The Quarter-life Crisis

I’m having a quarter-life crisis.

My month-old post about Enjoying the Ride is temporarily forgotten, and I am officially a bundle of nerves!

I’m not entirely sure when or why or how it kicked in, but I am feeling restless, anxious and stuck. As many young adults can relate, for the last 23 years, I knew what the next  “big chapter” in my life was going to be. Grade school, middle school, high school, UW-Madison, study abroad, career.

The next horizon, however, is a big fat question mark, and I have to decide what it is that I want to do with my life. I am realizing things about myself I never knew, and wondering where I will be in a few years. It’s not that I’m unhappy, the feeling is just unnerving.

What is my purpose? Who am I? What defines me? What should I be doing with these 24 hours in a day? What career will make me feel happy and fulfilled? How can I be inspired on a daily basis?

After realizing that I actually was in minor crisis mode, I did a Google search for quarterlife crisis. Apparently the term was coined in 1997 by Abby Wilner, co-author of Quarterlife Crisis and Quarterlifer’s Companion, after she graduated from college and couldn’t figure out what to do with her life.  And here I thought I created it.

Penelope Trunk also wrote a great post called Navigating the quarterlife crisis, back in 2006. Penelope says that many people start to define themselves by the answer to the question, ‘So, what do you do?’ and when jobs aren’t fulfilling enough, we start to feel nervous.

“One of the contributions Generations X and Y have made to the workplace is the quarterlife crisis,” she writes. “The journey toward crisis begins at college graduation, when the typical student has about ten thousand dollars in loans and no skills to land a decent job.”

She hits on a great point. Many recent graduates are struggling to find a decent entry-level job—let alone one that lives up to our expectation of “dream job”. It’s the age-old dilemma of “how do I get experience if no one will hire me to get the experience?”

And the Internet only proliferates the crisis mode. Countless stories of the next 20-something entrepreneur living their dream and tales of young people traveling the world leave those of us uninvolved feeling stuck.

A simple start

If you ever do feel stuck, know that you are not alone. Resist the urge to let any one thing define you—especially your job—and instead, look at the whole picture. Continue to discover those nuggets of uniqueness that define who you are.

My simple start to beginning my trek through said crisis was to make a list of the things that make me who I am (I love lists). This is only a simple start—and not a solution—but I’m hoping it will evolve and inspire ways for me to move forward with my next journey.

- Being healthy, Active
- Culture, Travel, Adventure
- Helping people
- Simple Indulgences
- Outdoors
- Learning
- Spontaneity
- People who challenge me
- Reading
- Writing
- Creating
- Relationships

Once I realized I was in mini-crisis mode, I stepped back and told myself everything is going to be just fine. I have strong ambitions, a solid job, a lovely apartment and people who care about me. I may not be living the big-city-life dream, but I am at a good starting point.

And, I’ll save my burning desire to buy a shiny new car or jet-set to exotic places for midlife crisis.


Cassie is a May 2009 University of Wisconsin-Madison Ag Journalism graduate. She recently joined SPARK Advertising in Neenah, Wis. as a public relations specialist. Find Cassie on TwitterBrazenCareerist, and LinkedIn.

Related posts:

  1. Greek Life and Your Job Search
  2. Life Lessons on the River
  3. The Importance of Work-Life Balance

5 Responses to “The Quarter-life Crisis”

  1. Good post Cassie! Christine Hassler has written two great books on the quarter life crisis that might be helpful for 20-somethings experiencing this.

  2. avatar Marrianna says:

    Cool post Cassie! I’ve found myself dealing with the same situation as of late, but I didn’t know what to call it….though I knew I was too young to be having a “mid-life.” I’m learning to be patient and to stop comparing my situation with the millionaire 20 yr olds I’ve read about. Thanks for sharing.

  3. avatar Cassie Holman says:

    @Christine Thanks for the book recommendations (I’ll add them to my ever-growing book list!)

    @Marrianna I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Hopefully you were able to extract the fact that you are SO not alone in your feelings! I think it is natural to feel a sense of restlessness during our 20s. It’s the transition period to a totally new part of our lives and the adjustment can leave us feeling unsure of who we are and where our careers will bring us. Good luck :)

    • Thanks for the insightful tips. Many-20 somethings I know (including myself!) have been through or are currently going through a quarter-life crisis similar to the one that you describe. You’re noble beyond your years!

  4. Ashley, thanks for reading!
    I’m really glad that you are able to take something away from this post. I have to say, it was therapeutic for me to write as well. The power of social networks and blogs and the internet is that they can connect us to others who may be facing a similar situation. We all encounter the same ups, downs and inbetweens…and we can hopefully use places like this to help find a solution :)

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