I’m Having a Quarter-Life Crisis–Now What?

"Does anyone else know what they’re doing!?"
written by CAMMI YARRIS
Source: Cora Pursley | Dupe
Source: Cora Pursley | Dupe

One minute, you’re graduating college with your best friends; the next, you’re well in the “real world” and your mid-to-late 20s. Your friends are “adulting,” landing dream jobs, getting married, and having kids. You—on the other hand—have a job you don’t know if you like and don’t feel good at. You don’t have anything that constitutes a hobby, you don’t know how to make new friends, and you’re struggling to pay your bills. Until your mid-20s, there’s typically a clear path to follow: go to school, study, graduate high school, go to college, get a job. Then (in theory), the world is your oyster. This means we have total freedom to choose the career we want to go after, the city we want to live in, the partner to commit to, and what we do with our free time, which can be both freeing and terrifying at the same time. Especially when it seems like everyone else around you seems to be way better than you at this “life” thing.

I used to think the term “quarter-life crisis” was a joke until I went through one myself. At first, it was exciting: moving out of my parents’ house, going to college, learning how to “adult” and live on my own, and getting settled in my first big girl job. But after the dust settled, I thought, Now what? I just do this on repeat for the next 50 years until I retire one day? The pressure and FOMO of seeing friends seemingly having it all together was intimidating. My quarter-life crisis meant feeling stressed, broke, and lonely. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wondered, Does everyone else know what they’re doing?

I consulted Dr. Joel Frank, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, to sort out what was happening and what to do about it. Ahead, what a quarter-life crisis really is and how to navigate it.

Dr. Joel Frank, Psy.D, Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist

Dr. Joel Frank, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist from Los Angeles, California. He has worked in the mental health field for over a decade with a diverse range of clients, including children, adolescents, adults, and elderly individuals; inpatient and outpatient settings; and forensic facilities.

What exactly is a quarter-life crisis?

Feeling lost in your 20s is something we’ve witnessed in movies and heard about in songs, but the idea of a quarter-life crisis may still feel hard to grasp. I’ve never known if it was real or how it compared to the idea of a mid-life crisis. Turns out, it’s very real: “The quarter-life crisis is a natural phenomenon, touching the lives of many young adults worldwide,” Dr. Frank said. “It’s a period of intense self-reflection, confusion, and existential questioning. This phase can manifest as feeling lost, stuck, or disillusioned with life’s direction, often triggered by the pressures of adulthood, career choices, relationships, and personal achievements.” 

So many people feel overwhelmed and unsure of their next move in their 20s. The weight of the decisions you had to make in your early 20s and even late teens (choosing where to go to college, your major, the job after you graduate, etc.) is all catching up with you. “You might find yourself questioning the career you’ve chosen, the relationships you’ve nurtured, or even the goals you once thought were etched in stone,” Dr. Frank explained. Many people at this age compare their lives to their peers or social media accounts and often feel like they’re falling behind or unsure about big life decisions.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wondered, Does everyone else know what they’re doing?

Tips to navigate a quarter-life crisis:

Acknowledge your feelings

“First and foremost, understand that it’s perfectly normal to feel this way,” Dr. Frank said. “You’re not alone, and expressing these feelings without judgment is OK.” It can be easy to feel alone in your 20s when people around you are graduating, getting new jobs, moving, getting married, or settling down. Your friends may be spread out across the world, and you may feel like everyone else is moving forward while you’re going through this time of crisis. However, you aren’t alone and your feelings are valid. Know that what you feel is normal, and more importantly, OK.

Seek support

You’re scrolling social media seeing your friends living their best lives on both ends of the spectrum: The single ones are going out on the town with new friends they’ve made, while the coupled ones are settling down in their white-picket-fenced homes with their 1.94 kids. Reaching out to your friends and family support system can help you gain perspective and realize the grass isn’t always greener. And no matter what it may look like on Instagram, many of us have similar feelings of confusion during so much change in our 20s. Reach out to friends or family who can listen and offer constructive advice,” Dr Frank suggested. “Sometimes, just knowing someone will understand can be a huge relief.” For me, it’s been a relief to share these confusing feelings with friends and realize none of us know what we’re doing.

Explore your interests

Once you’ve graduated college, the daily routine usually goes like this: go to work, scroll on your phone, eat dinner, binge-watch a show, go to sleep, and do it all over again the next day. Try allocating some time in the day to try things you think you may like: a workout, an art class, a new recipe for dinner or dessert.  “Use this time to discover what truly excites and motivates you,” Dr. Frank recommended. “Whether it’s a hobby, a new skill, or a potential career change, allow yourself the freedom to explore.” 

This is also a great time to figure out some of your values. Find out what’s important to you, discover how your values differ from your friends and family, and think about what you respect and admire in a person. Knowing yourself, your interests, and your values will help you make important decisions while you navigate the ups and downs of your 20s and stay true to yourself.

Source: Madeline Edwards | Dupe

Set small, achievable goals

It can be overwhelming thinking about the changes likely going on in your life throughout your 20s: relationship, career, where you live, friends, etc. Instead, think about making smaller steps to work toward the life you want. “Instead of focusing on the overwhelming big picture, break your aspirations into smaller, manageable tasks,” Dr. Frank said. “Celebrating these small victories can significantly boost your confidence and sense of direction.” 

If you set big goals you hope to achieve in the next 5-10 years, like reading 12 books a year, running a marathon, or buying your first house, what can you implement in your day-to-day to work toward that, such as reading 10 pages a day, running for 30 minutes a day, setting aside money from each paycheck? Find little things you can do to reach bigger life goals.

Practice self-care

“Prioritize your well-being by ensuring you get enough rest, eat well, exercise, and engage in activities that bring you happiness, tranquility, and comfort,” Dr. Frank said. This may seem obvious, but many of us in our 20s are trying to chase our dreams and not prioritizing our health. We stay late at work to prove ourselves, we don’t want to have FOMO so we go out every time we’re asked, and we get the status handbag knowing we’re in debt. But taking this quarter-life crisis as a time to set ourselves up for a future we will be happy with means prioritizing our health and wellness over instant gratification. Make choices for yourself that your body and health will thank you for later.  

Consider therapy with a trained professional

While connecting with friends and family who can relate or empathize with what you are going through can be helpful, having a health professional help guide you through this confusing time and the life-changing choices you’re making can make all the difference. “Sometimes, the guidance of a trained therapist or counselor can provide the perspective and tools needed to navigate through this challenging time effectively,” Dr. Frank said. “Friends and family will have their own biases and may not have the tools you need to make sure you do what is right for you.” 

It’s been immensely helpful to take the time to slow down, be in the moment, and realize I’m only a quarter of my life in and don’t need to have everything figured out. With Dr. Frank’s advice, I have started to give myself patience, self-compassion, and grace, which can offer “a clearer understanding of oneself during a quarter-life crisis,” as he explained. I now feel more ready to face all of the changes in my life and come out the other side with grit, grace, and gratitude.