By Sandie Shaw
A ‘quarter life crisis’ can effect young adults anywhere between 18 and 35 and can be defined as feelings of confusion, anxiety, self doubt and low self esteem combined with an external and internal pressure to grow up and get your life in order.
Are you having a quarter life crisis?
In my early 30’s, I recall having lunch with my Grandma when her first question to me was ‘Are you still seeing that nice boy you introduced me to last year?’ Her relief when I replied ‘Yes Grandma, actually I am’ was palpable. ‘Oh, thank heavens’ she exclaimed ‘I didn’t think you would ever find anyone who could live up to your impossibly high standards’. I couldn’t deny it – she had a point.
Nowhere was her point more valid than in my choice of career(s). Leaving school I aspired to be an artist. I had a good degree of talent, a portfolio I was proud of and a place at art college. By the time I left college I’d decided on a career as a photographer and shortly after graduating I became a photographer’s assistant. So far, so straightforward.
How was it then that less than twelve months later, I found myself in the rather less-than-creative role of Accounts Assistant with a well-known mortgage provider?! I hadn’t fallen out with the photographer I assisted, or out of love with my camera and I certainly don’t recall a burning ambition to work in financial services. No, my decision was driven by a much milder ‘change of heart’; a desire to wear a suit for a change and in truth to earn a higher wage and to do something a bit different for awhile. Besides, I could always go back to photography…
Over the following years I would sample three further (and entirely different) careers and I would also move around a lot, living a peaceful existence by the sea before heading to the bright lights and excitement of city life in London. When city living lost its’ edge, I didn’t hesitate for long – I took the bull by the horns and went off to travel the world. Indeed, I changed location so many times during those nomadic years of my life that my poor mum went through S (for Sandie) then T, U, V, W and X in her address book trying to keep tabs on me. I would travel the world for the next two years before spending the final leg of my journey in Thailand, where my itchy feet got stuck in the soft sand for several months to come. I was, I suppose, life shopping. Trying lots of different things and thoroughly enjoying the variety of life.
Goldilocks syndrome – when having fun became my refuge in the woods…
At this time in my life, what was my attitude? Well, I was determined to experiment with whatever ‘took my fancy’ in life, and thought I would do so until I was sure I’d found exactly what I was looking for – the problem was, I didn’t really know what that was. My attitude to my career was the same, and relationships for that matter; I didn’t know what I was looking for in a man but what I certainly did know was that I wasn’t going to settle down with any old Tom, Dick or Harry. No, I was life shopping and I was going to shop around until I unearthed the right job, town, friends, man and life-style to suit me. It would be perfect and it would ‘feel’… just right.
We all remember the story of Goldilocks & The Three Bears: spirited young girl goes about her way in a similar fashion, trying out this chair and that bed and every bowl of porridge on the table looking for ‘just right’. Along the way, Goldilocks’ got a nasty shock from a rather grumpy bear – and understandably so – but what I’d really like to know is, when Goldilocks curled up asleep in Big Bear’s bed, was she having a pleasant little nap or had she actually crumbled from the sheer exhaustion of all her investigations?
Was she getting weary from hours of wandering in the woods, sluggish from eating too much porridge and drained by all the choices she’d faced that day? Or, was she pulling that duvet up over her head because, quite frankly, she had absolutely no idea what she was doing, where she was going or what she was looking for? Either way, towards the end of my 20’s I was starting to understand how she felt.
With no clear sense of direction in my life and only the vague notion of finding something that felt ‘just right’ to guide me, it is hardly surprising that when I did return home, back to reality, I would quickly find myself spiralling into my own ‘quarter life crisis’.
Qual der Wahl – The Torture of Choice
Back to my family home and bijoux box-room with no blue sky and warm sea to distract me – the reality was, I had no job, no money, no close friends, no belongings, no sense of direction and no desire whatsoever to head off on another adventure. As the first waves of panic crashed ‘OMG, I’m approaching my 30’s, I’m living at home and I don’t know what I’m doing with my life! About the only thing I did want to do was pull that duvet up over my head, and stay there, too miserable to face the challenges ahead of me. But, when my dad observed, ‘Sandie, you’ve been moving about from one thing to another for some time now, and while I’m pleased you’ve been having fun, just try to remember ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ I was surprised just how much I really wanted some moss.
As worthwhile, educational and (let’s face it) exciting as ‘life shopping’ can be, there’s an inevitable downside. It eventually leaves the shopper feeling unsettled, disconnected, frustrated and directionless not to mention overwhelmed by the number of paths we could take. Paralysed by the fear that we might make the wrong decisions and our lives could turn out ‘less than perfect’ we can be faced with what Germans phrase ‘Qual der Wahl‘, simply meaning ‘The Torture of Choice’.
A ‘quater life crisis’ can be defined as feelings of confusion, anxiety, self doubt and low self esteem combined with an external and internal pressure to grow up and get your life in order. A quarterlife crisis can effects young adults anywhere between 18 and 35, often after graduating college or university. Part of us wants to avoid adulthood and the responsibility that comes with it and go out and party, yet another part of us might yearn for a great job, a great relationship and a great life by conventional standards. Coming of age in 2012, during the toughest of economic conditions, sadly, you may feel you have fewer options than the generation that went before, and so you may feel that you have little or no choice but to move back in with your parents or take what work you can get just to pay the bills. You may find yourself asking “What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Why is everyone doing better than me? Am I on the right career path?, Am I spending time with the right people?” You might even feel like time is running out.
But here’s some good news. This really is the best time in your life to be having this crisis. Better now than when you are in your 4o’s or 50’s, trust me on this. Ignore anyone who tells you that by the age of 25 or 30 you should have your life all figured out. Your 20’s really are the best time to explore all possibilities, try different things, meet interesting people, develop your social skills, explore the full spectrum of your emotions, learn to live on a budget, make the odd wrong decision and ultimately, discover who you really are. When I look back at my own quaterlife crisis, yes, it was often a time of inner turmoil, frustration and disappointment but it was also completely life changing and life affirming as I made small improvements and moved from feeling stuck to steadily laying the foundations for the lifestyle, attitude and the peace of mind that I enjoy and thoroughly appreciate today.
If you (or someone close to you) are having a quarterlife crisis, then here are a few tips to help you through it:-
- Find a healthy way to release some pressure, which in my experience, is rarely achieved by consuming unhealthy foods, alcohol or by any other stimulant such as shopping or casual relationships. These can often make our problems seem more complicated and are best limited during transitional times when you seek clarity of thought. Try healthier forms of relaxation such as yoga, meditation, swimming, walking, writing, drawing, painting, music or reading.
- Practice mindfulness in your daily life. Become consciously aware of where your thoughts are taking you. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the future? Or, do you get lost in thoughts and memories about the past? Either way, it is at the expense of your real life ‘now’. Practice catching yourself when you mind takes you away some place else and bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing fully on whatever you are doing right now, even if it’s nothing more than breathing. The more time you can spend in the ‘now’, the less vague life will seem as you realise that thoughts are not solid enough to stabilise you. When we are fully present in our lives, life is far simpler – all we really need in this precise moment in time are very basic things indeed. Air, water, food and shelter. If you have access to these four things right now, then you can trust that everything is going to be ok.
- Try not to compare yourself to other people. What other people are doing with their lives, no matter how ideal it may seem from the outside looking in, would not be right for you. You are your own unique person, enjoy your individuality. If you want a way to measure how your life is developing, only compare yourself to you, two to six month ago.
- Laugh more, (a lot more!) Laughter is good for your soul. It helps us reduce stress so we can put things in perspective. It’s amazing how a bit of humour can diffuse the heaviest of atmospheres. It is an instant mood changer – even if you’re not in the mood for laughter, laughter can put you in a the right mood. Laughter clears the mind. When you lighten your mood you naturally become more resourceful and creative and better able to cope with the challenges of life. When was the last time you laughed? What kind of things make you laugh? Who makes you laugh? Go out of your way to find something to laugh about everyday… soon you might even be laughing at this crisis you’re having.
- Put a set amount of time aside and set yourself a personal goal. Choose a specific amount of time and don’t go over it. Perhaps start of with an hour, and use it to think of one thing you could do which will move you one step forward in one area of your life. For now, don’t look further than a couple of weeks ahead and make sure that whatever you decide to focus on follows a simple goal setting structure. Try the SMART model and make sure that your goal is: S=Specific, M=Measurable, A=Attainable, R= Realistic, T=Timeframed. Focus on doing one thing at a time. Celebrate every victory and use the positive energy to inspire you to set and achieve your next goal.
And for those of you who would like some additional support, then why not consider working with me as your personal life coach. I have a wide range of tools and exercises that will help you remove mental interference and maximise your true potential.
I offer one to one life coaching in various locations around the High Peak and telephone coaching to those further afield.
Call Sandie on 07985 284 914
Sometimes it helps to stop thinking and start doing something proactive, if only to break the repetative cycle of ‘analyse paralysis’.
If workshops are more your thing, I currently offer two workshops which will help you find clarity and move forward in your life:-
‘They Key Ingredients for Career Success’ – for those who want to discover a career in which they will thrive.
“Self Discovery Workshop‘ – for those who would like a complete Life MOT.
Call Sandie today for more information.