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Quarter Life Crisis

| August 3, 2009 | 40 Comments

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My 28-year-old best friend from High School just left for Australia. He told his big-four-Accounting employer that he was going on sabbatical and that he didn’t care if he had his job when he got back. He broke up with his girlfriend, moved his stuff out of his apartment, bought one of those ‘I’m-backpacking-across-Europe’ travel bags, and located his first hostile down-under. His plan? Manuever his way onto a tour boat where he can assist in teaching scuba diving lessons… for the next 12 weeks.

I could not be more envious. Or so I thought.

Another buddy had recently been given an ultimatum at his six-figure job. This 27-year-old was told he could transfer to a different location to continue his booming-career path… or part ways with the company indefinitely. Without hesitation, he chose the route of collecting unemployment, and –receiving the maximum of $653 per week– has recently taken week-long road-trips to Chicago, Virginia Beach, and New York City. He showed me the photos of his recent African safari and taught me how he was able to maintain a level 9 tan in the midst of rainy New England weather. Unfortunately, he would have to soon get his act together because unemployment would only last for another 12 months.

Today, stories such as these are becoming more and more common. We’ve all heard about our friend’s fathers quitting their jobs, leaving their wife, dying their hair, and buying that corvette they’ve always wanted. But that’s something that happens to people in their MID-life. That’s something that happens to everybody ELSE… and certainly not to us… not in our twenties… not in the prime of our lives.

Think again.

According to Alexandra Robbins & Abby Wilner, authors of national best-seller Quarterlife CRISIS, these type of spontaneous life-overhauls are becoming increasingly more and more common. In fact anecdotes such as the ones above are prevalent all around us (feel free to share some of your own stories below).

What are the reasons for this crisis? The authors cite numerous causes, some of which are:

*Overly identifying one’s job-title with one’s sense-of-self

*Experiencing major failure on the roadway to a big dream

*The inevitable hearing of the less-talented ‘other guy’ who made it

*A longing for the way ‘things were’ in college or in childhood

*Extreme bouts of loneliness and disconnect from your new set-of-peers in the real world

Do you know somebody who is experiencing these things? Do you know this person INTIMATELY? This author does. Having been high school class-president, voted most-likely-to-succeed, the valedictorian (of his major) at a prestigious east-coast university, and raising to the top of a rapidly growing company only to leave suddenly with NO future plans in sight… he can only help but wonder:

What the hell is going on here???

The questions I leave you with today are the following:

*How do you find out EXACTLY who you are?
*How do you know if the career/friends/romance/family decisions you are making are right?
*If you WEREN’T you… what would you be doing right now?

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Mike is a seasoned entrepreneur who grew his business from 200K to 2million in 5 years.  He is currently looking for his next big project.  Email him @ mikemonroe.ceo@gmail.com

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  • davekaiser

    Discovering that you don't like what your life has become, and changing it, is a lot easier at 20-something, before you have a spouse, kids, mortgage, etc, so I encourage it. Which will sound beter, looking back from 50 or 60?

    “I played it safe, kept my good corporate job, made it to VP, but I spent a lot of money on Scotch and therapy because I didn't like my life, but I have a really nice house and a fancy BMW.”

    or

    “I ditched my corporate cubicle and golden handcuffs and trekked around Africa for a year (or worked as a scuba instructor, or became a bartender in Siberia, etc)”

    Ideally, your job, your life, your relationships are in integrity from the get-go, so you don't NEED a quarter-life (or mid-life) crisis to try to get yourself back on track.

    Anyway, the way I see it, we all die anyway, so why not do what matters to YOU, rather than gutting out some “good” job (you secretly hate)? Are you living your values? Are you having fun? If not, what are you waiting for? You may find that the time or the event you are waiting to happen before you can start really living….never comes.

  • http://www.daveursillo.com/ Dave

    I discussed hte Quarterlife Crisis as it pertains to Millennials / Gen Y a few weeks ago: http://bit.ly/EAMOe

    I contended that what the so-called Quarterlife Crisis truly represents is a strong cultural gap between the Baby Boomer generation and that of their children, the Millennial Gen / Gen Y.

  • benovermyer

    I'm far from a 20-something CEO… sort of. While I own a company, it's a hobby interest, and not my life. I do it because it's fun, not because I'm Building A Career.

    My wife and I (I'm 27, she's 22) are about to buy our first house – an acreage in rural South Dakota. We intend to start a hobby farm.

    Who am I? I'm a gamer, a SCAdian, a web designer, an artist, a would-be swordsmith, and above all, an explorer. I try all sorts of new things all the time. I have fun with life and don't care too much about my career.

    If I lose my job, so what? I can find another. My skillset is broad enough that I can work in a great many fields, so I have quite a selection to choose from. That said, I have a fantastic job, and I'm heading in a great direction with my career.

    My career does not define me. I define me, and my career is only a (small) part of who I am.

    I think a lot of would-be C*Os fail to acquire that mindset, and that's why this kind of problem is becoming more and more ubiquitous.

  • PaulEulette

    Intensely true! It seems as though our generation has been “babied” into adulthood; given titles and positions to make us feel better, we tend to stress more on the semiotics of our lives rather than the meanings. Though we carry some strong traits that define us as, who we are…we all find trouble in answering “Who are We”.

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    Is it possible that having a quarter life crisis will let us all avoid the mid-life crisis?

    Maybe we have seen and heard about the mid life crisis for so long that we finally are saying ya know what I'm going to take that crazy adventure, buy that car, just get up and go NOW rather then later. We've seen the setup that leads to a mid-life crisis so why follow the same path?

    I think a quarter life crisis is a lot safer and better then a mid-life crisis. Were all still young, minimal responsibility, no families. Do it now not later.

  • http://twitter.com/TampaChica Jessica Gonzmart

    Because the Gen. Y era has been re-evaluating themselves every year since puberty, I would expect many more crisis' to come. Besides, we have all been attending therapy for like 2 decades now and have learned to realize when were acting Looney Tunes right?…or maybe thats just me:)
    ” Always do your best, never stop to rest, until your good is better than better, and your better is better than best”

  • http://www.davidronnie.ca flatcat

    I think it comes down to the fact that most of us have seen older siblings/family/parents follow society's idea of “what's right” and seen that… its not. Most of our parents suffered to provide everything they could for us with long-ass days, not nearly enough pay, and constant relationship stress. And if it wasn't in our immediate family, we seen it in our peers' families.

    I think we're smart enough to see that following that path isn't a way to live a life you enjoy and we've all come to realize sooner than our parents that we only get one shot at this (which is inevitably what that mid-life crisis is all about IMHO).

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Dave, I love it, when are we going to meet up in Africa? I'd say Siberia, but let me know about the weather first–I'm more of a tiki bar kinda guy.

    Did you set your self up from the start? What's your story?

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Dave–awesome man. I like how you say in your article that Gen Y grew up in the gilded age–everyone told us we could do whatever the hell we wanted! Plus, so many of us have the means and capabilities to do it.

    Why wouldn't we question everything every year?!

    Also–this is a problem I see with Gen Y entrepreneurs, not sticking to anything in particular. I think Gen Y also has a serious lack of focus which contributes to their quarterlife crisis. We are so used to doing a million things at once because we are in this guilded age with so many opportunities through our communities and schools. If Gen Y can focus and think big–we'll win!

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Ben, I love your attitude man! Living the dream every single day it sounds. It's refreshing to hear more young people not defined by corporate america. Too many people who I studied business as an undergrad with are like this.

    My Dad lives in Darien, CT where all the people on Wall Street live. 65% of the people in the town are defined by the term “financial services”. While they do cool things two weeks a year, live lavish lifestyles, belong to country clubs, etc. They are still defined by their work.

    I am defined by my work–but it's encouraging people to live the dream–i'm defining myself, not letting someone else!

  • http://www.chrisdunn.tv Chris Dunn

    I agree with you Dave… life is soooo short. Why waste time behind some cubicle or suite that doesn't jive with your true identity. I suggest everybody seek out Frank Kern's “Core Identity Presentation” that he included in Mass Control 2.0. Just like “The Four Hour Work Week”, this was a huge wake up call.

    I wouldn't call what's happening a “quarter life crisis, rather a generation waking up and finally understanding what's really important… and this recession is actually helping with that!

    My best,

    Chris Dunn

  • davekaiser

    Long weird story: BS finance, worked for Marriott and MCI, got burnt out, got divorced, went to Russia to teach and to drink (that was my quarter life crisis).

    At one point in my life, my ambition was to open a Country/Western bar in Siberia, with a bunch of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood posters on the wall, and have some hot Russian girls serving ice-cold Lone Star beer to the locals, but instead I came back, went to grad school, got a Ph.D. in Linguistics and Slavic Languages, didn't want to become a professor (precipitating the early midlife crisis at 35), got a corporate job in Training for a while, then negotiated a severance package just before the layoffs started. Now I am a Business Coach with my own practice. Hard work, crazy hours, but it's my own gig and I am following my dreams. Good stuff.

    This thread has inspired me to write an article. The gist is that once upon a time, people sold their souls to corporations, but got a pretty good price for it, nice perks and lifetime employment. Now, it's not such a good deal, so fewer people are selling, maybe even buying their souls back, and this is a good thing.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Paul, I agree that we've been babied, but I think a lot of our titles and positions have given us experiences far earlier in life than other generations. The things available to us–leadership opportunities, organizations to get involved in, and business opportunities as a young generation are unmatched from the previous generations.

    I think a lot of this has gotten people hyper involved and hyper stressed. A lot of Gen Yers think we have to be involved in everything, just to pack our resumes and this adds to a lot of the stress people have that makes them go over the edge and have the quarterlife crisis.

    My quarterlife crisis was quite the opposite actually–my sophomore year in college, I was about to turn 20, I had class 2 days a week, 4 day weekends, a day off in between classes, had not a hell of a lot of involvement in student organizations and I was living the dream! I was having the time of my life, traveling, partying my ass off, and I thought whoa–life is going to over after college. I was going to hit the big 2-0 and freak! I'm not actually sure what got me through this, but I think I can attribute a lot of it to finding my passion with the entrepreneurs' organization. I realized that I could find something I loved to do AND still have fun. I thought once I entered the “real world” I was done… but Under30CEO has been proving them wrong.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Jess, so growing up, each year is DRASTICALLY different from the year before. 5th grade is way different than 6th, freshman year a lot different than being a sophomore… but once you enter the real world–what's different? That's what freaked me out–I like not knowing what comes next–that's why I chose entrepreneurship!

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    It's really amazing to see how our parents fought to comfort our families–I really wonder how things will turn out with our generation. A lot of our parents were really caught up in luxury and credit–will this be the same with our generation and our families? Will we learn from our parents mistakes? Will Gen Y look at their parents and say I'm not going to be a corporate slave? I sure as hell hope so!

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Dave, awesome story. Glad to hear about it. Want to write the story for Under30CEO? We'd love to feature it for you!

    Let me know matt @under30ceo.com

  • http://www.manatrance.com Ben Overmyer

    One of my inspirations is Tim Ferriss…. I'm sure you've heard the name, even if you're not familiar with his writings. If you haven't read his book, I highly recommend it…. if only as motivational material.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Thanks Ben, I've read it 5x! lol Do you have anything else in the realm of the 4hww?

  • davekaiser

    Will do, it's about 80% done now, I'll get back to you shortly.

  • http://www.manatrance.com Ben Overmyer

    Not directly in that arena, no. However, I found a couple other books rather illuminating in related fields: Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Additionally, the Zen Habits blog (zenhabits.net) is a FANTASTIC inspirational resource in much the same vein as 4HWW, and I highly recommend it.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hi Ben, I picked up 7 Habits a little while ago. It didn't grab me,but I'll have to pick it back up–maybe I had to be in the right mood.

    I love Zen habits. Do you use LifeHacker?

  • http://www.manatrance.com Ben Overmyer

    I used to follow LifeHacker, but it just got too prolific for me to keep track of. As it is I have too many feeds that I read.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    I agree Ben, it's too damn hard to keep up with. We hope U30 becomes the top of your list!

    Let me know if I can help you in the future…

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  • http://www.saiidi.com/ uptin

    Nice article. Here's another that's pretty similar I've read a few months ago about a quarter life crisis: http://www.eyeweekly.com/article/55882

  • http://www.SteverRobbins.com Stever_Robbins

    This may be a product of the times, rather than the generation. I know *many* people between 35 and 50 who are also opting out of the system. It seems to be a feeling that the game is rigged, that our employers have zero loyalty to us, and societally, people who screw up big time end up with multibillion dollar bonuses while the people who pay their mortgage payments, save prudently, and put in their hours end up screwed.

    I lost my job in June and am now working on a book. Once the book is done, I don't know what I'll do. Living out of a backpack for a couple of years and wandering around the world sounds pretty enticing. At least I'll be having experiences that enrich my life, rather than spending even more years sitting motionless in front of a screen, typing, in pursuit of some mythical concept called “success” or “security.”

    (And face it, the last two years have made it pretty clear that security doesn't come from a large bank account balance. If it did, the bankers who are already worth multimillions wouldn't feel the need to funnel more billions into their bonus checks. And those who had large balances in 2007 would still have them. I suspect security comes from having marketable skills and the ability to provide value on a case-by-case basis to those you meet.)

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    Thanks for the comment Steve. I think you are right about security, Security comes from building a personal brand. Skills that you can fall back on and build on in any environment and industry. If you develop a strong personal brand your startup company can fail but you will continue on.

    A problem many corporate people fall into is they stop building that personal brand. They only have the skill-set for that industry they spent the last 20years working in. Rather then a name brand that people seek for numerous things from speaking to book deals to consulting to forming companies.

  • http://www.SteverRobbins.com Stever_Robbins

    Do you think it's possible for everyone to build a personal brand? If everyone gets famous (albeit on a small scale), doesn't that mean no one stands out and we're kind of back where we started?

    I'm fortunate in having a strong personal brand and wide exposure. The amount of work it takes to keep it going is truly phenomenal, however. I'm self-employed, so I can spend the time and effort, but if I were constrained by corporate confidentiality, noncompetes, and unreasonable time demands, I don't know how possible it would be…

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hi Steve, when it comes to personal branding it's not everyone who will get famous, but anyone. Anyone who wants to go and grab the bull by the horns can do it, but of course, not everyone will. Just as you have a strong brand, lots of connections anyone, even those pigenhold in a corporation can do it. It's about getting to know the right people and establishing a reputation.

    Some people will work harder than others to get to the top–sure everyone may have a blog, or be on twitter and try to promote themselves that way, but some brands are going to be stronger than others.

    The times are changing and if you aren't doing what you love between 9 and 5, invest some time after work into a brand you really do enjoy.

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    I think its %100 possible for everyone to build a personal brand. But I also believe that not everyone ever will take this opportunity.

    But I also think it important to remember that many people are very happy with corporate life. Doing things on your own is not for everyone. What pisses me off is how many people don't like what they do but still do nothing about it. Its that personal choice and when it comes down to the time and effort to build that brand, thats just the price to change things. For me you cant put a price on happiness so I'll do whatever it takes to get what I want.

  • http://millennialsonline.com/ Peter

    I had a bit of a crisis when i was in my mid-20s. Stuck in a cubicle with little prospect of moving up.

    So decided to get my master's degree – in a different country!

    Best decision I've made. Sometimes you need a bit of ennui to motivate you to get that life you wanted…

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    Great to hear it! Most people definitely need some kind of kick in the ass or crisis to go do something. Its just how it works but hopefully more people will now avoid that crisis!

  • gdkp

    The Quarter Life Crisis is definitely something that i think has become more apparent among 20-somethings today, becoming more obvious even by the endless stream of Facebook invites to 'Quarter Life Crisis Parties'.
    But I think it's debatable wether it is necessarily a 'crisis' or a positive wake up call. I think it was mentioned previously in this thread that no one wants to wake up half way through their 30's with some decent money and a sinking regret wondering what happened to your younger youth since you spent it staring at a computer screen. Clerarly, this scenario would be infinitely more depressing than coming to a similar realization in your 20's when you have a fraction of the commitments you may have down the road. For that reason, I think a 20's Crisis could in a way be healthy by preventing an epic breakdown later on in life, especially if you are in a position that you do not enjoy.

    More we've realized that there is nothing wrong with ditching your job to move to Australia for a year… I just got back 2 weeks ago. I graduated university 3 years ago with a BA in Political Science and went into a high pressure corporate level sales position with a major events company. I quickly hated my life… and everyone knew it, as my personality was so opposite of what was being asked and was not in any way productive to my own goals. So i packed up and went down under. But in that time, I travelled, I experiened, learned and grew. I took time to read, to develop strategies for my future and business and at the same time improved as a surfer 100 times over. And like surfing, it's about balance.

    With the kinds of freedom and opportunities our generation has been fortunate to enjoy, we have become so strongly connected with our concept of a personal identity and staying true to that. We are ultimately the 'punk rock generation', 20 years after The Clash, one which lives by a DIY ethos, a determination to live our own lives and by our own values. However, we are educated enough and carry responsibility well to understand and achieve our goals and be as productive as we can.

    For this reason, I think corporate culture is going to experience a significant shift in response to GenY in the workplace in the form of a greater focus on work/personal life balance. If we are to be ultimately productive, we must be happy, and to be happy we need to be able to retain our identity without being lost in the corporate fog.

    I've graduated university, I'm finishing a post-graduate degree in Marketing Management with an opportunity to work for the company i've always wanted to, and also opperate a consulting service. I also surf 4 times a week and have a wicked cutback.
    Start a company. Follow your dreams and achieve your goals. Don't stop playing electric guitar.

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    I think it is a good thing because that wake up call is great to have before its to late. Your story is awesome and I hope it will inspire and prove to more people that it is all possible! Surfs up!

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  • http://jennifer-callahan.com Jennifer Callahan

    This article is so timely, I've spoken to many of my twenty-something peers about this very topic. Sign of the times, I suppose, but better to discover your purpose when you are young then to live a life wandering.

    Best, Jennifer
    The Art of Chasing Your Dreams
    (a blog about aligning your passion with purpose)
    http://jennifer-callahan.com/

  • http://jennifer-callahan.com Jennifer Callahan

    This article is so timely, I've spoken to many of my twenty-something peers about this very topic. Sign of the times, I suppose, but better to discover your purpose when you are young then to live a life wandering.

    Best, Jennifer
    The Art of Chasing Your Dreams
    (a blog about aligning your passion with purpose)
    http://jennifer-callahan.com/

  • AutismPrincipal

    This is a very timely article indeed. I'm in my early 30's and am currently going through “Quarter Life Crisis.” Like others, I've moved up the fast track very quickly and became principal of a school at 26. I consider this a great achievement not to mention a great compensation; however I no longer enjoy this career and am wondering what else to do. I must add, I am very fortunate to recognize this early on in my career instead of “hoping” things will get better all the while torturing myself and others on a daily basis.

  • Allison

    I feel like the word quarter life crisis has become a buzz word among my friends. We have been working corporate jobs for two years since college graduation and we are all burned out. This is a time in my life where I'm feel confused and even slightly depressed. I know I am not alone. We have tried to fill this void by taking up hobbies, participating in triathlons and yoga classes. We still feel empty. Everything we have worked towards for the past 6 to 7 years is suddenly not all its cracked up to be. My perspective on this situation is this; we are too young to be in this heavy place. On reflection I believe 6 or 7 years ago we set goals and now we have achieved a piece of this goal and have decided we don't like it therefore I believe our next logical step is to discover a new goal! Dream BIG!

  • Allison

    I forgot to answer the actual questions!

    I have learned to rediscover who I am by
    Step one-Turn off the music, TV, and internet and listen to yourself think!
    Step two-Open up a book and read about the things you are interested in and don't stop, ever.

    I think anytime we make a big life change we are nervous and this is normal. We cant possibly know if anything we embark on is the right thing to do however I believe the things that are suppose to happen will fall into place with moving mountains.

    If I wasn't me I would be a community leader brining people together and offering support to the world.