What is a Quarter Life Crisis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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The quarter life crisis can be contrasted to the midlife crisis. It is a phenomenon that is increasingly getting recognition by a number of health professionals. Under most definitions, the quarter life crisis can refer to disillusionment, angst, frustration and insecurity that might occur during the second or third decade of life. Many of these crises may be fed by the challenges of adjusting to the world after finishing college, and the discovery by many students that the struggle to get through college didn’t end all struggles.

People undergoing a quarter life crisis may have several different symptoms. They may miss school, be disappointed by the financial outlook that their jobs provide, be unable to find work commensurate with their education or pay expectations, and they may falsely believe that others are having an easier time than they are. Other hallmarks of this type of crisis include inability to let go of strong opinions, inability to articulate identity, and trouble maintaining relationships, either new ones or those begun in high school and college.


When a person is going through huge transitions like that from college or trade school to the working world, there is significant adjustment needed. This takes time, but until recently, many students were mistakenly informed that going to college would have them set for life. This impression, that college once accomplished would translate to success and ease, can make transitions to working harder. Moreover, unreliable job markets and strong competition for certain types of jobs combined with pay that may not produce much more than a living wage at best, means there is nothing set or settled about life. Just making it financially can be very hard especially when a person may also be paying off significant student loans.

In a sense, the transition from school to work is one most people undergo, but the accompanying angst, insecurity, and exhaustion or frustration with relationships may be new. Some theorists who write about the quarter life crisis suggest one problem may be that movement to the working world means expectations are less clearly defined than they were in a college or high school setting. This means those new to working must learn numerous new communication techniques at once, and these are not always predictable from job to job. Such work can be exhausting and a person undergoing a quarter life crisis may envy anyone else who seems to accomplish it easily.

Disappointment in the lack of good degrees earning good jobs can also fuel this sort of crisis. In many developed countries, there has been an increase in competition for jobs and a decrease in compensation. In the 2000s this has been felt significantly, and has been the cause of quarter life crises in many generation X’ers and millennials. The increased parental involvement of many children who are millennials may fuel a quarter life crisis or crises because children may be less adept at resolving problems in working relationships on their own.

There are some good self-help books on the quarter life crisis, which may help 20 and 30-somethings realize they are not alone in their confusion or despair. Career counseling may also be helpful in learning to adapt to changing situations and expectations. Given that many people find themselves depressed during this period, it may be a good idea to seek counseling with a good mental health professional to talk out difficulties and make some plans that are realistic to your circumstances.


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Post 2

My quarter life crisis came with my first job after graduating from college. I remember calling my parents and complaining about how long my work days were and how hard the job was and how much I didn't really like it.

I remember clearly their response: "Uh huh."

That's when it hit me. Life is very different outside of college and jobs are hard and work is long. After a period of adjustment to my new life, I accepted it for what it was and carried on.

The best thing I did for myself during this period of adjustment was to make new friends, entertain, join a health club, and volunteer when I could. Life had more meaning and value when I looked at it from the perspective of those who needed help. Giving to others in need is one great way to help a quarterlife crisis fade to the background.

Post 1

I never heard of a quarterlife crisis before but I recognize the signs in my 24-year old son.

After graduating from college he moved a few hours away by car to a new city and his first post-degree job. To his chagrin, the amount he was earning certainly sounded like a lot of money when he accepted the job, but after paying all his bills for a few months, he realized he was not making enough to live while paying off his college debts.

He sank into despair for a while, we spoke on the phone often through this period, and then he found a new job, better paying and more to his liking. After reaching his new goals, he set higher goals for himself and this seems to help him on his journey.

Setting and meeting goals can help keep us focused and balanced at 25 years of age and beyond!

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