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What is a Quarter-life Crisis? And How To Deal With It
Updated 22 Mar, 2021

What is a quarter-life crisis?

The term quarter-life crisis has been popularly used to describe a period from your mid-20s to early 30s, where you feel lost and confused about what you’re meant to be doing with your life. 

It’s typified by doubt around choices you’ve made and a questioning of all aspects of your life and what you’ve accomplished in it. 

It can be accompanied by anxiety, depression and other negative feelings about yourself.

Quarter-life crises are very normal and the vast majority of young people go through it. Studies have found that 75% of 25-33 year olds reported experiencing a quarter-life crisis. 

While some experts debate whether a quarter-life crisis should be classified as a ‘real’ thing, there’s no denying it’s a very common occurrence and has identifiable patterns of thought and behaviour.

At what age does a quarter-life crisis occur?

Research has found that quarter-life crises most often occur around the age of 23-27. 

A Linkedin study found that the average age for a quarter-life crisis was 27.

How long does a quarter-life crisis last?

Studies have found the average length of a quarter-life crisis is 11 months. However, depending on your situation, this can be shorter or longer.

People going through a quarter-life crisis typically go through 4 phases over this period, from initially feeling trapped by their situation to eventual resolution and sense of growth as they emerge from their crisis.

1: Locked-inYou feel trapped and unhappy in at least one major commitment that’s no longer satisfying you. Most commonly this is a job or a relationship.
2: Separation and breakoutYou decide to leave your commitment or make a change.
3: ExplorationYou take time out to experiment, to explore other options and to gain perspective on what alternatives are out there.
4: Resolution and sense of growthYou no longer feel like you are in your crisis and can see what you discovered about yourself.

What does a quarter-life crisis feel like?

  • You may feel like you’re falling behind compared to everyone else. 
  • You may be disappointed that you’re not where you expected to be. 
  • You may feel lost and directionless and have difficulty finding meaning in your life and career. 
  • You will typically have a lot of self-doubt and anxiety surrounding the future and decisions you’ve made or need to make.
  • You may feel depressed, anxious and unmotivated. 
  • You may have a strong urge to run away and leave all your responsibilities behind.

Related: Am I Going Through a Quarter Life Crisis? Here’s 8 Tell-tale Symptoms

What causes a quarter-life crisis?

Quarter-life crises are commonly caused by a mismatch of what we internally want for ourselves, and what we’re experiencing in reality. 

A lot of people cruise through life on autopilot, following the instructions of society and its blueprint for success – study hard in school, go to university, get a corporate job, climb the ladder, get married, buy a house, have kids then continue till you retire.

However, as we enter adulthood and start attaining these things, we may start to realise they’re not what we expected, or not things we actually value. 

This awakening is often the cause of a quarter-life crisis. Thus, a quarter-life crisis can provide an opportunity to discover who we are, what we want and teach us to follow our internal guidance, rather than external expectations for success.

The trigger for a quarter-life crisis can come in many forms – most of the time it’s triggered by a big life transition like a relationship break-up, change in social groups or being made redundant. However, dissatisfaction with our work can also spark us to question what we’re doing with our lives and reassess what is truly valuable to us.

According to studies, the most common triggers for a quarter-life crisis in women include:

  1. a relationship break-up
  2. debt of financial difficulties
  3. being stuck in a relationship you don’t want to be in 

For men, the most common triggers are:

  1. being trapped in a job you hate
  2. experiencing stress and pressure in your job
  3. periods of unwanted unemployment

Dealing with your quarter-life crisis

You may be wondering what to do about your quarter-life crisis.

Research has shown that most of the people who come out of their quarter-life crisis with a positive outcome made big changes to their lives

This makes sense because if your current situation is making you feel a certain way, the only way to change how you feel is to change your situation.

Here are 3 steps you can take to deal with your quarter-life crisis.

Step 1: Identify which areas need your focus

Many issues can contribute to your quarter-life crisis, the first step is to pinpoint what the big issues are for you. You can then focus on fixing these areas first to create the most momentum.

Is it a general sense of purposelessness and not knowing what you want to do in life? Is it dissatisfaction with your career? Your relationship status? A combination of all things? 

Step 2: Set goals 

Once you’ve taken stock and figured out your main areas for focus, it’s time to decide what you want to happen in these areas to give you a direction to head.

The best way to do this is through setting goals for yourself. These have to be real goals that you want, not what you think you want or what society dictates you want. 

For a step-by-step guide to do this, see: 9 Crucial Steps to Goal Setting and Achieving in 2021

Step 3: Take action

Once you know where you want to go. The last step then is to take action. 

Taking action is the only way you can get out of your crisis. Thinking about it, no matter how long you spend, is not going to change your situation and therefore how you feel.

Messy action is better than no action and is the way you create change. 

As mentioned, the factor that differentiates quarter-lifers who emerge from their crisis with a positive experience and sense of growth were the ones who took action to create change in their lives. 

Break your goals down into small manageable steps and start taking action immediately to create change. As you start moving, momentum will build and you will start to feel better and better.

Going through a quarter-life crisis is a hard experience, but sometimes things need to disintegrate before they can rebuild. Use this period as an opportunity to grow and to learn more about yourself and what you want out of life. When you do this, you can live more intentionally and build a life you can truly be happy in.

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