The years keep rolling by, exponentially speeding up with the passage of time. Hopefully, like a rolling stone, the edges get smoother and more refined.
It’s easy to reflect on all the mistakes I’ve made, lessons learned and celebrations earned. I own the life I’ve led so far. All of these decades of adulting have given me a chance to be who I am and in the process, decide who I want to be.
I don’t think the so-called quarter-life and midlife chapters need to be defined as “crises,” rather periods in time for more opportunity to grow, understand and love.
So, what exactly are the characteristics of midlife and quarterlife turmoil?
Similar to the more widely recognized midlife crisis, the quarter-life crisis is a period of uncertainty and questioning that typically occurs when people feel trapped, uninspired and disillusioned during their mid-20s to early 30s.
On the positive side, these years are considered to be the best because most people are healthy, exploring their career options, developing relationships with partners, and just enjoying what it’s like to be young and on their own.
However, it can also be a time of restlessness, confusion, depression and fear as a person starts to feel doubtful about their life brought on by the stress of becoming an adult.
According to The Guardian, the quarter-life crisis affects 86% of millennials, who say they are burdened with insecurities, disappointments, loneliness, and depression. One piece of advice I’d give is to find a good nurse who, among their many other qualifications, is trained to recognize depression in patients. The earlier you address mental health issues, the better off you’ll be down the road.
I’d like to say it gets easier and those feelings lessen over time, but more than anything, life just shifts into different forms that one is hopefully better equipped to deal with.
Career: It’s during this time that people ask themselves: “Where do I fit into the workplace?” Millennials are changing the workplace and seem to have it figured out more than previous generations. They know their value and what they bring to the workforce. They don’t stay at dead-end jobs. They’d rather move up or move on.
For me, as a “GenX-er,” as soon as the ink on the college diploma dried, I found a job in my field because that’s what you were supposed to do. No backpacking across Europe for me. By the time I was in my late 20s, I realized I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter anymore. I was starting to question what impact I was actually having on the world, even though I was entrenched in reporting on events that were making national headlines at the time.
In a complete about-face, I decided to try my hand in the nonprofit world. I made an impact on some people’s lives, but the chapter didn’t last long. I found myself looking to make more coin.
Family: The biological clock may be ticking, but a lot of people in their 20s are nowhere near ready to start a family and some even move back in with their parents. It always seemed strange to me that humans are designed to have children in their 20s, at a time when many are still trying to make sense of who they are as individuals. Of course, there are plenty of people who are ready and proceed with getting the party started.
Finances: The pressure of paying down student loans and credit cards tends to motivate one to find a good job and work hard. This is a good time to put the maximum amount from your paycheck into the company’s 401k program.
As life transitions into the late 30s and 40s, there are other subtle shifts taking place.
Career: By now, many people are already settled into a career they enjoy or are thinking about changing it up entirely because up until now jobs haven’t been all that satisfying. I realized that money wasn’t everything after working a good job for nearly a decade. I went back to being true to myself as a writer.
Family: Parents are getting older. Children are thinking about how to best care for their parents while managing their own kids and lives. Some families have even created multi-generational households to take care of everyone’s needs.
I never started a family and it’s okay. I’m at peace with it. Sometimes I contemplate adopting, but that seems pretty scary, too. A few marriages later, I still have this crazy idea I’ll get married again someday. Maybe I’m like Elizabeth Taylor, and I’ll have a half-dozen marriages by the end.
Finances: By the time I was in my mid 30s, I was able to pay off my student loans by consolidating and refinancing. What a relief. The cool part is I did it myself, without the help of my parents. The biggest lesson I learned is that if you don’t address your debt early on in life, it only gets worse with time. I socked enough money away for emergencies only, to buy a home, and have a decent 401k.
A friend of mine in her late 40s recently told me that she and her husband are now $90,000 in student loan debt because they defaulted on old student loans from 30 years ago. What started out as $25,000 grew to an exorbitant amount they will likely never pay off. Because of their choices, they aren’t likely to get a home loan.
By the time midlife rolls around, most of us are comfortable with who we are and the direction life is heading. Or at least that’s the hope. My last piece of advice – whether quarter-life or midlife – would be to follow your dreams, no matter how big or small, stress less, focus on what’s important, find happiness in whatever form you choose, spend quality time with important people in your life, be self-confident – and don’t not sweat the small stuff anymore.