• Daniela Perone, Ph.D.

A quarter-life crisis amid a global crisis: What is a millennial to do?

Are you in your 20s or 30s and feel like your life isn’t what you thought it would be?

Do you still feel confused about who you are or what you want?

Do you struggle with harnessing your energy toward your passions?

Do you struggle to know what your passions even are?

Do you find yourself in toxic relationships or friendships?

Do you feel like, when compared to your peers, you are the only one having a tough go of it?

The truth is: You are not alone. In fact, feeling like you are alone in these struggles is a common experience among people in their 20s and 30s. If you answered yes to most of the above questions, you might be going through what Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner coined “The Quarterlife Crisis.”

According to Robbins and Wilner (2001), the quarterlife crisis is similar to the midlife crisis in that they both involve coping with life changes. The difference is that the midlife crisis occurs during a period a stability and the emotional turmoil is the result of feelings of stagnation. The quarterlife crisis is the opposite. It occurs as a result of major life changes and feelings of insecurity and instability.

Robbins and Wilner’s book, Quarterlife Crisis is a great resource for understanding this difficult developmental stage and we can credit them for identifying and naming the struggles of this age. However, given that it was written in 2001, their work was grounded in the context of Generation X reaching their prime and before September 11th, 2001.

If you are in your 20s and 30s now, you are considered a millennial. So not only are you probably experiencing a quarterlife crisis, you are also coping with the challenges of a society full of opinions (for better or worse) about your generation and a backdrop of monumental challenges, global threats, and changes (hello student loans, climate crisis, #metoo). If that weren’t enough, you have older generations shaming you for the situation you find yourself in and the only support some may seem to offer is to just “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” right?

It’s got to make you wonder: “even if I find my life purpose, will there still be a planet left for me to fulfill it?”

In other words, it may seem like you are going through a personal crisis in the midst of a global crisis. That may well be true. And you might feel hopeless and/or helpless. That’s ok. I think therapy can be a great space for you to process those feelings. There’s a few things I want to tell you about what you are going through.

1. You are NOT alone. Lots of people experience these worries and concerns.

2. The idea that everything is hopeless is just a thought. I repeat. Just. A. Thought. A wonderful professor of mine had a sticker on his office bulletin board that said “Don’t believe everything you think.” So so so true. A meditative or mindfulness approach can help us in recognizing our thoughts for what they are and make us aware that we are not our thoughts, are thoughts are not always true, and most importantly, we only experience our thoughts. And that experience may not be pleasant. Like the one about everything being hopeless. Yeah that’s not a fun one. Let’s try something else.

3. Get back to basics. You are here for an important reason. It is okay to not know what that is. It is also okay to struggle with this a bit. It may take some time to figure things out. Sometimes while we are wrestling with ginormous life questions, we forget some basic stuff that is crucial for even getting clarity on big life questions such as getting enough sleep, making sure we are eating well, getting enough downtime, getting some outdoor time, taking your vitamins, phone a friend, etc. In other words, while you are trying to figure out your bigger picture, don’t ignore the small picture. Nourish your body and your mind so that your spirit can fly free.

4. Check your environment. Be mindful of the opinions of those around you. Well intentioned family and friends will offer their opinions and advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Consider all opinions carefully and take your time to digest what your loved ones are telling you. Understand the difference between “taking something under advisement” versus letting others dictate things for you. And recognize that someone else just telling you what to do can be both appealing and off-putting. Don’t lose your own voice but do allow yourself to learn and grow from the wisdom of others. The key is discernment. The opinions of others (including those on social media and other internet sources) should be seen the way we consume food. If it doesn’t nourish and help us flourish, it may just be toxic.

5. Take deep breaths. Engage in the things that soothe and inspire. Get outdoors. Get creative. The world’s problems cannot be solved in a day. And certainly not by one person. You do not need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone. Only by getting quiet within can you tap into your own inner wisdom. Where your ego sees obstacles and barriers, your spirit can find a solution. You just need to go inward.

If you are really struggling with this, please feel free to reach out. I love helping millennials find their way. The world needs you.


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