I stood on the chair, looking at the scene below me.
Before me, cars looked like little matchboxes, racing along the road. The breeze tickled my hair gently. Standing on the 12th floor, I wondered if I should flip myself over.
There didn’t seem to be any point in staying alive. After all, my dreams had been crushed. My dreams of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, were dashed. What was the point of carrying on with life? It was painful to even figure out what to do next.
Fortunately, I didn’t. A friend came by that afternoon, and talked me out of it.
He happened to take a walk down his corridor. He saw me standing precipitously on the chair, looking down, and wondered what I was doing. His words still ring in my ears today.
You need to do something to get out of your own rut.
That’s why I still have the opportunity today to write about my experiences.
Wherever you are in your quarter life crisis, you are not alone. You may feel that no one understands what you’re going through, or that no one bothers about what you’re going through. You may find that no one seems to give any advice that works. You’re frustrated of going round in circles, searching for that elusive ‘it’ that will make you okay.
In this article, I want to share about how you can deal with the quarter life crisis. But before thinking about how to deal with it, it’s vital to think why it happens.
Why does it happen?
There are many reasons for the quarter life crisis. Understanding why is the first step towards understanding how to get through. The most important reason is because…
There is no set path.
All throughout your growing up years, there was a set path. You go to school. Take an exam. Get your grades. Graduate. Move to the next level.
Throughout school, you are taught clear steps and processes. If you have a math problem, use a certain formula, and you will come up with the answer. If you’re writing an essay, use this structure, and you will get an A. You are taught to solve problems, but not necessarily how to think about problems.
When you’re faced with a question like:
What should I do with my life?
Why am I here on Earth?
You’re suddenly faced with a problem, and you realise there are few tools in your mental arsenal that you can use to face this problem.
There are no formulas or fixed processes that you can plug in that will enable you to quickly find the answer.
You finally see that at the forks in your life, there is no set path.
This may come when you’re at transition points such as from high school to college. Or from university to work.
The whole world is open to you… and if you’re honest, it’s scary. You don’t know what to choose! You don’t even know how to choose.
Of course you’ll feel like you’re in a crisis!
Every journey is unique.
When I faced my quarter life crisis, I remember going to multiple people and asking the same questions over and over again.
What should I do with my life?
What are you doing with your life?
It was frustrating because the advice I got seemed useless. Whenever I tried to use it for my own life, it didn’t seem to make me feel better. It only made me feel worse, as I started comparing myself to the journeys others were making. I would look at how driven and motivated they were, and think to myself,
Why can’t I be like them?
I would look at the pictures of people enjoying university through Instagram, and wonder if I would ever have what it takes to make it to university.
Every journey through the quarter life crisis is unique. What helped for the person you speak to, may not help for you.
Your original dream is crushed.
You had dreams. But somehow they were crushed. A poor final grade at your A-Levels may have meant that you’re now disappointed, rather than on your way to being a doctor.
Having your dreams crushed can be a ruthless experience. All your life, you have been hoping to do ‘your passion’. Now, as you look into the near future, you wonder how you’re going to spend 4 years at university studying something you’re not interested in.
Or you wonder how you’re going to work for the next 30 years in something you’re not passionate about! In your mind, you see the tapes rewind of people dragging their feet to work… and you don’t want that.
Nope, we want none of that.
How do you overcome it?
There’s no how-to guide to dealing with the quarter life crisis. But there are useful principles that you can use in ensuring that this time becomes a breakthrough, rather than a crisis.
Love what’s within you.
It’s not about what you do, but about who you are. As cliche as this sounds, your occupation or your studies don’t matter so much as who you are.
In this quarter life crisis, as you ask questions like:
- Who am I?
- Why am I here on earth?
- What am I doing?
It’s a chance for you to know more about who you are.
Overcoming it is first about accepting who you are. Are you able to accept yourself, as you are, where you are right now?
When I first met my therapist, the first thing he asked me to do was to write a love letter to myself.
Why should I do that?
I exclaimed with incredulousness. Was he crazy?
John, it’s about celebrating who you are.
On a piece of paper, I would like you to write down 5 qualities you admire about yourself, and how you’ve shown them in the past.
For example, it can be,
I love you for being so compassionate. Despite not needing to serve people with learning disabilities, you’ve gone week after week to serve them, without fail.
Be specific about what you enjoy about yourself. If you don’t celebrate yourself, no one will. Breaking out of your quarter life crisis is first accepting you for who you are.
Yes, you want to get somewhere. But where you are right now is also worth celebrating.
This keeps you celebrating progress, rather than chasing perfection.
The second step is self-forgiveness.
You might blame yourself for not having worked hard enough to get to where you want to be. It’s tempting to step into self-flagellation, where you’re punishing yourself for being lazy, lousy, and stupid.
But self-flagellation serves no purpose except to make you more unhappy with yourself.
Write a letter to forgive yourself. Be specific about what you’re forgiving yourself for. Self-forgiveness is the antidote to self-flagellation. It reminds you that you’re not perfect. And that it’s okay to be imperfect. You can always live to fight another day.
But if you’re always fighting yourself, then you’re never going to succeed.
Understand your skill
Before you get good work, you need to get good.
Cal Newport, in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You
The passion hypothesis goes something like this,
If you love what you do, you’ll never need to work again.
But depending on passion is relying on emotion. It’s relying on pure emotion which will fluctuate, change, and vary. It will never stay constant. If you want to read more about why following your passion doesn’t work, you can find more here.
You end up being like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, but never really being content. Your eyes are always on the next thing that will bring you happiness.
Your skills are a better anchor instead.
When you look at skills, you might be tempted to think:
I have no skills!
My skills are not good enough!
But you can do something that no one else can do as easily. Think back.
- Have there been things that people say you’re good at?
- What do people usually say you’re unique at?
- What do people often praise you for?
When you answer these questions, you’ll see themes appearing.
During my quarter life crisis, one of the most important books for me was “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles. The flower exercise in his book provides a good frame to understanding what the skills you love using are.
The flower exercise goes like this.
- Write down 6 stories of accomplishment. They can be something as simple as getting a cat down from a tree.
- Using the grid, pick out the skills that you used.
- After 6 different stories, you will realise that there are themes of skills that you frequently use.
When you look at the skills you have, you realise that rather than being lost and uncertain about what you can do with your life, you already have certain things you’ve been doing well.
You’re not alone. Reach out. Be brave. Be vulnerable.
Don’t keep it inside you.
Whilst everyone goes through a different quarter life crisis, people get through it with others. They don’t walk through it alone.
You too, don’t have to.
Reaching out helps you see that life is more than just work. Or finding your passion.
But that life is also about relationships.
We are walking out of the Institute of Mental Health. It’s about 2am. There are no cars around.
The surroundings are deadly silent.
Just 30 minutes before, I was sitting in front of the psychiatrist. Sent there after I told the counsellor on the hotline that I didn’t want to live anymore, this wasn’t my idea of spending a Saturday night.
I had no wish for my parents to be there with me. I had not talked to them about my difficulties for years.
Unfortunately, they had been called down.
My father wraps his hand around me, and gives me a squeeze on the shoulders.
John, whether you have 10A-s or no A-s, you will still be my son.
I looked up at him.
Wherever you are in your quarter life crisis, you’re not alone. You belong somewhere. Someone, somewhere, still cares for you. Still loves you. And will walk with you through this journey.
We just have to do it step by step, day by day, breath by breath.
You can get my course for how to overcome your quarter life crisis, at NO FEE, here!