You’ve been working really hard for the past few years. You have pursued some of your passions and let others fly by. Now you look around and realize that time is marching past faster than you anticipated. You are not capturing each moment aggressively enough. Your golden youth is fading and you still don’t know what you are doing with your life.
If it is any comfort, I know a guy from small town Kansas who could tell you a thing or two about the quarter life crisis. At 30 years old this guy, let’s call him Harry, didn’t have much. He didn’t have a house, a car, or a job. The only thing he could really claim as his own was a cartload of debt from a failed business venture. He dropped out of college (due to lack of funds) and moved back in with his mom. He proposed to his long-time crush and she had completely rejected him, multiple times.
But you know the thing about Harry was, he didn’t let the loneliness and social pressure of his late twenties get him down. Instead he continued marching forward as best as he could, taking every new setback and strike of bad luck (and believe me, he had plenty of them) with a sideways smile and determination to recover. He kept on working hard, regardless of whispered snickers around him. And he kept on proposing to his sweetheart.
Can you guess what happened to Harry?
He didn’t fall into unrecoverable depression and spend the rest of his day’s in his mother’s basement. He did become one of the most influential presidents in American history. He did join Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in creating the treaties that ended World War Two. He did successfully lead the country through a post-war recession and issue the Marshal Plan to rebuild Europe. He did create the Truman Doctrine to contain communism during the cold war. He did oversee the Berlin airlift and assist in the founding of the United Nations and NATO. Oh, and he did eventually woo his stubborn country girl sweetheart and marry her.
According to gumtree.com, 86% of the 1,100 young people they surveyed admitted feeling under pressure to succeed in their relationships, finances, and jobs before hitting 30. More and more 25-30 year-olds seem to be simultaneously battling increased social pressure and loneliness, a killer combo. The Depression Alliance estimates that a third of twenty-somethings are depressed.
However, although the quarter life crisis may be rampant, it does not have to be a negative experience. Dr. Oliver Robinson, from the University of Greenwich in London, studies the quarter life crisis extensively. His research has convinced him that it could have positive benefits. In fact, he thinks it may be a necessary part of growing up:
“The results will help reassure those who are experiencing this transition that it is a commonly experienced part of early adult life and that a proven pattern of positive change results from it.”
“The Quarter Life Crisis should not be regarded as a negative experience; it is about questioning what you have created in your life already, and asking yourself if you could achieve more by choosing different goals or career paths.”
The trouble is that social media makes it impossibly easy to compare ourselves to an unrealistic version of our peers. Social Media gives people the ability to portray themselves in an ideal way, or “put on their Sunday best” as Stapelton put it.
Imagine if Harry Truman had been on social media comparing his humble farming life to his friend’s brand new finance job and yellow mustang rather than following his own path and setting his own goals.
The trick to making the most of a quarter life crisis is to learn to set your own goals and stick to them. Stapelton puts it perfectly:
“Becoming an adult is about learning to set your own timelines, not trying to match your parents’ or friends’ achievements.”
We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and focus on who we are, what we want to do with our lives, and how we plan to accomplish those goals.
If you have to compare yourself to anyone, forget the glitzy friends of friends on instagram and remember Harry Truman’s humble roots. Through hard work and perseverance, you can propel yourself through the quarter-life slumps to a happy and fulfilled adulthood.