/relationships during our. early 20s. In modern times, these factors combined with the rising trend of marriage and having children either happening later in life (or sometimes not at all) have given birth to the quarter-life or third-life crisis.

Due in part to the decision to start families in the early 20s is delayed and the inability of work to provide a sustainable alternative source of meaning, 21st century adults in their 20s and 30s are left with more time to find their doubts, with respect to the meaning of their lives.

Photo by Tim Gouw

I define the Quarter-Life crisis as:

A period of mental contraction that stems from an existential confusion or doubt as to the meaning or purpose of one’s life.

Not all of us will experience a quarter, third or mid-life crises.

Some people avoid a life crisis by managing to discover a sustainable core of life meaning through exposure to inspirational and wise role models, mentors, or through exposure to life experiences that are strong enough to cause reflection and maturation, but not strong enough to spark an existential crisis. These people gravitate towards decisions which lead to more balanced lives filled with intrinsic meaning (i.e. meaning that comes from one’s own satisfaction in life, rather than a meaning that is found in the eyes of society).

Some people evade a life crisis, but as a consequence end up passing on from the world without ever maturing or being able to glimpse inner peace. These people gravitate towards decisions which lead to unbalanced lives (i.e. looking to the world to define one’s meaning and value). Typically, these people are addicted to focusing all of their efforts into only one area of life, such as working, seeking power/control over others, seeking status/fame, accumulating money or material goods, or forming other isolating. addictions.

People who are aware enough to realize that they are having or nearing a crisis of meaning are those for whom the opportunity of the life crisis is granted. These people also inherently possess the potential to come through the other side of the crisis more fulfilled, because of this very awareness that gives rise in the first place to a haunting lack of meaning. This awareness is like a gift wrapped in the trappings of a curse.

Those of us in this situation who possess an awareness of our lack of meaning, feel that something in our lives needs to change, yet at first we paradoxically also lack the awareness of knowing what to do to find meaning. The advent of the Quarter-Life crisis is associated with fearing that there is no right move to make that will make us feel better. The simultaneous feel that the rules we played by our entire life no longer make sense, while time is running out to learn a new set of rules creates a massively overwhelming and distressing pressure.

Photo by Joshua Miranda

Losing our confidence in the rules — or principles — we followed through then is a literal metaphor.

The old principles of life we followed involved seeking meaning/acceptance externally in the word, and were given to us as children when we looked to mom, dad, other family, teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, celebrities, and even strangers to tell us whether we are loved/worthy/valuable.

To successfully navigate the Quarter-Life crisis means to reconsider the principles we’ve lived by so far and to decide for ourselves which we want to get rid of, which we want to change, and which we want to add.

This may sound scary, and indeed it can be a very disruptive time in one’s life. Yet, experiencing a Quarter-Life crisis can be the most awakening moment of your life.

It is the defining challenge in your own personal “hero’s journey.” It is a chance to transform the life experiences that look during this time like a load of coal into diamonds of priceless wisdom. It is a chance to:

Awaken to our life’s potential.

Grow into a more fully-fledged conscious being.

Learn to let go of the pressure to live the life we feel we ought to.

Learn to let go of resisting or feeling victimized by life when things go awry.

Learn how to realistically make the most of life by making mature decisions.

Live a life that is intrinsically meaningful to us and adds positivity into the world around us.

How to navigate the Quarter-Life crisis

Here are some ideas that can help you in your journey to become the hero of your life’s story.

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki

1Make time to be curious and come into a deeper understanding of yourself

1) Make time to be curious and come into a deeper understanding of yourself

Begin by becoming curious with your deeper self. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • Where am I going?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • What are the moments in life that I enjoy the most?
  • How do I live my life now?
  • If I were to be free of my burdens and commitments, how might I choose to live my life?

Give yourself the permission to reflect openly and answer the questions in any way you wish. There are no wrong answers and no dumb answers.

Write down your answers, and in particular, listen intently for the thoughts and voices that have long been rejected. The thoughts that you have been ignoring or distracting yourself from in your life crisis must be given the space and be respected and heard, so that you can bring your whole self to the task of writing your principles for how to live a meaningful life.

Don’t censure or judge the answers that come to you — just let them flow uninterrupted and keep writing. The important thing in this first step is to be open, curious, and non-judgmental.

You don’t need to come up with next steps or solutions at this stage, either. The answers to these questions will serve as the sunlight for the seedlings of your more fulfilling life to grow.

You might also consider how different forces and events of life have shaped you into who you are. Until we ask ourselves these questions and contemplate our answers, we will continue to be shaped by forces outside ourselves, and we won’t fully mature or reach our inner potential.

2) Define your values

Spend some time identifying your personal values and define your core values (here’s how to identify your personal and core values). These will serve as your compass or guide rails, to guide you towards living a meaningful life.

3) Brainstorm your life purpose statement

Take a moment to brainstorm your life purpose statement statement.

You can navigate over to the full essay on how to develop your life purpose statement, but here is an example of some of the questions involved in this process:

  • What does the world that you want for yourself and your loved ones look like?
  • What kind of journey could you embark on to help make that world a reality?
  • Which of your values or important qualities will help you most in your journey?
  • Which activities do you see yourself undertaking in your journey?
  • Who else will you interact with during your journey? How will you interact with them?

4) Convert your learnings into action

Only after completing the previous 3 exercises is it time to begin thinking about what changes you might want to make in order to align your life’s direction with your aspirations, values and life purpose.

This is also the most difficult part of your hero’s journey.

As humans, we enjoy imagining, yet we naturally resist change. We resist changing our mindsets or stepping outside of our comfort zones, because change always comes with some risk of failure, rejection, or letdown. We’re more prone to make excuses as to why we shouldn’t change or find justifications for why taking action to initiate change is unwarranted or unwise, than to undertake the effort.

Yet, taking action is what will power you through to the other side of your Quarter-Life crisis, along the path of maturation towards peace and deeper fulfillment.

The introspective insights you’ve generated to this point will guide your actions, and your actions will involve a combination of:

  1. Starting something new that brings you more fulfillment
  2. Stopping something that drains your energy and is unfulfilling
  3. Changing the way something fits into your life to boost your overall fulfillment

Before taking action, it is a good idea to get a gut check on your plans by talking through your learnings/ideas/rationale with other people whose perspectives you value. For instance, you might talk to a friend or family member, or a mentor, or consider talking to a therapist or a personal development coach to be your thinking partner in guiding you through your journey.

Change option #1 — start something new

This is a good option if your life is lacking in meaning and you have the time to pick something new up. For instance, you might choose to:

  • Reconnect with old friends/family/acquaintances
  • Start a company or explore a new career pathway
  • Start volunteering
  • Travel more or meet new people
  • Pick up a new hobby, craft, or creative pursuit
  • Try a new approach to improving your health, such as a new routine for sleep, diet, mental health, or exercise

Change option #2 — stop doing something or remove it from your life

Sometimes, we are doing so much already that we just don’t have the time to undertake new actions. After all, we all have only 168 hours/week.

If, after reflecting, you decide that something in your life no longer creates meaning for you, or continually drains your energy, you might consider to removing that from your life. This might mean, for instance:

  • Leaving your job/career
  • Ending a relationship or cut ties with a toxic person
  • Moving to a new residence and/or city
  • Breaking an unwanted habit

Before deciding to remove a key component from your life, however, consider whether that component is an integral underpinning of something else that is meaningful to you.

For example, many of us have jobs that drain us.

If either leaving that job to take a break or finding another job is reasonable for you and would not affect any other meaningful areas of your life, your decision to go may be more straightforward, in figuring out the best plan to move on.

If leaving that is not easy for you, and the job is essential to enabling your family to live modest and happy lives, then this may be a pretty solid reason to keep it; the best path forward may be to change the way that the job fits into your life.

If the job supports you being able to buy anything you want whenever you want it, then question that. Does being able to buy whatever you want really make you more fulfilled than having a more fulfilling and less draining job?

Change option #3 — change the way something fits into your life

Sometimes, the best move isn’t to remove something entirely, but to change it.

When we are being drained or unfulfilled by something, it can be a sign that our lives are trying to fit around that thing, rather than that thing fitting into our lives.

Using a new life principle book doesn’t mean we must always choose to get rid of that thing. Instead, we can stop wrapping our lives around that thing, and change the way that it fits into our lives. This can in fact be every bit as powerful and freeing action as removing that thing from our lives, but with less disruption.

In the above draining, but necessary for family job example, change might mean keeping the job with one of the following caveats:

  • Taking more vacation, or not opening emails on vacation
  • Giving yourself permission to say “no” more at work (and actually doing it)
  • Changing your job responsibilities or changing to a less draining role
  • Changing your mentality from just climbing the ladder, to learning how to actually enjoy the work you do
  • Having an open conversation with your boss about what changes can help you become more engaged and less drained
  • Developing better coping skills, or learning to detach from work and prevent work stress from spilling into the rest of your life

Be aware that one of the biggest blockers to navigating a key life change is to confront your saboteur persona, or limiting beliefs, which will only serve to inhibit your progress. Learning to identify and neutralize your self-sabotaging beliefs can make the difference between succeeding and failing to make a fulfilling life change.

Photo by Radu Florin

Did you make it this far?

Great job! Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself on taking a big step forward to resolving your Quarter-Life crisis by reading this essay.

Remember that you are not alone in going through a Quarter-Life crisis, that you are capable of making it through intact and in fact better off, and that you don’t have to do it all on your own. I highly encourage you to enlist the help of trusted others, or work with a therapist or coach to help you navigate these challenging straits and come out a more whole, and fulfilled human being.

Be gentle and accepting of yourself.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the whole ocean, in a drop” — Rumi

That’s all for today — thanks for reading! Learn more about how working with a personal development coach can help you to live a more fulfilling life, sign up for my newsletter, and stay tuned for more self-discovery essays!

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Gabe Kwakyi

Gabe Kwakyi

A curious mind and a passionate personal development coach, specializing in life, career, and business coaching for people in the technology and business fields