According to an online survey conducted by LinkedIn in 2017, 75% of 25-33 year olds have experienced a quarter-life crisis. Maybe you don’t believe in it. If so, lucky you, you’ve clearly never experienced it. For those who have, a quarter-life crisis can leave you feeling anxious, disillusioned and perpetually stuck in a career, relationship or financial situation that might as well be a death sentence. Read on to see how I moved past my quarter-life crisis. It may help you too.
Call it bad luck or call it divine intervention, but I decided to leave teaching, in part, because I was unemployed. From 2015-2017 I’d had a number of short contracts, peppered with periods of relief work in between. At the end of 2017, I thought things were looking up when I was given a position in one the schools I did regular work for, but alas, I wasn’t offered a new contract for the following year.
A few months before this, I got married to a wonderful man. As we both still lived at home, when we got married, the plan was to live with my parents until we could save up enough money for a home loan. Excited by the prospect, we set up an appointment with a specialist within a couple of months.
Now, mathematics isn’t my strong suit, so I didn’t understand everything he was saying about interest rates and all that jazz, but one thing was clear: without me having a stable income, we wouldn’t be eligible for a decent home loan. My teaching career had never been financially stable. I couldn’t present Mr Home Loan with a regular income figure because my short contracts and the inconsistency of relief work made it impossible to do so.
Although I enjoyed teaching, it seemed like I would never break the cycle I was in and gain permanency. It would literally take years. The solution: I made the executive decision to make a career change to find something more stable – a pretty clear choice when I was without job offers at the end of 2017.
How I felt
The day that I applied for Non-Practising Registration was the start of an extended period of anxiety around my future. I had spent seven years either studying or working in Education and I had no idea what to do next. Teaching was supposed to be my career for life.
At Uni I had never understood those people who changed degrees as often as they changed their hairstyles. I thought I’d be better off. Instead, I was now left feeling like I’d wasted my time, my parents’ money and was paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision.
When seeking a new career path, I had four criteria:
- Must be financially stable – I want a home loan.
- Requires little or no retraining – Uni was a waste of time.
- Must give me work-life balance – another reason why I left teaching.
- Should be enjoyable – I want to be stimulated.
That fourth point was optional, but it still didn’t help. My quarter-life crisis was a merry-go-round of indecision. I was scared of wasting more time in another industry that wouldn’t work out and I wanted make sure that I chose the right career this time, so instead of moving in a direction that may or may not have been right, I stopped moving at all. I simply didn’t make a decision.
Sure, I applied for jobs (secretly hoping potential employers would make the decision for me) and I came up with a few ideas for career paths that might work, but none of them stood out. I couldn’t tell if I had no interests or too many interests. Never in my life has any crisis hit me with the longevity that this one had.
I had the first breakthrough in my quarter-life crisis in November 2018 when Sam Brown from Smart Twenties shared her Figure Your Life Out masterclass. Over ten days, I identified how I was blocking myself, learned different ways to gain confidence, and finally figured out what to do as a multi-passionate person. I also gained further insight into potential career options, but it still wasn’t enough.
Thankfully, the final breakthrough wasn’t far away. On the same week that Sam released her FYLO masterclass, Olivia from The Grown-Up Guide was seeking participants for free coaching as part of her life-coaching certification. I was keen to help a friend, but I also wondered if this might be an alternative to the expensive career counselling I has been considering.
Oliva’s coaching was amazing! She was funny, relatable, extremely generous with her time and she gave me practical advice to me get through my quarter-life crisis. It was no bed of roses – she asked some pretty confronting questions and I did tear up a few times, but it was just what I needed. What she shared was relevant to my specific situation and she helped identify what was holding me back and facilitated the creation of an action plan that helped me move forward.
Things that helped me
I struggled with choosing a career path for nearly a year. I applied for so many jobs, just hoping one of them would offer me a position so I wouldn’t have to deal with my quarter-life crisis anymore. Guess what? It didn’t work.
Here’s what did:
- Surrounding myself with supportive people. If it wasn’t for my husband, I don’t know how I would’ve got through it. Having at least one supportive person who is confident in your ability to find a solution, who will support you in the transition and can cheer you on when you feel like giving up makes a huge difference.
- A session with a life coach. It might seem airy fairy (and believe me, I used to think the same), but my coach provided me with genuine advice, helped me identify mindset and personal issues that were keeping me stuck, offered solutions that helped change my mindset, helped me clarify what I wanted and guided me in creating an action plan.
- Finding the intersect between my strengths, passions and job possibilities. What do you think is the most common cause of a quarter-life crisis? 61% of people surveyed by LinkedIn said it was finding a job or career that they were passionate about. It’s not enough to choose a career based on what you’re good at, you have to enjoy it too. At the same time, make sure there’s actually a job in it. What can you find in the intersect of all three?
- Choosing the career option with the most to gain, not the easiest to achieve. As a multi-passionate person, I struggled with choosing just one career option. I like lists, so I made a pros and cons list for each idea, but instead of choosing the option with the least cons, I choose the option with the biggest pro – the one with the most to gain if I became successful. This will make your choice a lot more fulfilling and hopefully push you to achieve your full potential.
- Being open to non-traditional pathways. This means a lot coming from me. I was once the most traditional-minded person out there – in religion, career, marriage, pretty much everything – but the thing is, the economic landscape has changed and the jobs of the future don’t always include the traditional jobs of the past. Being open-minded can make it easier to find a job you’re passionate about and get you out of your quarter-life crisis.
- Having a backup plan. While I believe you should chase your dreams, I think it’s also important to be realistic. Having a backup plan to support you as you pursue your dreams can ensure you’re both financially stable and personally satisfied. For example, if you were planning on setting up your own business, a safe way to approach this would be to work part-time as you build it up, at least until your biz takes off.
- Reminding myself that there’s a lot to be grateful for. You could drive yourself crazy focusing on the negatives of your situation, but that won’t get you anywhere. Taking some time each day to express gratitude and focus on the little joys can help you get through a particularly bad day. Unemployed? Now you can finally have a lie in. Feeling sick? Listen to the birds singing as you pour yourself a cup of tea. It really makes a difference.
- Having faith that I’d get through it. You might not be religious, but I know you have faith. Don’t believe me? You believe that you’ll wake up tomorrow morning, don’t you? That in itself is an act of faith. I couldn’t see what was ahead of me, I didn’t know how I’d get out of my quarter-life crisis, but I knew it couldn’t last forever and that faith kept me sane as I trudged through the murky waters.
- Realising I will probably pursue multiple career paths. My fear of choosing the wrong career path was one of the biggest factors keeping me stuck. Statistically speaking though, most people change jobs about 12 times between the age of 18 and 48. Knowing this current career choice probably isn’t my final destination made me more willing to try different things and make the leap.
- Not taking advice from people who hate their jobs. Think about it. Although you may value, say, a parent’s opinion, why would you take advice from them if they hate their job? Sure, they might be trying to save you from making a costly mistake, but this person was also probably too scared to pursue their dreams. Listening to those who actually do like their jobs is far more valuable.
What I realised
My quarter-life crisis taught me a lot. It made me re-evaluate my values, priorities and was probably the biggest influence on my new and improved mindset. Not long ago, I was extremely pessimistic and craved my parents’ approval for everything. Now, while I do have dark days, I’m moving towards a more optimistic mindset, and I don’t feel the need to live a life that Mum and Dad agree with – I live on my terms, doing what’s right for me.
In summary, this is what I learned:
- Getting where you want takes time. I’ll admit that I had unrealistic expectations about how long it would take to find the right career for me. I think initially I assumed I’d be able to work it out in a month, but sometimes you need to experience certain things to come to that conclusion. When you do finally decide on a career path, it could also take years to get there. But you know what? It’s okay to have a few messy years if it gets you where you want to go. Re-evaluate your timeline and remember you probably have another 40 working years ahead of you. A couple of years are a drop in the ocean by that measure.
- There isn’t simply one career choice for us all. The statistics tell us that career change is inevitable, so why fight it? Stop thinking there’s only one choice. Additionally, if you’re multi-passionate, there’s no reason why you can’t pursue each passion when the time comes. Different careers will only enhance your skillset and life experience and make your journey all the more interesting. If you think that there are no wrong choices, it’ll make things a whole lot easier!
- Chase what feels good. Some people are prone to following their hearts more than others, so this may or may not be easy advice for you to take on board. I’ve found, however, that if you find something that brings you joy, pursuing it will guide you in the right direction, even if you can’t see how it will unfold. Your vision will become clearer over time. Trust yourself.
- Pursuing your passion > pleasing other people. Pleasing others is a losing game. You can’t please everyone and you can’t control what they think or how they behave – the only thing you can control is yourself. It’s inevitable (particularly if you choose a non-traditional pathway) that some people won’t understand your decision, but if you truly feel aligned with the choice you’ve made, don’t let it bother you. This is your life and you have your own purpose. You have to pursue what’s right for you.
What you need to remember
I don’t know what caused your quarter-life crisis, but I can guess that a big part of it is based on comparison. Maybe you’re comparing where you are in your career to a friend who has already gained a permanent position, or maybe you’re single but all your friends are engaged or married. While it’s all well and good to have goals, you need to remember that we all have our own timelines. Just because people think you should be married by the time you’re 25, doesn’t make it gospel. Your time will come when it’s good and ready. There’s a reason you’re not there yet.
I also want you to remember to keep things in perspective. I’m a natural drama queen and a recovering pessimist, so jumping to conclusions like “Uni was a waste of time” wasn’t a stretch, but that doesn’t make it true. If you feel like your current career was a waste of time, I want you to make a list of at least four things you learned from it. You can do this for almost anything and it will not only prove there was value in the experience, but potentially outline the transferrable skills you can address when you change careers!
I know firsthand that when you’re going through a quarter-life crisis it can be a challenge to stay positive. It may seem like the worst period of your life, but you will get through it. It won’t happen without a little work on your part, however if you appreciate what you do have and have faith that there is a career path out there for you, I firmly believe that it will work out. A good friend of mine recently reminded me, “Happiness isn’t attained by grand moments, it’s the accumulation of small things like a warm cup of tea and sitting in the sunshine.” Expressing gratitude every day is a simple exercise that can keep you grounded.
If all this isn’t enough, why not try using positive affirmations? Most of our daily thoughts are filled with judgement and when left to wander, they can verge into negative territory pretty quickly. Take control of your thoughts by thinking intentionally and repeatedly about a solution to your problem. When you repeat them often, and believe in them, you can start to make positive changes. Try repeating or writing an affirmation like this twenty times a day and pretty soon you’ll start to believe it:
I am open to the idea that there is a job out there that will require little retraining, that I can enjoy and will give me the stability and work-life balance I desire.
My quarter-life crisis and subsequent desire for a career change is not unusual. Roughly 36% of those who experience a quarter-life crisis have done the exact same thing. While it’s a dark time filled with uncertainty, you can alleviate some of the pressure on your shoulders when you realise that you’re not alone, that you can get support, when you keep things in perspective and have faith that you’ll get through it. My major issue was choosing a new career. What most helped me to make this choice was working with life-coaches, finding the intersect between my strengths, passions and job possibilities, as well as being open to non-traditional pathways. Your mindset is also a major contributing factor in how you respond to a quarter-life crisis and should also be a key area of focus. Getting through your quarter-life crisis comes down to you alone. You have more power than you think.
What’s your biggest take away from this article? Let me know in the comments below.
Have a good day!