How to Survive a Quarter-Life Career Crisis

When I turned 25, I experienced what has now been coined the "quarter-life crisis." I experienced the panic of realizing I was uncomfortably close to a new decade of my life (hello, THIRTY), and felt the pressure descend around me. Suddenly, there were all these looming, unanswered questions that had a new sense of urgency. They sounded a little like this...

"When will I get promoted for my efforts at work? Between the late nights and other sacrifices I made, I really poured myself into that last project. My boss Lori even said that thanks to my dedication and fresh ideas, we were able to secure the contract and sign our new client. So, what gives?"

"After all, Sarah is already a successful attorney. Oh, AND she's engaged, AND buying a house... I mean, I saw it on Facebook...if only my life were that perfect."

Don't even get me started on the marriage and babies meltdown. Yikes.

Yes indeed, my quarter-life crisis was quite a learning experience. Afterwards, I laughed over cocktails with girlfriends about how silly and trivial the whole thing really was, as it was mostly based on paranoia and this fake sense that time was running out. "So not true - 25 is so young! I have plenty of time to figure things out in my life and my career. You just can't rush certain things." And so, I gloriously basked in my newfound age and wisdom, generously patting myself on the back. All of that knowledge, and I was just ready to drop it at any moment! I felt so invincible.

Then, I turned 35.

You might assume that I would have been well-prepared, and not at all worried based on my previous experience. Such a pro.

You'd be wrong. I was a shivering, shattered mess.

My rookie mistake was that I thought I'd be fine - I had this in the bag, naturally.  However, I forgot that intelligent people humbly remind themselves that they're probably not as smart as they might like to think they are.

Enter my mid-career crisis. 

Somewhere between the innocent, inexperienced youth of twenty-somethings, and the established professionals in their forties and beyond, I was in limbo, in every sense of the word. My age, my life, and especially my career.

The paranoia of my twenties came back for a strong Round 2 with a nasty right hook, reminding me that the innocence of my youth could no longer protect me from the cold, hard truth: I am getting older, and I should know what I want to do with my life. I had always struggled with "finding my passion," and often felt like the outcast who had forgotten to attend school the day those got assigned.

Feeling selfish, I'd wonder "Maybe I just expect too much. I wonder if anyone really loves their job." So 'Millennial' of me.

Still, I felt the void, and longed to feel fulfilled professionally. Surely, that couldn't be too much to ask?

So, I did some soul searching, and I set out on a quest that taught me quite a few things about myself personally and professionally. Frequently in a state of self-reflection, I asked myself the following questions, and practiced freewriting about it daily:

What makes me happy? What doesn't make me happy? 
People, places, things. I made lists and described why and how they made me happy, and why I was so blessed to have them in my life. The expressions of gratitude were extremely beneficial and important to my progress; I realized I was in a much better position than I realized. Me, lucky? Eye opener. Likewise, I questioned why I allowed anything in my life that was not contributing to my happiness and well-being, and removed it immediately.

What am I really good at - what do I have a natural talent for?
I'm really great at lots of things - I eat pizza like a champ. Will that make my dreams come true? Highly unlikely. However, I love to help people, enjoy writing and storytelling, and oh yeah, I have experience in marketing. What are you good at? What do you like to do as a hobby? Have you ever considered trying it as a vocation, or can skills from another venture help you grow in your current role? Write it all down - even the so-called 'silly' stuff.

How can I earn income from my talent?
See above and connect the dots. Freelance work is becoming more and more in-demand, and there are tons of ways you can market your skills to make some extra side cash - maybe eventually even turning it into your full time job. Pro bono work is also an excellent way to help you to gain additional experience until you're comfortable asking for what you're worth - and can help you earn recommendations in the meantime.

What's my biggest dream(s)? NO boundaries. 
Have you ever dreamed about winning the lottery, and exactly what you'd do with the 20 - no - 50 million dollar prize? Use the same approach with your personal and professional goals. The catch? With effort and motivation, this one can actually come true.

What's stopping me from achieving it?
This step requires a lot of ownership. You will have to face any fears you might have about failing, and recognize that it takes a lot of accountability. Any goal, no matter how large and looming, can be divided into smaller, doable tasks that set you on the path to achieving success.

These questions were my road map for digging myself out of the dark and dreary slump I had fallen into during my mid-career crisis. The questions were relatively simple, and sometimes that's the funny thing about these slumps or perceived setbacks. Sometimes life is just waiting for us to open our eyes and realize things for ourselves - we just need to use our common sense.

Focusing on myself and taking the time to consider what I really wanted caused me to take the positive actions needed to change my life. I quit a toxic job that was making me miserable, enrolled in classes to continue my education, began volunteering, and most of all, found a new job that I absolutely love - and I'm nowhere near finished. I set new goals regularly, and have no intention of slowing down.

Needless to say, I'm expecting (hoping) to be better prepared for when 45 rolls around.

Not everyone fits into a perfectly square box; in fact, I like to think some of the most interesting people are those that do not. Don't worry if you don't fit the "norm"; be it your age or your career path. Focus on what makes you truly happy and work backwards to creating your life's path to fulfillment.

Have you experienced a mid-career crisis? How did you pick yourself back up? I'd love to hear from you! 


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