Monday, March 21, 2011

The Quarter Life Crisis - Do We All Go Through It?

It's funny. I don't think I've met a single person my age who hasn't gone through a quarter life crisis. Or at least a mild version of the quarter life crisis. Is this a sign of getting old? Uh, I hope not.

For a definition of the quarter life crisis, click here.
For those who don't know what to do with their lives, click here and here.

The other day, while catching up with a friend who recently moved to Toronto for a new job, I asked that million dollar question.

"Hey," I asked suddenly, "Have you ever gone through a quarter life crisis?"

Without missing a beat, he replied, "Yeah, of course. I just got over mine."

"Really?!" I asked incredulously, "How'd you get over it?"

"Oh, you know. It passes. I got a job," he replied casually, "Mine was pretty bad though. I didn't have a job and I didn't know what to do with my life. So I almost bought a motorcycle. I just wanted to, you know, feel young and in control again."

Young and in control again? He's 23!

What is the Quarter Life Crisis? Here's an excerpt from an article I recently read:
"This phenomenon, known as the “Quarterlife Crisis,” is... unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are."
- Welcome To Your Quarter Life Crisis
The month before I graduated university last year, I was so uncertain about where my life was going that I felt queasy at the thought of graduation. I, quite literally, thought my life was over. I was undecided about taking a year off after graduation. I hadn't written the LSAT yet. I hadn't applied to law school yet. I hadn't applied for graduate school yet. I didn't have a job lined up for the year after graduation yet. In short, my life was in limbo. I had absolutely no idea what to do with my life. Or my degree. Like, what was I doing to do with a Political Science degree?! And if there was ever a time in my life that I doubted going to law school, it was the months leading up to graduation.

A month before graduation, I remember my friends and I sitting at our local Starbucks in desolation. Here we were. Women in our early 20's. Educated. About to graduate university. And having absolutely no idea where our lives were going. Many of our friends were getting engaged, getting married. Other friends were interviewing for jobs, applying for internships. And yet, while we knew all those opportunities sounded awesome, we didn't know what we wanted. While we had doors open to us, we didn't know which doors to walk into.

Most importantly, we didn't want to grow up.

School had always been an unknown yet reliable comfort. It's where we went every day for the past fourteen years. And suddenly, those days were coming to an end. Worse yet, things weren't going according to The Plan we had for post-graduation. You know, going to law school, grad school, medical school, journalism school, volunteering abroad, teaching abroad. We used to have our lives planned out. But by the time university graduation rolled around, things weren't going according to The Plan.

In short, the unknown scared us. Not knowing where we would be next year scared us. And for a number of graduating students, that's a prevalent yet completely normal fear.

This all defines the Quarter Life Crisis, my dear friends. Facing the fact that you're growing up can be hard. And it's a big deal.

If those feelings of uncertainty, fear, lack of direction about the big, bad, future sound familiar, I assure you, I can relate. Yet for those of you going through this early-twenties-quarter-life-crisis right now, please take heart. I know that uncertainty over your future is a huge deal. In fact, it's a big deal. But the assurance I can provide is this: the uncertainty will pass. The future will come sooner or later, and come a few months, you'll start making decisions that form what your future will look like. Not knowing will soon becoming knowing. Does that make sense? One day, this time in ~life limbo~ will be a distant memory.

We all have big decisions to make in the next few months. Decisions that will shape our futures. Our lives, forever. And if there's anything I can say to encourage all of us who are uncertain about our time post-Queen's, it's this: you are all so very capable of doing more than you think you can. Don't ever place limits on your capabilities, on possibilities for next year. We're young, we have big, bright futures ahead of us. Yet achieving those opportunities won't come if we aren't confident about ourselves.

You are all bright, intelligent, wonderful people. And that big and scary future is there for you to conquer. I have no doubt that you'll kick this Quarter Life Crisis where it hurts, yea?

"Begin each day as if it were on purpose."
- Hitch

"Have patience with all things. But first of all, with yourself."
- St. Francis de Sales

"Time comes to us softly, slowly. It sits beside us for a while. Then, long before we are ready, it moves on."

- Jacqueline Woodson


  1. I love your personal, reflective blog posts. It's like watching the Wonder Years again. You're Fred Savage. The post is being narrated by Fred Savage's conscience.

  2. And yes I've had one too, when I started my MBA. Here was my path, in the span of several months.

    1. Get an MBA to boost my career.
    2. Scratch that. Volunteer for non-profits and sustain myself with some part-time web development/design to keep me one notch above the poverty line.
    3. Scratch that. Start a company full-time, no job.
    4. Scratch that. Work for a non-profit full-time.
    5. Scratch that. Get a job and develop my skills so I can bring something of greater value to a non-profit later in my career.

    We'll see what I'm feeling next week.

  3. I love this post :) miss you...

  4. Arthur - I LOVED The Wonder Years! Such an awesome show! Did you know all the episodes are up on Youtube? We need to watch it when you get back! And, you know, you are fully capable of doing EVERYTHING on that list ;) Can't wait to watch you succeed!

    Lavanyaa - I miss you too! You know that mention of medical school up there was just for you, right? ;) And now look! There you are! In med school! I'm so proud of you :) Can't wait to see you this summer!

  5. I googled quarter-life crisis and your blog came up. Here I thought I was the only one going through this. Oh what a relief. I just turned 22, have a B.S. degree and am currently teaching abroad for the past 4 months,which fell into my lap 2 weeks before walking across the stage. I have doubted everything. So, Barbara thank you for bringing me one step closer to knowing I'm going to be ok.

  6. Amanda - Thank you so much for finding and reading my blog! :) It's normal to doubt your decisions, especially if it concerns your future career or post-grad plans. Don't worry, everything happens for a reason and things will fall into place. Good luck! :)