I have type A personality so I like to do as much research and preparation before I set out to do something. This includes dealing with quarter life crisis.
I remember my very wise friend Natira telling me that quarterlife crisis comes in waves: At different age in your twenty’s, you freak out about different things.
I remember the paralyzing fear and anxiety I felt during the period after college. I went to the campus hospital because I was experiencing sudden bouts of nausea, intense headaches, and difficulty breathing. I thought I had developed a brain tumor or asthma, or caught some weird disease somehow.
When the doctors kept running tests and coming back with negative results, I vividly recall the nurse asking, “Is there anything else going in your life right now that we should know about?” When I answered with feigned nonchalanced, “Oh um, I’m just looking for my first real job. I graduated a couple of weeks ago. Not doing much,” the nurse’s face changed from puzzled to really, really concerned. She suggested softly “You need to go see a counselor, hon.”
Thus I made an appointment at the psychological services department. (Big shout out to UC Berkeley for letting students keep their health insurance for a few weeks after graduation! AND providing the first five counseling appointments FO’ FREE! Thank you, thank you, thank you!) Each session flew by quickly because I just had so much to say, things that I thought would make me seem weak or whiny if I told them to my peers or family. I thought I was one of the very few people going through similar things, or at least the ones taking it the hardest.
At the time, I had no idea that quarter life crisis was a thing. I also had no idea how common it is. After I’ve found a job (well, paid full-time internship is close enough), I told friends about the physical symptoms I had that lead me to seeing a counselor, and to my surprise, many of them apparently also made themselves worried-sick during their first real job hunt. We were just all too embarrassed to admit to each other. Most of them did not seek professional help like I did because they didn’t think this was important enough to warrant that.
Now I’m not so nervous about my future that I’m tossing my cookies randomly anymore, but now there’s just a quiet disturbance always bubbling beneath the surface. I didn’t want to wait until for it to erupt to learn about how to deal with it that when my other twentysomething coworkers told me about the book Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How To Make The most of Them Now By Doctor Meg Jay, I bought it immediately.
I find it extremely helpful. The book couldn’t possibly give me personalized, specific recommendations on how I can work to improve my life, because every reader is unique, but the book did provide really poignant ways and realistic perspectives to think about how I can begin to improve various aspects of my life. Using examples from her anonymous clients, Meg Jay draws insight from these real-life twentysomethings’ often misled reasoning and how we could do differently to move forward. While I don’t have the same issues as them, I easily sympathize and quickly relate with each one. Sometimes I’d even think to myself, “Oh this sounds a lot like my friend ____!”
I’m not going to spoil the book for you, and it is definitely worth reading for yourself, but here are the three main points that I personally find the most valuable:
- This quarterlife crisis shit is real. Your parents and older relatives mean well, of course, but when they ask you how you are and then react to the answer with something like “Ah you have your whole life ahead of you! What a wonderful age!” remember that they experienced their twenties in a very different time. Try as they may, they know very little about what you’re going through. What you feel is very valid. However, this doesn’t give you an excuse to wallow in self-pity, either. Start taking proactive steps now.
- Having a lot of options doesn’t always make you happy. Just a few decades ago, it was rare and difficult to move to a faraway state or a foreign country. People also married and had kids much earlier, settling down before they reached 30 years old. My mom has worked at the exact same place all her life- the original company was bought by a bigger corporation, and she just stayed and never left! There’s much more turnover and mobility in the workplace now. While the previous generations had fewer paths to choose from, our generation is now overwhelmed by the plethora of possibilities because we worry about whether or not we’re taking the right route. That brings us to the next point…
- While each major decision we make now is pretty important, we can definitely change our mind about it later, so don’t fret. The book stresses that while our twenties is a time of freedom and fun, the actions we take or choose to not take now have lasting impact throughout the rest of our lives. A lot of Dr. Meg Jay’s patients were so scared that they would make the wrong choice, that they ended up not making any choices and stalling their lives. Even if you ended up making a bad choice, at least you’ll learn from the experience that it wasn’t the best fit for you and you can cross that off on your list.
- Adulthood isn’t really about having it together all time, it’s about learning to be able to deal with unexpectedly situations well. Believe it or not, older people are just as vulnerable to unforeseen surprises as us, and they can’t predict the unknown future just like us. They don’t know when they might get suddenly laid off, either, and they don’t know if a loved one would get sick, etc. But, because people older than us tend to be more well-prepared and experienced than we are, they are less likely to have panic attacks or exclaim “I just wish someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do!” All the pieces of skills we acquired, knowledge we learned, and incidents we experienced build up to become the tools that can help us when the occasion rises.
While the book did make me feel like I’m not doing nearly as much as I could be doing potentially, it also repeatedly drives home the point that I’m really the only person in control of my life, and while it might be daunting to realize, I have the sole ability to push it in the direction that I want to see. And that is empowering.
Happy recognizing quarterlife crisis and handling it!