Help! I’m having a quarter life crisis. What do I do?

Turning 25 is a stressful time in any young person’s life. There’s so much pressure to be “successful” and have the material possessions to prove your success. For me, when I was in college and imagining my “grown up life,” being a successful 25 year old meant making at least $100,000 per year, having a high profile job at a fancy firm and driving a nice car that made all of my high school enemies jealous.

Ok, I’ll admit that I was materialistic and pretty shallow in my definition of success, but honestly, I don’t think I’m in the minority with how I thought my life would be at 25. The other day on Twitter I saw a tweet that said, “I’ve got so many student loans, but it’s ok because by the time I’m 25 I’ll be a millionaire.” So at least there’s one other person out there who thinks they’ll be running the world at 25 – at least I’m not alone.

Right after we moved to Seattle and I didn’t start making a ton of money at my fancy “grown up” job, I started plummeting into a downward spiral of depression because my life wasn’t living up to the idealized version of what success meant. There were weeks when I didn’t want to get out of bed at all because I didn’t feel like I had anything in my life worth waking up for. After a few months of being consumed in bitterness and sadness, I decided to put my dad’s fancy insurance to work and I went to a counselor.

It took weeks of crying and spilling my innermost thoughts to a near complete stranger to realize that I was the sole source of the pressure I felt to be “successful”. By internalizing all of the exaggerated images I saw as a kid of what being a successful 25 year old meant and by reading too much into comments such as “You’re meant to do something great in this world” that came from my family and school from a very young age, I had created an unobtainable version of success for myself. At age 23, when I saw that there was very little chance of becoming “successful” I just broke down under the pressure.

My failure to be successful and my subsequent breakdown isn’t something that’s easy for me to admit, even to myself, and it’s even harder for me to talk about in a public realm like a blog. But I know that there are millions of people in their mid-twenties who feel exactly the way I felt and there are few resources for people going through their quarter-life crisis to turn to without feeling judged. In fact, a recent study by Greenwich University professor Oliver Robinson found that “most 25 to 35-year-olds suffer from a quarter-life crisis.” According to Professor Robinson, “Pressure to meet parents’ demands can add to the sense of crisis among today’s young adults. It is about people feeling a frenetic need to get a job, make money and be successful quickly.”

My quarter life crisis started about two years before my 25th birthday, so I guess I’m a little ahead of the curve, but I’m actually very thankful for my breakdown. Thanks to my counselor encouraging me to explore my own values and priorities, over the last two years I’ve really been able to redefine for myself what success looks like. For a little while, I actually felt like I wanted to travel down the traditional path of making a significant amount of money, having a nice car and living in a fancy apartment. But then I got all of those things.

And then I realized that making more money than most people my age and driving a brand new car and living in a brand new high-end apartment really didn’t make me happy or make me feel successful. Here I was with everything I ever wanted as a mid-twenty-something and I still wasn’t happy. Crap.

Trying not to resign to the fact that maybe I was just never going to be happy, I started doing some major soul searching about what I truly wanted and needed in order to be happy and feel successful. Over and over again, I kept thinking about travel and family. Those were the only things that kept reoccurring during my redefining success exercises. So I decided to roll with it, and I started prioritizing family and travel above everything else. I had decided to define success as spending quality time with family and traveling the world.

Fortunately, Nadir and I decided that we had VERY similar new definitions of success. So, we moved out of our fancy apartment into a not-so-fancy apartment in the not-so-good (cheap) part of town, saved up enough money, traveled cross-country for two weeks visiting family along the way and eventually moved to Belize for two months – our first world travel adventure.

Now, I’m half-way through my two month stay in Belize and I just celebrated my dreaded 25th birthday. The Staci who is sitting here in the hammock writing this blog post is vastly different from the Staci I was just two years ago. I no longer feel pressured to meet some obscure definition of success that was not wholly created by me. I no longer feel like a failure because I might let someone down because I’m not as successful as they expected me to be by now. And I’m no longer sad all the time because I feel like I’ve let myself down. And the kicker, my family has never been more proud of me as they are now…who’d of thought following my dreams and passions would ultimately lead to true success?

Want some more good news about your quarter-life crisis? According to the study I mentioned earlier, if you suffer from and resolve a quarter-life crisis, you’re much more likely to live a happier life moving forward. Here’s the scoop from the Daily Mail:

“Dr Robinson said ‘setting the clock back on adulthood and starting again’ brings with it a sense of freedom. And those who have suffered – or are in the midst of – a ‘quarter-life crisis’ will be glad to know that it cuts their odds of suffering a ‘proper’ mid-life crisis later on. Dr Robinson said: ‘You’d be much less likely to [suffer another crisis] because the lifestyle that [you have] post crisis is intrinsically healthier than what you had before.

Really what that means is that an expert somewhere is giving you permission to go crazy and follow your dreams because ultimately, you’ll be much happier. I know I am.

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