The quarter-life crisis: not if, but when?


Photo by Kat Owens

During a quarter life crisis, it’s common to be overwhelmed with thoughts of confusion around one’s life.
Photo Illustration by Kat Owens


We’ve all heard the story of the middle-aged man who suddenly decides he needs a new top-dollar red convertible, a drastic physical appearance change and a girlfriend half his age.

The lesser-known story is the one of the college senior who wants to fall apart in the face of graduation, internship choices and the transition into full-blown adulthood.

This state of being is a quarter-life crisis.

I know a quarter-life crisis sounds like something I just made up to scare you, but unfortunately, it’s a real and prevalent issue among young adults.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, a quarter-life crisis can be defined as “a crisis that may be experienced in one’s 20s, involving the direction and quality of one’s life.”

Wikipedia says that a quarter-life crisis can be triggered by the stress of becoming an adult and cause doubt about one’s abilities. explains the quarter-life crisis as seeing a couple different life options in front of you: “A life of comfort and a life of risk. And you’re not sure you have the right car or directions to go down either one.”

The quarter-life crisis can be identified by a few things, such as, feelings of loneliness, fear or confusion. It may include feelings of misguided purpose, confused identity or even hopelessness in the transition to adulthood.

If your quarter-life crisis is anything like mine was, you might experience some high anxiety or bouts of depression.

The Independent paints the quarter-life crisis in a less serious manner. It lists one symptom of the quarter-life crisis as being “You’re starting to question what your purpose in life is. Why did you put me on this Earth, God? What is the point of my existence? (In a less morbid way than it sounds.)”

However, the quarter-life crisis can be fairly serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you haven’t had one, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you probably will.

The question is less of if you’ll have a quarter-life crisis, and more of when you’ll have one.

According to The Guardian, 86 percent of millennials go through a quarter-life crisis.

The Harvard Business review says that although the midlife crisis is more well known, the quarter-life crisis is “emotionally the worst time of your life.”

It reports that this is the case because people in their 20s tend to have an exponentially greater number of negative thoughts and feelings, as well as mind wanderings, both of which can be incredibly destructive to a person’s well-being.

It showed that positive thoughts and feelings nearly bottomed out during the late 20s of study participants. The participants’ satisfaction with life followed a similar pattern.

Each phase of the quarter life crisis is unique in its own way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Graphic by Kearstin Cantrell

Quarter-life crises have become so prevalent that psychologists have started investing more time and effort into learning their causes and patterns.
Oliver Robinson at the University of Greenwich was able to break the quarter-life crisis down into five phases.

During phase one you might feel like you’re living on autopilot and feel trapped by the decisions you’ve made up to this point.

Phase two comes with a sense of the need for change and the belief that change is possible.

Phase three is the point where you make the change. Quit the job. Break up with what’s-his-face. Take the leap. This is the point where you take the time to rediscover yourself.

In phase four, you slowly but surely rebuild your life from the ground up. Then comes phase five. At this phase you “develop new commitments that are more in line with your interests and aspirations.”

All of that’s important, but here’s what you really need to know about the quarter-life crisis.

It’s OK to have one.

You don’t have to hide it.

It’s normal, and you’re not alone.

You’ll come out on the other side mentally stronger than you ever could have imagined.

It might take some seriously extensive soul-searching, but you are more than capable of getting through it.

If you need help getting through it, reach out. Whether you need to talk to a friend, a parent or a counselor, talk about it.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore it. Take it head on.

Allow yourself to grow through the time of challenge.

Just remember that it’s OK. You’re OK. Your life is OK. Your life decisions are OK.

And sometimes, it’s OK not to be OK.