Quarter-Life Crisis [noun]: a crisis that may be experienced in one’s twenties, involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life.
While people around the globe have been experiencing quarter- and mid-life crises for decades (Hemingway, anyone?), it seems like millennials (i.e. “The Peter Pan Generation”) have become especially susceptible to adult-itis.
My own quarter-life crisis took place in 2015, approximately 9 months after graduating from university, when I decided to quit my job and book a one-way ticket to Central America for a bit of solo traveling. No matter that I was in a 5-year relationship with someone I really loved, was making good money, had student loan debt to pay off, and a not-inexpensive apartment that required ongoing rent payments.
At the time, none of that mattered…because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out.
I know a LOT of people who have had similar experiences, and like them, I was feeling trapped and overwhelmed by the pressures of transitioning into adult life. In a matter of months, I had graduated from college, moved in with my long-term boyfriend, started working a 9-5 job, started paying all sorts of new bills.
Most of all, I was generally trying to figure out what the f*ck happened to my plans.
You know, those plans you make when you’re still just a kid, about how your whole life is going to turn out? The career you think you’ll have, the adventures you think you’ll go on, the things you think you’ll do?
Yeah…none of that happened.
I wasn’t living the spectacular, adventurous lifestyle I had always dreamed of…I was just regular old me. And I couldn’t figure out how I was ever going to escape from that. I felt as if I was denying my true self, stifling my own potential, and putting limits on my future.
I felt lost, insecure, anxious, frustrated, restless, and resentful.
Above all, I felt like I has a massive, life-altering decision to make: Do I want to settle down, get married, build a stable career, have kids, buy a home, and live the typical picture-perfect American lifestyle, OR do I want to throw caution to the wind, explore my options, see the world, enjoy my youth while I still have it, and refuse to commit to a lifestyle that I’m unsure of?
Those who are more enlightened and mature than me will see an immediate problem with this line of thinking: it’s too extreme, too black and white.
I was putting SO much pressure on myself to decide what my entire life was going to look like…at the age of 23 years old. Pardon my French, but that’s f*cking ridiculous.
Sure, the choices that I make today will have consequences (good and bad) that affect me down the road, but who says I have to choose one extreme end of the spectrum or the other? Who says I can’t fall somewhere in the middle? And who says that I can’t change my mind at a later date?
But of course, I was only able to change my line of thinking and gain a new perspective after I went through the motions of experiencing my own quarter-life crisis firsthand. While there were certainly some stressful moments along the way, I truly believe that my little quarter-life crisis was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Because in the end, it taught me a lot of valuable lessons and ultimately improved my life in a number of big ways. After my quarter-life crisis…
- I finally attained a fully location-independent job, doing something I really love (freelance writing!)
- My relationship is stronger than ever…in fact, I’m now engaged!
- I’ve found a balanced lifestyle and mindset that works for me – one that has room for both solo adventures and stability. In other words, I’ve found my own little place somewhere along the “quit your job to travel solo forever vs. settle down and become a boring adult” spectrum…and it’s great.
Here’s how it happened:
I finally attained a fully location-independent job
Growing up, I was always the kid who wanted to be everything. I wanted to be a writer, a politician, a news anchor, a teacher, a scientist, an actress, a doctor, an anthropologist, a therapist…you get the idea.
Unfortunately, I carried my passion for “exploring all my options” into my college years. Fun fact: In the 4.5 years it took me to graduate from college, I went to 3 separate universities and officially declared 3 majors, but came close to declaring 2 more.
In other words, when I graduated with my marketing degree and minor in management, I still basically had no idea what I was doing, or what I wanted to achieve. I landed my first job out of college pretty quickly, and while there were elements about the work that I enjoyed, I knew that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing.
Above all, I guess you could say that I felt unfulfilled. So when I told my boss that I was quitting my job to go travel, it didn’t even occur to me that there was an intermediate option between “staying” and “quitting.”
Fortunately, my boss was an amazingly understanding and insightful woman, and after I told her of my plans, she asked me a question that ultimately changed the course of my career: “Would you consider working remotely?”
I accepted her offer, and although the part-time remote work that I was doing for her team eventually fizzled out just before I returned home from my travels, I was hooked.
It took a few stumbles and awkward lessons learned along the way, but over the course of the next year I worked hard to gain more and more remote work, doing something that I had always dreamed of doing: writing.
Today, I can proudly say that I am a full-time freelance writer, and although for me that currently means working from my apartment in Houston, I couldn’t be happier with how things have worked out.
I genuinely love what I do, which is working with clients (businesses) to create great content that supports their goals. Plus, because my client base is so diverse, I’m constantly learning and writing about new topics – everything from wedding budgeting to fashion to manufacturing to marketing to consulting.
And the fact that I could work from anywhere in the world – should I ever choose/need to – makes it all the sweeter.
My relationship is stronger than ever
Before setting off on my solo journey, I naively assumed that my 5-year relationship would remain unaltered in my absence. After all, we had conquered long-distance in college for several years…how different could this be?
I don’t want to get too deep into this topic because it’s highly personal (and I’m trying to set appropriate boundaries between my public blog and my personal life), but I will say that it was a lot harder than either of us expected. As in, within a matter of months we went from “There’s nothing to worry about!” to “Maybe we just want different things out of life.”
Despite all of that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that our relationship was going to somehow bounce back in the end – even though at times, it seemed unlikely. But I trusted that instinct, and while it wasn’t easy at first, it didn’t take long for me to become more sure than ever about my decision.
When I returned home from my trip, we were in rough shape. Transitioning back to “normal life,” was awkward and challenging, and it was hard for me to communicate to him all that I had experienced on my travels, and to explain all the ways that I had been changed.
We had a lot to work through, but we did it.
And in the end, I learned so much about myself and my needs and my relationship. It was definitely the hardest and scariest learning process of them all, but it was also the most important and rewarding.
Above all, I learned that no amount of freedom or independence or excitement was worth losing my best friend in the entire world.
I know that many solo travelers choose differently, and I’ve read several inspiring posts from fellow bloggers who did choose travel and independence over their relationship, and were all the better for it.
But as for me? I realized that our relationship was too good, too special, too right to sacrifice.
I definitely do not recommend following in my footsteps as a test of the strength of your own relationship (trust me!), but if you do – and if in the end, your relationship is actually even stronger than before – then I can promise that you’ll know you have something special.
Oh, and did I mention that we’re now ENGAGED and are getting MARRIED in April of this year?!? I’m the luckiest dang girl in the entire world.
I’ve achieved a lifestyle that works for me
Assuming you’ve read through the above sections, you’ll see that those two big changes I’ve mentioned don’t quite line up. On the one hand, I finally achieved a job that would allow me to travel full-time if I wanted to. On the other hand, I’ve decided to make a serious commitment to my partner…which means no more long-term solo backpacking trips.
Something important that I realized on my journey was that I will never be the “full-time digital nomad.” Not because I can’t be, but because I don’t want to be.
I will always want to travel and see the world, but I think full-time travel would actually leave me feeling burnt out, stressed out, and even a little unfulfilled.
I like having a home that I share with my partner. I like having a stable career and a relatively “normal” routine (even if wearing PJs all day on a workday isn’t considered normal by most people). I like seeing my parents and sisters regularly.
I also like traveling solo when I feel like it, and will continue to do so even after I’m married…just not for multiple months at a time.
I think I could certainly fall in love with living abroad or being an expat, but as for long-term go-go-go travel? Not for me. And I’m good with that!
My lifestyle right now is a little weird, and I don’t really fit neatly into any pre-defined boxes. I guess you could say that I’m a location-independent part-time backpacker-turned-flashpacker who mostly travels solo but also sometimes travels with her fiance?
But these days, I don’t feel the need to define my lifestyle anymore anyways. I’m happy with what I have, and grateful for how things have worked out. And I’m especially grateful for my quarter-life crisis, because without it, I probably wouldn’t have had the drive and motivation to step out of my comfort zone and change my life for the better.
If you’re currently on the verge of experiencing your own quarter-life crisis, here’s my advice to you: let it happen.
Use this as an opportunity to step back and reevaluate your life. Learn from those who are leading different lifestyles than you. Try a new hobby, read a new book, make a new friend. Do something crazy if you need to. And if need be, buy that one-way ticket and go on that backpacking trip you’ve always dreamed of. It may not turn out exactly the way you expected, but I guarantee you’ll learn from it.
You may have a totally different experience than me – in fact, you probably will, because we’re all different – but hopefully you’ll walk out the other side with a new understanding of yourself, and can move forward in a positive way.
Have you experienced your own quarter-life crisis? How did you know it was happening? What did you learn from it?