I touched a bit on the topic of the quarter-life crisis in my last article, Landing a Job: 10 Things to Do in College that Will Make You More Hirable. Like I mentioned in that article, the quarter-life crisis is in many ways unavoidable regardless of how well you try to prepare or prevent it from occurring.
Steer into the Skid
There was an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Robin was being mercilessly harassed at her new job over an assortment of mishaps that occurred throughout her career in her journalism. These life goofs became public knowledge because one Sandy Rivers, a former colleague of Ms. Scherbatsky, told everyone.
Robin, an extremely tough cookie, actually considered leaving her job because no one took her seriously as a journalist. Ted’s advice to Robin was this: Steer into the Skid.
When you skid your car on the road, you’re not supposed to pull away, but rather steer into the skid so you can mitigate whatever damage occurs and basically stop skidding. In order get over this rough patch at work, Robin had to stop deflecting the jokes made at her expense and embrace them. Encourage them.
As it is with the quarter-life crisis. The more you try to deny it, the more it’s going to hurt like hell when it finally hits. You’ve got to have the wisdom and balls to say, “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, and I don’t care. I’ll figure it out eventually, but right now I can’t deal with it.”
Don’t expect too much of yourself. You may come up with a temporary solution, and you may float for a bit, but eventually the other shoe will drop and you’ll be knocked down and won’t even care to get back up.
There is Never Just One Crisis
I think this is one of the most difficult aspects of your twenties to come to grips with. You may have your first crisis as a college senior, who has absolutely no idea what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It seems as though everyone else knows exactly what they are going to do and have already lined up something for right after they graduate. You start to question your chosen major, whether your last four years have been a waste, at what point did you go wrong? It’s a downward spiral then doesn’t really get resolved until a month or two after you’ve turned the tassel across the graduation cap. You go home to your family and loved ones and realize that you’re actually an awesomely gifted person who has the capability to be great.
A year or two later, after you tried to go down one road, all of a sudden you’ll hit a dead end and feel as though you’ve been wasting the last year or so of your life. I have a friend who started out wanting to go to grad school for English. Then, he tried Teach for America and absolutely hated it and dropped out within a few months. Then, he considered going to med school and spent a year taking science classes at a local college. This year he abandoned that path and is now back to applying to grad school for English.
At some point, you’ll think to yourself, “I went through my major existential crisis already when I was a college senior. Why haven’t I grown up and moved on? Why am I in a state of arrested development?”
As your career/academic ambitions fall into disarray, often times your personal, social, and family life follow suit. When it rains, it pours! Your apartment might have termites. Your significant other leaves you for someone else. Your parent or mentor falls seriously ill. You seriously start to doubt whether anything you were ever taught or raised believing was actually true.
Lena Dunham’s Girls is perhaps the most poignant depiction of life in your twenties. All four main characters are well-educated, privileged females living in the greatest city in the world (no offense, Boston. I love you, but it’s not the same), and yet they are all fundamentally unhappy with their lives and insecurity darkens their every footstep. When this show first aired, it made me deeply uncomfortable because of how close it hits to home. Things seem as though they are going moderately well, and then boom! you can’t hold down a job, your relationship isn’t exactly the fairy tale you were hoping for, and your parents decide to cut you off.
The Couch Potato Phase
This is your mourning period where you deeply feel all of the awful feelings you’ve been trying to keep at bay. You’ll move back to your childhood home after graduation or after burning all of your professional bridges. You’ll sleep on the couch. You’ll go to bed at 4 AM and wake up at 3 PM. You’ll stop showering. You’ll cut yourself off from social media. You’ll either gain or lose a lot of weight.
It’s not pretty, but in some ways you have to hit rock bottom before you can feel better and make a move. In the ideal world, this extreme low point will last less than 2 weeks, but I’ve known people who’ve gone on for months in this state. If you are still in this state beyond 2 weeks or if you start to heavily abuse alcohol or drugs, it may be that you have some form of depression, and you should definitely seek medical help. It’s one thing to have a crazy sleep cycle, but it’s another thing entirely if you don’t have the willpower to wake up. Research indicates that the twenties are the times when a lot of diagnoses of depression, alcoholism, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, and insomnia/sleep disorders are made. These numbers are amplified in highly competitive fields such as medicine, law, and financial services.
At some point you’ll get off the couch and will indulge in the finer things in life. You’ll go out all of the time as though you’re still a second semester senior. You’ll watch every movie that comes to theaters. You’ll even do something totally off the beaten path, like attend a demolition derby.
It’s during this time in your crisis that you will most likely come across someone from your past. You’ll either run into them at a bar or you’ll get a phone call out of the blue one day or even see something on your newsfeed. In this moment, an epiphany of sorts will occur. First, this person was likely a Class A Idiot in grad school/college/high school, and you’ll remember all of the flaming acts of stupidity s/he engaged in. Second, you’ll think to yourself, “Well hell, if Gizmo, who still doesn’t seem all that bright, can pull it together, what’s stopping me?”
It’s kind of a bittersweet moment when that epiphany occurs, because on one hand, you think you’ve just been wasting away your time and youth, and on the other hand, you know that you have the power to pull yourself out of your crisis.
If you don’t have it, download a copy of Eminem’s Recovery immediately. Nothing I write can adequately describe the euphoria of pulling yourself up from off the ground the way Eminem’s lyrics can. He is without doubt one of the greatest artists of our time, and this album was a catharsis for him as he went through his own (mid-life) crisis.
You are not your career. You are so much more than your means of supporting yourself.
Everyone goes through it even though Facebook may lead you to believe otherwise.
It’s not your fault. If it is, it’s an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
There’s absolutely nothing that you can’t come back from.
There’s no set timeframe for recovery.
Eat. Pray. Love.