Are you having a quarter life crisis?

One of the best phrases I heard yesterday came a couple of hours after we came off air. I was speaking to a young woman who’s taking part in the Civicus World Assembly, and we were chatting about her career and what she kind of job she wanted to do. Should it be the media, aid work, policy research or campaigning and lobbying she wondered out loud? Needless to say, having hardly chartered my own career with a great deal of precision, I wasn’t a font of wisdom on the subject. ‘Mmm,’ she said,’ maybe I’m having a quarter life crisis’. We laughed about it, but it got me thinking.

In a world, where more people live, work and study abroad, where more of us change jobs and professions with regularity throughout our working life, is there a danger that all these possibilities create such expectations that we end up being let-down by how things turn out. If we can have a quarter life crisis, how long before a ten tear old starts hitting an eighth life crisis?

I remember hearing a stand-up comedian, saying to her audience: ‘Let me let you into a secret. Those of you under 25 who are assuming that all the things that haven’t yet sorted out – you know a lovely husband or wife, a family, a house, and a job that you love – will magically come together for you between now and 30, well I’m afraid the bad news is that that’s not going to happen! It just gets more frustrating.’

Possibly a slightly pessimistic outlook, but do you think there’s a danger that our expectations and dreams may sometimes do more to make us unhappy than to create a life that we love living.

28 Responses to “Are you having a quarter life crisis?”

  1. 1 Dennis
    June 19, 2008 at 13:47

    Yes, i am having a “quarter life crisis”…I am attending college….I am 30 years old.

    Onondaga Community College
    Syracuse, New York
    United States of America

  2. 2 Brett
    June 19, 2008 at 13:53

    I’m not really in a crisis lol. It’s just me and my puppies. I’m kept busy enough with the house, the garden, the dogs, and my job and school to sit and dream big dreams lol. I take it one step at a time, slow it down, enjoy life in its current state, not freak out because I may not be living the life I thought I would.

    Honestly, the life I wanted to be living right now, 10 years ago, would be almost directly contradictory to the life I want to lead now lol. I’ve learned alot in 10 years and changed my priorities.

  3. 3 Bob in Queensland
    June 19, 2008 at 14:23

    It leaves me slightly worried and more than a little sad if people that young are already so serious about life. Speaking as a token boring old git, at that age life and work were still an adventure for me and I was quite willing to “go with the flow”. Fortunately for me, life tended to flow in the right direction.

    I’ve now successfully navigated the shoals of my mid life crisis with a decision to simplify my life, stop chasing career goals, take early retirement and do things I enjoy. I’ve never been happier.

    However, had you asked me at my “quarter life” if, at this stage of my life, I’d be sitting in sub-tropical Australia sipping chilled white wine and watching the world go by, I’d have said you were crazy. Life has a habit of pitching curve balls (or bowling googlies depending where you’re from) so don’t worry to much about the future. Just take things as they come!

  4. 4 Katharina in Ghent
    June 19, 2008 at 14:24

    I guess for everybody comes the point somewhen in life where s/he has to stand back and take a look at where s/he stands now, I remember when I was 30/31 I went a bit through my “quarter crisis”, thinking “and that’s it now?” When you’re young you have a lot of different ideas, and the first 30 years of your life you work hard to achieve what it is that you want to achieve, but that still leaves a lot of life that you still have to live.

    It also very much depends on your expectations. I once heard a comedian saying: “The lower your expectations, the happier you’ll be in life, because you risk less disappointments.” The media, and mostly so the US media, keeps telling you that you can achieve whatever you want, you just have to want it hard enough. There are whole congregations that flourish on that believe. Well, here’s the nesflash: It ain’t that easy, if you’re not Mozart, you won’t write like him.

  5. 5 Luz María Guzmán from Mexico
    June 19, 2008 at 14:43

    I am 30 and I am having a “quarter life crisis”. I got everything planned when I was 20 years old: finish law school, go to grad school, get a dream-job, marry and have children. Well… I got 4 out of 5. I got a law degree, got a LL.M, marry (quite young, at 21), and I have 2 children. However, I cannot been able to find a permanent job that matches my education. I have been underemployed for about 3 years. It is frustrating.

    Maybe I shouldn´t complain, because I got 4 out of 5, but when I was 20 I wanted to “have it all”. And I worked to “have it all”. I think the problem are “outside circumstances”. First, sadly there are not enough jobs -in my town- for my field (human rights and gender issues). Second, many people think I should not be working because I have small children. Here, most working moms work because they need the income, not because they want to pursue a career. I have been in many job interviews where prospective employers have said to me: “… you got the qualifications, but you don´t need the job, your husband is the breadwinner. Who is going to take care of your children?”. I hate that they asume they are doing me a favor by not hiring me.

    So, maybe I was naive to think that I could “have it all”. Maybe not. I am not giving up, I want 5 out of 5. Sincerely, I think I deserve it.

    About your last question: “Do you think there’s a danger that our expectations and dreams may sometimes do more to make us unhappy than to create a life that we love living?” My answer is:

    NO, our expectations and dreams are the motor that keep us moving, that allow us to change and improve our lives. I have accepted that, probably, I won´t be able to get everything I want. But surely I hope that my two daughters won´t have to face the same “barriers” that I am facing in order to get their dreams. So, I am sorting out this “quarter of life crisis” and making the most of it 😉

  6. 6 Robert
    June 19, 2008 at 15:04

    I feel I started having one recently. People of the older generation routinely point out what they had done by my age (marriage, children, brought their first home etc) and there is great peer pressure to have both the great career and take the time to do all the cool stuff (travel the world etc). How does anybody not feel inferior when put up against all these ideals.

    I soon saw though that I just don’t care what others do or think and that I should do what is right for me at that time. This is a much better outlook on life and by doing it I feel much more at ease with myself.

    Trying to live to our own dreams and expectations is not what is making us unhappy, trying to live up to those others have for us is.

  7. 7 Julie P
    June 19, 2008 at 15:42

    It took me a while, quite awhile, to arrive at the idea that there are many unrealistic expectations to live up to and that I needed to set my own. It cut down on the “I should be here, have accomplished this, done that, should, should should.” Quarter life crisis, nothing. It was lack of understanding of what I wanted for myself that was the problem.

  8. 8 Colleen
    June 19, 2008 at 15:58

    Well i think that as the population ages people mature a little slower… which isnt a bad thing. but for a lot of people in their 20’s who have been fortunate to have a comfortable life and go to college, post-college life presents a major reality check. I’m 26 in the US and i’ve read about the millenial generation and i think a lot of the characteristics are true. we were brought up believing we could do anything, go anywhere and things would turn out just as we planned if we work hard. Well after college we come out to find work is often not so glamorous… student loans are not so easy to pay off… and finding a spouse — well that is just a whole other story!! So maybe older generations were faced with the practical challenges of life a little earlier… so trying to compare someone in thier 20’s today with someone in thier 20’s in the 1960’s really isnt the same thing… The fact is that all the things we grew up believeing can in fact some true, but it’s not so neatly packaged as the cliche “american dream” makes it sound.

  9. 9 Carolien from the Netherlands
    June 19, 2008 at 16:01

    Quarter life crisis I think adequately describes my state of mind at 24. I feel a lot of pressure from parents, universities and society to now decide my path in life when I have absolutely no idea how to most effectively live up to my potential. I have a lot of options about what to choose for a career, which is frustrating in a way because I can’t simply focus on one. The job market is getting more competitive with more people with fancy degrees and it is getting increasingly hard for young people out there to distinguish themselves. But perhaps I’m simply trying to come to grips with the idea that I can’t have it all.

  10. 10 steve
    June 19, 2008 at 16:04

    @ Carolien

    I don’t know if it’s this way in the Netherlands, but in the US, even people in their 60s make career changes. I believe the average american maked 5 career changes during their lives, so you don’t have to decide at age 24 what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. I’ll definetely be making a career change at the latest at 37.

  11. 11 Jonathan (sunny San Francisco)
    June 19, 2008 at 16:06

    It’s exactly because things don’t “magically come together” on their own that it’s important to pause along the way to take stock. It doesn’t have to be a grim undertaking, just a matter of making sure we’re preparing to get where we want to go (and that we really want to go there). It’s those who don’t plan for their goals who end up disappointed and let down by how things turn out.

    By thinking and planning now, Ros’ young friend is preventing a real midlife crisis. Of course priorities and goals may change along the way; all the more reason to stop and think sooner and more often. Socrates said the unexamined life isn’t worth living. This is surely what he meant; waking up one day and realizing one’s life has gone wrong. That is a crisis.

    Katharina, I think the undertone in society, especially in the US, might be not that we can achieve anything just by wanting it, but that we have more potential than we realize (in both senses of that word), and that we’re often our own worst obstacles.

    That’s not opposed to the notion you describe, of having low expectations in the sense of desire and need and greed. If what we want is bigger and better material stuff, fame, etc., we’ll never be fulfilled or happy. Desire is the opposite of contentment. That comedian was a Buddhist.

    So where is Ghent, anyway?

  12. 12 Jessica in NYC
    June 19, 2008 at 16:19

    God, yes I am having a quarter life crisis! I loathe my job and am only hear for it’s benefits, which include paying for school.

  13. June 19, 2008 at 16:43

    I had this dream that by the time I turned 25, I would already be married with a job, just like my father did in his won days. But here am I still with the intention of going to school for my Masters degree.

  14. 14 Katharina in Ghent
    June 19, 2008 at 16:47

    Hi Jonathan,

    Ghent is in flat and rainy Belgium, this afternoon it’s sunny, but you only dare to hope for sun, so you really do your best to enjoy it when you can. Perfect example for setting your expectations low: when you expect it to rain and you get sun, you’re happy (unless you’re a farmer, worried about your crops). When you expect the sun and you get rain, you’re fed up.

    Of course there’s more in us than we often think, and when you happen to find yourself in extreme situations, you are capable of much more than you thought possible. I have to admit though that, when I happen to watch TV on a Sunday morning and run into one of those TV-preachers from the US, telling people that if only they really, REALLY want something, working very hard for it, then God will reward them, and people in the audience actually take notes… I guess I’m a bit sarcastic because I find this laughable; if I work very hard for something, it may work out or not, it also depends on the circumstances. (Buying a lottery ticket is the right step to make the big prize, but there’s no guarantee.)

  15. 15 Luz María Guzmán from Mexico
    June 19, 2008 at 17:58

    I liked your comment. 🙂 Very well put.

    You made a very good point: “if I work very hard for something, it may work out or not, it also depends on the circumstances”

    I am a catholic, but I only attend mass given by jesuists. The other day, this jesuist told us: “life is struggle, God will not spare you from having bad times, disappointements, pain, etc.” and I think he is absolute right. Those who think that only because they “stick to the plan” will be rewarded are a little plain naive.

  16. 16 kadee
    June 19, 2008 at 18:02

    I think the crisis comes from thinking that we can have it all. Quite possibly we can, but not necessarily all at once, and when we do get it, will it be all it was cracked up to be? Often it isn’t and we then feel lost. As the saying goes, ‘Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it.’. Always have a Plan B.

  17. 17 Julie P
    June 19, 2008 at 18:13

    One thing that I have noticed while reading comments in this forum and others is that women seem to have a propensity for writing about “having it all”, yet not from the men. I’m wondering if there is a different meaning to “having it all” for either sex. Any thoughts?

  18. 18 Jessica in NYC
    June 19, 2008 at 18:47

    I like the idea of thinking and reflecting now as a marker to ensure we’re on the right track. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make it feel more positive.

    @Julie–Yes, I definately think there is a difference in how men and woman see having it all. However, I do not think it’s a two catagory answer that fits all. For me having it all means being contempt and happy in my personal and professional life. My personal happiness has never revolved around marriage or motherhood. The foundation for my “having it all” includes mental/physical health and financial security. Where as in my professional life, I simply want enjoy my work (AKA job satisfaction).

  19. 19 steve
    June 19, 2008 at 18:51

    “Having it all”. I think it’s common sense that you cannot “have it all”. Life isn’t all fun and games, and nobody is entitled to a perfect life, I have a feeling that men realize this better, as it seems many women are delusional about what they think the world owes them. The most miserable people you will ever meet are those who have the want it all mentality, and they FINALLY realize they canot, and then become bitter about it. Warning signs to look for : any talk of people being perfect, wanting perfect relationships, prince charming, or soulmate. If you hear any of those terms, the person is living in fantasyland, and will have a rude awakening one day.

  20. 20 Michele
    June 19, 2008 at 20:40

    I did have one and most of my friends as well. I went through a divorce (very young) and was still working on my bachelors degree after 3 colleges, 3 different majors and 7 years of study in total. Thankfully, I have come out of that time period now (after a couple of years) but always like to share my thoughts and “wisdom” with the 20-somethings going through similar major life decisions.
    You gain a little wisdom with that quarter life crisis. It’s not all doom and gloom. The blurb above states that the quarter life crisis is about high expectation and being let down, but on the contrary, I think it’s a learning lesson. It’s a difficult learning lesson but it’s very important in shaping who you are as an adult. I am also hoping going through this crisis earlier will prevent me from having a horrible mid-life crisis! At least I’ll be more prepared to deal with the emotional part.

    Life is what you make of it. Set realistic goals and when you not only achieve them, but go above and beyond, you’ll be plesantly suprised! And the mistakes you make really do make you stronger and wiser.

  21. 21 Justin in Iowa
    June 19, 2008 at 22:04

    Yes, I would say I am having a Quarter Life Crisis…

    But that’s not a surprise, since my life has felt like I’ve been stumbling from one crisis to the next for the whole of it.

    I guess that is the natural extension of the original question posed here. How many people are feeling the anxiety of a quarter life crisis… and how many people have just been existing in a constant state of anxiety?

  22. 22 Julie P
    June 20, 2008 at 01:50

    @Steve and Jessica,

    Thanks for responding to question. It was my attempt at getting some feedback from real people vs. the pseudo-intellectuals explanations I’ve read on the subject. My personal thoughts on the subject is that females are fed a steady diet of “Snow White” and “Cinderella” growing up, thus creating this fantasy perception, until they get some real life experience. Then it all sinks in “having it all” is someone else’s fantasy and unattainable. Males, on the other hand, were never fed that bull,and just never bought into. it. But, then males aren’t told having a professional career, having children and raising them is “having it all”; it’s a fact of life. My idea of “having it all” is living my life the way I want to, even if it’s not conventional.

  23. 23 Zak
    June 20, 2008 at 02:03

    Not really my thing here but I have to believe the original comment came from at least knowledge of the show Quaterlife. As an artist this is fairly revolutionary stuff in that it has a wild internet rating being the first of it’s kind to broadcast episodes online, but NBC picked it up for the pilot and dropped it much to a lot of peoples chagrin who were looking for that nice 1080i HD. You won’t get that online but you can get fairly high quality episodes and the show itself isn’t bad, from an artists perspective.

  24. 24 Jack Hughes
    June 20, 2008 at 02:50

    // Should it be the media, aid work, policy research or campaigning and lobbying she wondered out loud? //

    Has she thought of maybe doing something, err, useful ?

  25. 25 minneapolislaura
    June 20, 2008 at 04:06

    I definitely know some friends a bit older than me struggling to figure out “what they want to do with their lives.” There is this enormous pressure to do it right, starting younger and younger. As a freshmen in high school i was already told i needed to start thinking about finding the right college. You get to college (which is increasingly THE ONLY way to “do it right”) and you need to find the right major. Next find the right job, start the right family, lead the right life.

    We’re told every choice will alter our lives FOREVER. In reality? I don’t think it really matters what school you attend or what path you follow. I have a friend who’s been rather nomad-esque the last couple years, going from school to school, and she seems more content with her life than other friends. It’s the people who ask “what is she DOING with her life” that are probably in actuality the unhappy ones- finding they are in this “quarter life crisis.”

    Maybe it’s rather over-optimistic of me, but…

    Do what makes you happy. It’s not worth it to live any other way. Stop taking it all so seriously- it always works out in the end.

  26. June 20, 2008 at 10:03

    Whoever it was who said, “Life is a full blown adventure or it is nothing at all!” Well, if you ask me and I’d tell you, they spoke truly. Though at 75, I think I must have led a deprived life–I don’t recall ever experiencing a ‘crisis.’ Though maybe I had them and never knew it! For me the secret, I believe, was to live wholly, intensely, totally, sans plan or worry. Whatever the momet brought, whatever I used it for, I lived as though the present moment were the last. Though at the time I didn’t know I was. Only later looking back… answering queries. My life seems to have been an unconscious alliance with whatever it was life wanted of me, in the thoughtless trust and assumption that in living thus Life itself would look after my needs. And it did. It always has. It was an unconscious way of living to be sure… there never seemed to be two choices, only an unquenching thirst and a ravenous hunger for everything life brought my way. My unknown guidelines from earliest years, this hunger, this thirst… Now I begin to suspect having crossed the outer limits of a new frontier… no doubt there is a spanking new adventure waiting a ways ahead… another moment in life’s endless necklace of endless moments, whose only lasting worth is the intensity we invest in them… Be well, live fully, embrace the moment without concern, without regret… Life takes care of us if we allow it when we live in alliance with it!

  27. 27 Tee
    July 20, 2008 at 12:53

    I am 26 and definitely going through a quarter life crisis. I have come down to earth with a lound thud.

    Throughout the course of my schooling and even in University, I feel an unrealistic view of life, careers, and family was perpetuated. I feel slightly conned.

    This thread has been refreshing to read, and I am glad Im not the only one. I certainly struggle to live up to expectations set by others. Its difficult too, to unlearn all the bullshit that is force fed throughout your life. I know that I should be thoroughly enjoying my 20’s but that now seems to be the domain of my early 20’s. I was innocent and I think naive then. Now I feel old. I am bored with my job, in loads of credit card debt, student loan debt, live in a share house, work 9-5, and worst of all, all my old friends seem to have disappeared and I no longer feel any passion for the things I used to.

    However, I am glad I have stepped out of the fog of innocence and deceipt. Now I have felt the low ground, with a bit of hope and tenacity I want to find a higher ground that embraces a whole new way of thinking.


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