Quarter-Life Crisis


Muharini Aulia (Clinical Psychologist)

What So Called Quarter Life Crisis and How to face it

Being an adult is something that many teenagers dream of. The freedom and the independence in many aspect of life that follow adulthood, is one of the reason why teenagers are giving their best to reach that phase. Having control is the key (or they think it is the key) to pass the adolescent crisis. But once they reach adulthood, they realize it contain a series of new questions and responsibilities. Adult world “speaks” about freedom in different way. A way that, sometimes, force them to “escape from” instead of “go for” freedom. It is all due to their new rules and new task in a new society.

In the bigger picture, we all knew that “the core dialectic” in early adult is intimacy vs. isolation. Theoretically, an adult have a duty to find someone he/she loves and a job that he/she good at, then experience real intimacy with both. Some of early adult have found their dream job and committed in relationship, some still look for a better position, and the rest still try to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Whatever their situations are, any adult can face a crisis that precipitated by a simple question “is this it?”

What so called “quarter life crisis”
“I am 26. I just finished my master studies in Biology with a perfect A. Now I am working as lecturer at one of the best university in my country. It seems like I am on the top of my young life. Yet, I often feel empty while doing my job. I woke up in the middle of the night, questioning, is this the life I really want? Is this it? ”.

“I still can’t figure out what I’m doing here, in this world. I have no job and gorgeous boyfriend. I feel nothing but totally lost. It’s funny though, I am 30 and I can only describe myself by the word ‘LOST’.”

So now we know the other kind of crisis in human life span besides the adolescent, midlife and late life crisis. It is a quarter life crisis, a crisis that commonly occurs during the age 25 to 35. An adult who experiences this crisis feels confused and lost and scared to take another step in his/her life. There are two forms of quarter life crisis, locked out crisis and locked in crisis. Let’s talk about the former before the latter.

The former happened when someone attempt to find the role in adult life and realize that he/she unable to get what he/she wants. The second example above simply describes this form of crisis. In this crises, some may experience repeated rejections by people, partner or even job. It leads to emotional instability and inferiority. This situation also makes us think that we are not good enough, that we can’t go through this hardship, hence we feel lost.

Meanwhile, the latter happened when someone already made one or more commitments then realize that they don’t really want it. The first example describes this condition perfectly. Someone who experience this crisis feels frustrated and being trapped. He/she continuously questioning “is this it?” “Is this the reason why I live?”. It is very common now to find this crisis case among us. How many times we heard the break up news about the cancelled wedding with “He is not the one I really want to spend my life with” as the reason? How often we witness someone feels stuck in his job and has no idea what he wants to do once he resigned from his office?. Locked in crisis involves inner conflict within one self. On one side, he/she wants to disconnect with anything he/she doubted. And on the other side, he/she scared that this change brings nothing but failure in his/her adult life.

To understand better about the locked in crisis, we need to know the 4 phases in this crisis, those are :
·         The first phase, a young adult finds himself or herself having committed to a particular relationship, job and/or social group, but comes to the realization that this commitment is not in Fact what they want in the long term (Robinson). In this phase, we think that we should not do or take or choose whatever we have done, taken or chosen. We feel stuck in our real life and wondering what if we have an alternative life. This thought will lead us to the second phase, “the emotional peak of crisis”
·         In the second phase, a young adult takes a real step to leave his/her commitments. This big step makes us feel that we lose our identity. We feel scared, angry and guilty. We, again, start questioning about the meaning of our existence. Once we start trying a new way, or taking a new step, we are in the third phase of the crisis.
·         The third phase happened when a young adult adopt a new lifestyle. We explore something new and experience another possibilities. We redesign our values and find a new roles. During this phase, we feel emotionally unstable so we try wholeheartedly to go back to a stable track.
·         When a young adult successfully define his/her new roles, values and goals, they experience the fourth phase of the crisis.

Anyone who experienced the quarter life crisis, have their own personal process to go through it. One may need a short time to find an “exit door”, while the other need to go back to the first phase after trying many things in the third phase, before they committed to the change they’ve made, enjoy they new roles and responsibilities and experience inner peace. Some may suffer a very hard crisis, while the other only need to make a simple step to face the crisis.

One thing we have to underline is that a quarter life crisis is normal. Many people out there pass it and miraculously transform into a better version of themselves. To aware that a quarter life crisis does exist and to understand that it is normal to experience it, are the first way to win the battle. The other ways we can take to pass the crisis are :
·         Don’t ignore it, it happened!
Neglecting the crisis wouldn’t make you feel better. There is nothing to do but to accept the situation and do something to face it.
·         Give yourself a try, not only cry!
In the moment when we feel lost, or scared, or we think that we will stuck in this point forever, please with pleasure give some try to pass it. Don’t just ruminate our condition. Ruminating only offers us the stronger negative feeling that will weaken us. 
·         Don’t run, just take a careful and definite walk
For someone in a quarter life crisis, there are thousand questions that need the answers. Seems like we have to solve a great enigma, or escape the maze. So be careful!! Don’t take a reckless step by running in the hallway. Just walk with a clear mind and a careful consideration. 
·         Take some time to meet our life aspiration
Everyone has their life aspiration. It could be about family, creativity, or any other variables. These life aspiration (in an idea) will remind us what really important in our lives and clarify what we should take or not take.
·         Start comparing ourselves today with ourselves yesterday.
In other words, stop comparing ourselves with others. We will stay lost if we use other people’s point to determine our life track. We can start in the same point but we probably choose a different destination. We potentially have the same aim but we take a different way to reach it. To find a right direction, pay attention to our own maps!!

Robinson, O. (2015). Emerging Adulthood, Early Adulthood, and Quarter-Life Crisis: Updating Erikson for the Twenty-first Century. In R. Zukauskiene (Ed). Emerging Adulthood in A European Context (pp 17-30). New York: Routledge.

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