How to Survive Your Quarter Life Crisis

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. I'm sitting here trying to articulate what it is I'm trying to say, but what can you really say about birthdays? On Sunday I will turn 26. The big 2-6. Twenty six. My parents make fun of me for celebrating my birthday the entire week before the actual day (March 10). I do this because I normally get abysmally depressed  because I hate the idea of getting older, but this year is different. I'm not upset, not exactly jazzed: I'd use the term hopefully resigned. Despite my slow march toward 30, this year more than any other I have extra cause to celebrate: my quarter-life crisis is now officially over. Get out the cake and balloons!

What is a quarter life crisis, you ask?

If you have to ask, you haven't had one yet, and should consider yourself lucky. It's the moment when your childhood fantasies meet your adult realities. Things are awful in your early twenties; I mean, yeah you have your youth, health, and good looks, but what else? Jobs suck, apartments suck, you are probably dating which is the biggest suck of them all, and you can't even wear a hangover like college-you.

A quarter-life crisis is the panic that sets in when someone realizes all those bad things might stay forever. This usually happens around the age of twenty five for two reasons. One, because you realize a full quarter of your life is finished. It will dawn on you the next quarter of your life will be spent doing: building a career and fostering a family life (if that's your choice). It's overwhelming and scary.

 

There are Actually Five Phases to a Quarter Life Crisis

Scientists describe five phases of the quarter-life crisis:

Phase 1: A feeling of entrapment by your life choices. Feeling as though you are living your life on autopilot.

Phase 2: A rising sense of “I've got to get out”. 

Phase 3: Getting out of whatever it is you feel is holding you back. During this phase you will probably experiment a lot to try and figure out what it is that would most make you happy.

Phase 4: Rebuilding your life based on what you've learned.

Phase 5: Making long-term commitments that better serve your new realizations. 

Naturally, my quarter-life crisis came early in late 2010 when I packed up everything and moved to New York City. I got by: I slept on couches, ate honey buns from the bodega around the corner, and drank a lot.

Even though I made it work there for a few years (Phases 2 and 3 for me), that coming “undone at the seams” feeling didn't really go away until the end of 2012, after I had rebuilt my life here in Atlanta. So yes, I've had a really long time to sit and think about my quarter-life crisis.

Advice for Surviving Your Quarter-Life Crisis

Now that I have the wisdom of twenty-six years and one major life crisis behind me, I can give advice to others on how to get through their own. The sad reality is there isn't a magic tonic or trick, the only way to get through your quarter-life blues is to just live it out, realize it won't last forever, or maybe start a blog.

How do I know that my quarter-life crisis is over? Well, I know because of a few signs. Yes, on “paper” my life has quieted down: I work a full-time job I like in a completely different field than I originally set out in, I financially support myself, and I have a dog (and a plant!)  I haven't accidentally killed yet, so I must be getting better about taking responsibility for things. On the outside my life is quiet and drama free, but even in my past when I have periods of quiet in my life, on the inside there has been a lot of pain and anxiety I hid from the world.

The pain came from a lot of places, mostly me feeling misunderstood by pretty much everyone and trying to change myself to fit into a mold I thought the world expected of me. I can tell my own crisis is over is because the lingering pain in my bones since college graduation is gone.

In Conclusion

Anxiety about my future used to rule my life – seriously – it would be the first thing I thought of when I woke up and those thoughts would keep me up at night. I still deal with anxiety on a daily basis, but I no longer fret about where I will be in forty years. God willing, I'm going to turn twenty seven next year but I can't control the passing of time, or the fact that I am getting older. Just like I can't control what life is or isn't going to throw my way. It's been an interesting year full of ups and downs, I'm sure it won't be the last bad year of my life, but now it's over and I'm still here.

I feel this is what a quarter-life crisis really shows you – there are only a few things you can actually control. Fortunately, being happy is one of them.

I am a better person for this struggle, but between you and me? I have never been so glad to turn a year older.

 

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Move over, mid-life crisis! There's a new anxiety age in town! That's right, the quarter-life crisis is here to stay. See our advice for surviving your quarter life crisis.

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  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse
    March 12, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Happy belated Birthday, Lauren!! Hmmm…I’m not sure if the phrase quarter life crisis was even coined when I was 25. 🙂 I’m glad you’re feeling stronger in your own skin. You are strong, beautiful, independent woman and I can tell you – life only gets better!! Once the angst gets out – you can really focus on living and you seem like the type of person who has a lot of “life” in them!

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar
    March 11, 2013 at 2:53 am

    I didn’t finish school until I was 25, so it was more like I need to be a real adult now, but not necessarily depressing. I think I’m too practical for any sort of crisis, but I will turn the big 4-0 next year, so check back with me then. If I get a sudden urge to buy a red convertible, just shoot me.

  • Canadianbudgetbinder
    March 10, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Happy Birthday Mate! No I don’t think I had a QLC but what I do know is that I was never a guy to try and fit in. In fact I rarely cared what other people were doing or thought, I just did what I wanted to do. It was during University that I realized when I step out those doors, the world is mine. What was I going to do with it. I wasn’t worried, I was challenging myself. Lucky me I found some friends along the way that were similar to me some of whom are very successful today because they never gave in or gave up. I think I wanted to grow up fast as I knew from an early age things I wanted to do and see. I’m still not done with that list, I don’t know but I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life. It’s all been challenging but very rewarding experiences. Have a good one LB!!

  • Chris
    March 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I think I’m on the tail end of mine. Never thought of it as a crisis but just the way people get when they start taking on more responsibility. I’m only 23 though so who knows. Maybe I’ll have another bout of “what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life-itus” before I hit the quarter century mark.

  • Michelle
    March 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    I didn’t have a quarter life crisis because I was having too much fun. I was broke, living in Boulder, partying like a rock star, auditioning for things-it was great! My theory is someone is always older or younger than me so it’s all good. But, I do think that these moments do remind us to live in the “now”.

  • Jeremy Norton
    March 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I did experience quarter life crisis at some point in my life. But I have surpassed them all and I am happy with where and what I am today. Anyway, happy birthday to you.

  • Ben
    March 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I don’t think I ever got quite as worried as you about it (I’ve just turned 29) but I did start thinking about the things I imagined I would regret not having done. Where you look back when you’re older, with the commitments and a mortgage, and think – hey, that was the time when I could have done almost anything I wanted, and I squandered it.

    I had/have a comfortable, reasonably interesting and secure job but wanted to learn a new language. But moderate promotions came along and years slipped by. Were they worth and additional four years of procrastination? It’s not clear cut, but probably not – and if you’re going to make a leap of faith at any point – better to do it when you don’t risk pulling others down with you!

    So a month ago I put my career on hold and moved abroad. A good decision? Who knows, but I think that’s better than looking back and wondering what could have been. That’s the road to bitterness – and a mid-life crisis.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I love this comment and I completely agree with you! Even though it was a painful experience, I’m glad I went to NYC, because otherwise I would have always wondered what it would have been like.

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor
    March 9, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Happy Birthday! I just turned 30. Milestone birthdays can be tough. They make you think about where you are in life and where you want to be. At 18 when you do something responsible people are impressed. At 30, it’s expected that everything you do is responsible, ha.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks for the bday wishes! 🙂

  • K.K. @ Living Debt Free Rocks!
    March 9, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I did have a mini meltdown when I was about to hit thirty. A few of my older friends reassured me that my thirties would be my favourite decade and so far they’ve been absolutely right. Enjoy your upcoming birthday!

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks for that! It can only go up from here, right? 🙂

  • Janine
    March 9, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Happy birthday! (Well early birthday), glad you are through the tough stuff, it can only go up from here right? You do seem a lot happier with your life now (new beau etc) so that’s always a positive! I haven’t had a quarter-life crisis yet but I’m only 21 so i’ve still got time haha.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      Janine, you are so beautiful, sweet and young. I could just slap you. JUST KIDDING.I forget your age sometimes because you have it all together. I <3 you. Thanks for the bday wishes 🙂 I'm glad people have noticed I'm happier, because I definitely am!

  • Newlyweds ona Budget (@NewlywedsBudget)
    March 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    you only celebrate for a week? Honey, it’s called the birthday MONTH for a reason! 😛

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      I’ll have to try that next year 😉

  • Pauline
    March 8, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Happy early birthday! I had my crisis before turning 30. The good part of aging is you understand and accept yourself instead of wanting to be like everyone.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks Pauline! I definitely feel more comfortable in my own skin nowadays.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup
    March 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Have a Happy Birthday this Sunday. My quarter life birthday came and went. Maybe this is a women thing because I have never met a man that was depressed about or even mentioned approaching 30, which I am later this year.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Well thats because we live in a society where men are thought to get better with age, while the opposite is true for women. Also, women have something called the biological clock, which is always ticking in our ears.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    March 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I don’t think I ever had an official QLC, but I have had periods of intense re-evaluation of my world. The first was the time leading up to my religious conversion when I was 22 and the second was a career crisis, somewhat, when I was 24 – I was really feeling terrible about grad school and evaluated whether I should leave my PhD program with an MS. That happens very often for PhD students so it isn’t really labeled a QLC but just the general angst-ness of being in grad school. I haven’t had an experience of re-evaluating everything in my life at once, thankfully.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      It’s a whopper all at one time, but it sounds like you have been through a lot too. I can’t imagine the pressure of graduate school.

      • Emily @ evolvingPF
        March 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

        My experience is that it is what you make of it, and it depends on what you want your post-PhD career to be. My husband and I decided that we didn’t want to work as hard as we did in undergrad so we’re going the 6+-year route. If you want to be an academic there is a lot of pressure to have a hot project and high-impact papers, but we aren’t shooting for that kind of career.

  • The Norwegian Girl
    March 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I can relate to the quarter life crisis. Have had a couple of those. I guess when you turn 20, you have this idealistic, unrealistic view of how your twenties are going to turn out, and you make this “plan” in your head. By 22 you`re going to do this, by 24 that, and of course by 25, you`ve already done this and that, and has moved on the next big thing. But then you get to the mid 20s, and realise you never got around to do all those things, that you`re just not there yet, and you start comparing your life with all your friends on facebook, who did follow this “plan” and you start feeling like a failure. Been there done that too many times. So I`m trying to move forward, without making to many big plans! taking it one year at a time. works a lot better!

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Agreed!

  • Kendal
    March 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    I’ve definitely experienced moments of anxiety (turning 28 at the end of this month — gaah!) and a couple of mini breakdowns, but ultimately I’m comfortable where I’m at. It took some soul-searching to identify what I was missing and some creativity to fill those voids in the context of my lifestyle. I think that’s the hardest part! Happy Birthday!! March is the very best month to be born. 🙂

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you Kendal! And I agree, Pisces are the best 🙂

  • Michelle
    March 8, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Haha I never really think about getting older. I look like I’m 14 so if I can age, I consider that awesome. And I already act like a grandma…

  • MissAmanda
    March 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    I’m a few months shy from 30, and feel like I’m in my quarter-life crisis now! (Guess that means I’m going to live to be 120?) I honestly feel like I had my shit more together at 26 then I do now. Every day I feel like packing up and moving to NYC, sleeping on couches, and all that (but of course I won’t, because I do have *some* adult responsibilities, such as 2 cats and a car payment).

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 26 is still mid-twenties, so don’t fret! 🙂

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks Amanda! You never know when the QLC is going to strike. And cats can go wherever you go, and cars can always be sold 🙂

  • John S @ Frugal Rules
    March 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Happy Birthday! Oh, how I wish I was having a QLC as I am staring down the midlife one. 😉

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks John! 😉

  • Leah
    March 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Congrats on getting through the QLC! That’s a biggie!

    Mine started about 3 years ago, and while it as lessened in severity, I still have once-per-quarter panic attacks where I think, “I DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS SH*T! ESCAPE! ESCAPE!”

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Hahaha. I highly doubt anxiety and mini-crises will be out of my life forever, but this was a long, big painful one I am happy to see go.

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life
    March 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Oh my gosh you just set off fire works inside my brain. That’s totally what I’m going through right now, even though I’m only 23. I’ve been having a ton of anxiety lately about my future. My solution thus far has been to keep calm and pay down my debt, and get married, since wherever I go, I’ll want him with me. You just gave me something to blog about.

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Happy to help! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
    March 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I don’t think I had a quarter-life crisis, but 26 was a good year for me, so I hope it’ll be great for you, too! Happy Birthday! =)

    • L Bee
      March 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks Mrs. P!

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