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What a Quarterlife Crisis is and how to Survive it

Updated on April 24, 2015

You’ve heard of a midlife crisis, right? Of course you have. Well, this is the term that I’m referring to as a quarterlife crisis. The first recorded mentioning of this phenomenon was in 2001 by Abby Wilner and Alexandra Robbins, who co-authored the book 'Quarterlife Crisis, the Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties'. Abby claims that she invented the term in 1997 after leaving college and not knowing what she wanted to do with her life.

It also cropped up in a book a few years later by Damian Barr, who offered more practical solutions, called 'Get It Together: A Guide to Surviving Your Quarterlife Crisis'.

So we can tell that these books were written at just the right time- the beginning of the new millennium, to be read by the new generation, and to relate to problems that arose in the 1990s, that got worse in the 2000s, and can all ready be seen to be on an even steeper decline heading into the 2010s, what with the current recession. There are fewer jobs and stricter requirements as far as qualifications go, higher costs of living, stricter entrance requirements and higher fees at tertiary institutions, and all these have an impact on young adults, most of all.

I’ve read that midlife is between 45 and 60, although people have different opinions on this. I always thought it started at 40, for instance. But a midlife crisis doesn’t necessarily have to happen exactly when you turn forty- it could come later.

As for a quarterlife crisis, although the reference at the beginning claims that it plagues people in their twenties, I also have the opinion that this too, might start a little earlier on. But it can depend on the individual going through it, I suppose. After all, he or she would know best. I started experiencing some of the characteristics when I was 17 all ready.

It hits you in your teens, but it can come later and it can last well into your twenties and beyond even, and into your early thirties. It’s at its worst between the ages of 18 and 24, as you’ve left school, and you no longer have that security that you did when you were younger, as you’re thrust into the real world; having to work or study or both. Maybe you don’t have the money to study, or you can’t decide what to do, and you can’t get a job- you’re unemployable; stuck between a rock and a hard place. Employers nowadays look for people with work experience, with qualifications- they want people to fill mid-level management positions, and they’re not looking for entry level rookies who haven’t ever had a job and who haven’t been to any tertiary institute.

That’s why we were given a new subject at school, L.O. or L.S. - Life Orientation or Life Skills, so we could learn that life is going to kick you down and that we won’t get such a shock, because we all saw it coming. We were taught entrepreneurial skills so we could at least think about starting our own business of having a lemonade stand on the street corner while all the middle-aged generation X fat cats drive by in their BMWs to the bank. And everyone thought they were misguided and directionless.

This is generation Y (or why me?).


Your friends go to other places, and all of a sudden life is different; everyone seems to have everything figured out but you and it can take time to adjust, adapt, and move on. It’s been said that this is the time where young people are most likely to binge drink, abuse substances, and have unprotected sex. There’s just a season of apathy and nihilism, and the belief that things couldn’t get any worse. They can, of course.

A quarterlife crisis is different to a midlife crisis in the fact that it’s something you go through for years and have to put up with in the present and worrying about your place in the future, which seems distant and perhaps non-existent. You’re insecure, unestablished, and scared. A midlife crisis is all about looking back in to the past, wondering if you did things right, and what you’re going to do in the future, until the day you pass on. People in this phase have (hopefully) all ready had their own children, gotten jobs and been through more than one at that, have cars and houses. They’ve essentially gotten past the harder times and have to watch their kids go through it.

The thing with a quarterlife crisis is, in my opinion, it can be a lot worse, and it can even affect your midlife crisis later on. It’s usually when we’re young when we make choices that will affect us for the rest of our lives. We’ve seen over the past few years or so that people are starting to take notice somewhat of young people’s problems, but only just starting.

Teenagers and young adults are a difficult bunch to deal with, seeing as they say they don’t want to talk to anybody, especially their parents, about their problems. They keep it all locked up inside while listening to outrageously loud music, trying to silence the voices in their heads and of everybody around them and close to them. People just brush it off as hormones, and say it’s a “phase that we all go through”.

Young people have to put up with a lot, including school, bullying, friends, fitting in, relationships, work, finding the right career path, studying the right subjects, loneliness, sexual frustration, peer pressure, saying ‘no’, finding themselves, boredom, their image, what others think of them, wanting to be independent, jealousy, anger, hatred, angst, desperation, depression, pain, suicidal ideations, and the constant comparing of themselves to others and what their lives are like. People going through a quarterlife crisis long for the simpler days of school, or being a child; they feel helpless, useless, insecure, disappointed, and alone. And perhaps they feel cheated by society too, because as far as they’re concerned they did what they were told to do, they went through all that hell for all those years, and yet they aren’t even given a chance when it comes time to do something with their lives. It’s like trying to leave the nest, and just falling flat on your face.

It can help somewhat to talk to somebody about these things, but it can get worse before it gets better, as things get confusing and painful, and it takes time to unravel all the knots inside before being able to see things clearly laid out in front of you, and to think of who you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going.

We’ve seen a few unfortunate scenarios over the years where problems such as these were not managed properly, were ignored, and left to carry on, manifest, and take control as the people involved became so desensitized and convinced of their failure and worthlessness. I’m of course talking about the school shootings that have gotten more frequent over the last couple of decades that mostly involved young people who were suffering internally, proved by the fact that they usually commit suicide afterwards, and the victims that were a result of their unleashing of all that which was inside. Of course friends and families of the victims are scarred for life by these events too and will take the memories to their graves, more than likely.

Of course this is the worst case scenario.

Other more common ways that people try to deal with these feelings include drugs, medication, drinking, sex, and other sorts of things that people try to just get away from life, and yet it’s hard, because it doesn’t last, and eventually you’re back, and so the cycle continues. It doesn’t solve the problems, and it just creates more.

"We were taught entrepreneurial skills so we could at least think about starting our own business of having a lemonade stand on the street corner while all the middle-aged generation X fat cats drive by in their BMWs to the bank."

Don't do anything drastic. If you need help, please call someone. You can get through it!
Don't do anything drastic. If you need help, please call someone. You can get through it! | Source

When you’re feeling down at any point or starting to panic, just remember:

• Stop where you are.

• Breath.

• Relax your muscles.

• Stretch.

• Sit down.

• Close your eyes.

• Think about past successes.

• Think about good memories.

• Think about something you like or love doing.

• Think about something you’re good at.

• Think positively.

• Try to see yourself in the future.

• Stroke a pet.

• Write something down.

• Laugh at something, like on TV.

• Listen to some music that inspires you.

• Read something that inspires you.

• Talk to somebody or even yourself, or your pet.

• Remember the people or pets that are there for you.

• Go out, even if it’s on your own.

• Everybody has problems.

• Good things come to those who wait.

• Things take time.

• This too shall pass.

• Things work out in the end.

• Rome wasn’t built in a day.

• Bookmark this article.

When you recover, ACT and don’t just think. You need to occupy your mind so that negative thoughts don’t make their way back in. Think strongly about seeing somebody that you can talk to, like a therapist, a doctor of some sort, or someone closer. Think about managing your life and your problems and taking control, instead of just putting things off and hoping they’ll pass, because they might not, and they could carry on for years, weighing down on your mind. If you don’t want to speak to anybody, remember that you can even go online where there are people that can try to help you, like a forum of sorts, but make sure that the place is actually for sharing problems, and don’t take any medication recommended by them until you’ve seen a proper doctor and gotten a prescription.

Problems can be dealt with without resorting to medication or other things, but sometimes it can just help you to calm down and be proactive. If you’re better off with the medication than without it, then perhaps it’s worth sticking with for a while. It won’t solve the source of the problem though; that you have to do yourself, perhaps with some help from others, if you like.

“You can only truly measure where midlife is once you’ve lived a full life.”

— Anti-Valentine

Quarterlife Crisis Question...

How old were you when the crisis hit?

See results

© 2009 Anti-Valentine


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The article you wrote exactly describes how I'm feeling right now. I am 17 years old and i feel so clueless about my life. Like i don't know what to do with it, i do all my homework and still end-up with bad grades and negativity in general just revolves around my head. :(

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hey, it's me again..

      Yeah that is something I need to learn and accept.. and the weird thing is I did acccept it a long time ago when I was doing my own thing, but now when aLL is said and done I feel like everything is just so overwhelming.. Should have.. could have.. blah.

      That's no way of living life.. it makes you stuck and unable to make choices to better yourself and your future.. and I know this.. but I am still stuck.. The hardest thing in life is to find yourself- especially after you've lost yourself.. Finding out what your good at is really hard for me, because I feel like I was never in the proper environment to show my strengths/etc...

      I know that I need to take steps, but then all the things just keep rushing to my head and it's just discouraging.. Makes it hard to just focus on one thing.. I just need to be mentally okay.. Hope it happens soon

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi guys,

      The whole Quarterlife Crisis phenomenon is something I've been looking into recently. Having been through one (or two) myself, I wanted to help others find a way through theirs.

      I've put together a simple survey to try to get a handle on where the problems exist and what I can do to help. I would really appreciate your input on it too. I've put up a bit of a thank you bonus of some iTunes vouchers up for grabs.

      Check it out on the attached URL link.

      Cheers and best wishes on your journey. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.


    • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from My lair

      I know. I look around sometimes and I see people I once knew married in their early 20s, or doing such great things, like you say. At one point I would think a lot about it and get depressed.

      But I think you just have to learn that we all go through life at our own pace, and you have to take your time. You mustn't be lured by these people who tell you to live fast and die young.

      I don't have any plans to get married for the next ten or twenty years. I just don't want to. If other people want to get married in their 20s, that's their choice.

      I got my learner's and driver's licences in my 20s, and I've known other people who are older than that who don't even have one. Just remember that there's always someone worse off than you are. You might think you're leagues behind other people, but other people probably feel the same too.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi Anti-Valentine..

      I love what you write about, especially this article. I started experiencing these feelings before when I was a teenager, but now I am 22 and these feelings are stronger then ever before.. It's different with me though because well I took some wrong paths in my teen years and finally graudated highschool last year... and am going to college in the fall.. When I look around.. all the people I used to know either 1- have graduated from university/college 2- have children 3-are getting married... and here I am.. just going into college.. don't have my license.. and top of all that i lost my job and living back with my parents.. It has come to the point where if I see other peoples succesess, it makes me feel 100 times worse about myself.. you'd think it would be the opposite.. I just hope this passes, I still feel like I need to move on from my past and focus on the present, another great article btw!! Anyway, love your stuff..

    • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from My lair

      Thanks. The most famous example I can think of as concerns a quarterlife crisis, is Van Wilder.

    • CarolynnMarie profile image


      10 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, CA

      I get it, for sure. While I have not really experienced it myself, I see a lot of my peers doing so. I'm 24, and many I know have just graduated from college and are starting to piece together their non-student life. I chose to delay this crisi (or eradicate it) by signing up for another 4 years of college (grad school), but I still see a lot of people I know struggling with their professional identities and paths.

      It may be part of life for everyone, but that doesn't make it pleasant or unworthy of guidance.

      Well done -- cheers!

    • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from My lair

      No, no kidding involved here. There have even been books written about it!

    • goldentoad profile image


      10 years ago from Free and running....

      quarter life crisis, are you kidding? that's just life. And I did plenty of drugs, drinking, womanizing to deal with it, then I got a family and it's a new crisis


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