The Biggest Sign You’re Having a Quarter-Life Crisis—and How to Break Through It
If you're feeling a bit lost in your 20s or 30s, you're not alone. A life coach and therapist shares her tips for finding your way.
I’m going to be honest with you, I never considered a “quarter-life crisis” to be a real thing beyond being mentioned in one of my favorite John Mayer songs (“Why Georgia?” anyone?). My 25th birthday came and went and I was fine. In fact, I was so caught up in my stressful job that I didn’t really have time to think about it at all. I don’t think I even noticed my own birthdays until I turned 27 and, I kid you not, it was as though the switch on my life’s countdown clock was flipped. I became acutely aware of the passage of time. I started reflecting on the jobs I’d held and how I was proud of them and I’d worked hard to land them, but how they didn’t really make me happy. I started thinking about what my high school self would think if she could see me now. I think she’d be happy? I hoped.
What I realized is that I was experiencing what a lot of people call a quarter-life crisis. I reached out to Tess Brigham, a psychotherapist and life coach living in the San Francisco Bay area. She let me know that, while there’s no clear definition of a quarter-life crisis, there are general signs that indicate you’re probably facing one—but don’t worry, she has some advice on how to deal.
How to Know You’re Facing a Quarter-Life Crisis
While everyone may have a different definition of what it means to face a crisis, Brigham makes it pretty simple: “There are no universal symptoms or a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, so if you believe you're going through a crisis, then you probably are.”
That’s because, obviously, we all face challenges in our own ways, and on our own timelines. Just because you’re 25 doesn’t mean you’re going to immediately feel a sudden onset of self-doubt. Rather, Brigham notices, “this crisis hits because how we picture adulthood in our teens and in college is so radically different than what adulthood really looks like.”
While we’re spending all of our time contemplating what our life will look like, we start to doubt ourselves. “If you're someone who has always had a clear direction, but now you're questioning every choice you've made in the last couple of years—you may be in the midst of a quarter-life crisis,” explains Brigham. In addition to questioning basic choices, Brigham mentions that some people become suddenly unsure of who they are as an individual—especially in their own ability to “adult.”
“The biggest sign is the overwhelming feeling of doubt,” says Brigham. “For many people they feel so lost their instinct is to quit everything and run away.”
Here’s How to Deal
Stop comparing yourself to other people.
First and foremost, don’t you dare head down the dreaded rabbit hole of comparison. “Don't compare your life to anyone else's and start to beat yourself up because your life doesn't look as good as someone else's on Instagram,” says Brigham. “Comparing yourself will make only make you more confused about what it is you really want for yourself.” After all, this is about you.
Think hard about the change(s) you want to make.
While you’re staying off the ’gram, Brigham also encourages people to avoid making lots of changes all at once. Sit still and reflect on what brought you to this place. “The best thing to do is accept that this is a scary time and that you're going to feel afraid and unsure of yourself—and that's OK,” says Brigham. “A crisis is a good thing because it's a sign that something in your life needs to change. This crisis is your wake up call and can inspire you to make changes in your life for the better.”
Then focus on the things that you value and bring you joy.
“Spend some time thinking about what you want your future to look like,” Brigham says. “Don't worry so much about how it’ll all unfold—instead, focus on what’s important to you. What brings you joy and what kinds of work, people, and surroundings provide meaning to you?”
Be patient with yourself.
Once you’ve really spent time focusing on those things, Brigham cautions people not to fall into the trap of thinking everything will fall perfectly into place overnight. “Recognize the solution to all of your problems isn't going to come overnight—and that's a good thing,” says Brigham. “This is a big change which means you want to put a lot of time and attention into what’s next for you.”
“We spend a lot of time worrying about what other people will think about our choices but they don't have to live our lives,” Brigham says. “Any major change will feel scary, but you want to make decisions from a place of clarity and not fear.”