Picture in your head the quintessential twentysomething. In their mind is the vague notion that they’re destined for greatness and world change, and if they could just find the right avenue to get there, they’d be making a difference.
Unfortunately, that avenue has yet to present itself, so they find themselves in a job they tolerate, in a city they wouldn’t mind leaving and a life that just doesn’t quite seem to be working out the way they had figured it would. They want to take on the world. They want to help. And they feel certain if they could take that first step, then life would turn into an incredible adventure. But that first step looks harder and harder to take, and so a sense of existential angst begins to weigh on them.
One day you’re jogging along with as upbeat music confirms with every step that you can take on the world.
The next day, you’re sprawled out on the couch wishing you could live in a ’90s sitcom, Death Cab for Cutie in the background confirming with every melody that you can’t even take on your laundry, let alone the world.
Hearing twentysomethings talk about going through a quarter-life crisis can feel like such a joke until you’re experiencing one yourself.
It seems almost inevitable we will all experience this sort of crisis at some point. The question is: How do we journey through a quarter-life crisis and come out the other side alive and kicking?
Never fear. Here are 7 things to help you through:
1. Crisis is Normal
Experiencing crisis in your twenties is like having gas after a steak and cheese burrito. Just because we don’t want to admit it doesn’t mean we don’t all go through some bad spells.
Even our own parents most likely went through intense questioning and crisis in their twenties. They didn’t just teleport to success and stability. If we ask them what their twenties were like we might find out that as our parents got their stuff together, they went through their own stuff that sounds a lot like yours.
I love what author Parker Palmer wrote, while in his ‘60s, about his own long season of turmoil and distress that started in his twenties:
“When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about their darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known … I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race.”
2. It’s More Transition than Quarter-Life Crisis
As William Bridges reminds us in his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, transitions start with an ending. Just like a breakup with someone you hoped was “The One,” in major life transitions, you’re breaking up with an important season of your life. You’re cutting the anchor that held you in that port, and as it splashes in the water it’s bound to produce some waves.
When you graduate from college, move across the country or leave friends or family, you’re not only leaving that place, familiarities, routines and memories, you’re also leaving who you were in that place. You’re saying goodbye to a season and, even more dramatically, waving goodbye to who you used to be. Sure, bits and pieces will come with you, but just like that huge, comfortable couch in a bachelor pad, some big things will get left behind.
However, it is stuck smack dab in this void of “what now?” where you make the most progress. Maybe a quarter-life crisis is not just a stage to pass over, it’s a transition process to marinate in. Let the overwhelming questions of “I have no idea where I’m going” guide you to where you want to be.
3. Limit Obsessive Comparison Disorder
In what became Secret #35 in my book 101 Secrets for your Twenties–”Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the smallpox of our generation.”
What’s Obsessive Comparison Disorder, you ask? It’s the new OCD I’ve coined to describe our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us into depression, consumption, anxiety and all-around discontent. It encourages us to stay up late on Facebook pouring through all 348 pictures of our frenemies’ “My Life is Better Than Yours” album, and then it sends us to bed wondering why we feel so anxious.
Obsessively comparing yourself to others, becoming more and more frustrated that your life doesn’t look like theirs, is the absolute most effective way to take your crisis to unhealthy, eating raw cookie dough with a serving spoon, levels. Like having to run outside to light up a cigarette, our comparison addiction is uncontrollable, and it is killing us. Until we cure our obsessive comparison disorder we will continue to light our internal crisis on fire and then feel the burn.
4. Kill Unmet Expectations
Maybe it’s time to put to death the unrealistic ideas of how instantly amazing your life should have been before these unmet expectations kill you over and over again. Success doesn’t happen in a day, it happens in decades. We are in the exact spot we are supposed to be, it just looks nothing like the picture on the front of the brochure. All the time, effort, struggle and strain we’re experiencing is not the roadblock to success, it is the stairwell that takes us to the view we were praying for all along.
5. Engage with a Crisis Community
We need to get better at talking through the struggle. Let’s stop putting on the “My Life is Amazing” Magic Show when no one’s in the audience to even watch. You are not alone in this. So many twentysomethings are struggling, we’ve just become proficient at living like our stuff doesn’t stink, even when it’s smelling up our entire living room.
6. Don’t Sit and Stew and Simmer
Open up the windows. Let in some fresh air. Go for a run. Heck, maybe sign up for a marathon. Start yoga. Go to a church service. Read some books. Volunteer at a retirement home. If you have no idea what you’re doing in your life, just pick something that you know can’t be bad and just run with it.
Sometimes the best answers come when we stop sitting around obsessing over finding them.
7. Have Faith in the Future
It might sound cliché, but we need to cling tight to our faith and hope in our future. Our belief in a rockin’ future, even when our present is currently rocking us, can be a piggy-back ride through the thorns and glass of a quarter-life crisis.
Vicktor Frankel, WWII concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote about this about the power of belief: “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future–his future–was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”
Maybe your faith in the future should also re-incorporate your actual faith as well. Maybe in your life God has felt as cold and distant as an Alaskan King Salmon. Ask God for clarity in this crisis and see what is revealed. Maybe it’s time to bring back your faith into your future.
Being twentysomething can feel like a pug trying to climb a mountain. It’s slow, noisy and not pretty, but it’s one tiny step after another and you somehow make it to the top.