Are you a twenty-something who feels confused about what path to take in life? Are you filled with confusion, anxiety and self-doubt much of the time? Are you considering going to graduate school because you don’t know what else to do with your life? Do you constantly worry about the future? Do you feel the pressure to have the perfect long-term career path? Or to be married? Or to have kids soon?
Most of us have heard of the term midlife crisis. In fact, many of you have probably watched your parents go through this stage of life already. It is a time when middle aged people often experience
a great deal of stress and turmoil as they struggle to find new meaning and purpose in their lives as well as begin to mourn the loss of their youth. In response to this crisis of sorts, you may have witnessed your parents exhibit seemingly strange behaviors such as buying a bright yellow sports car or drastically changing their appearance. But did you know that many people in their twenties also experience a similar “crisis”?
Individuals experiencing a quarterlife crisis are often overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity, doubt and confusion about who they are and what they want from life. To make matters worse, society, parents and even friends can often send the message that you are supposed to have your entire life figured out by the time you graduate and that you should have a clear path paved in front of you. In reality, many twenty-somethings are struggling to find any sense of solid ground beneath their feet, let alone a nicely paved path with meticulously manicured landscaping along way.
By the time a person graduates, he or she may have spent twenty plus years in academic institutions that provided structure, clear-cut goals and a general road map. While the ultimate goal was to graduate and to move on from the educational arena, entering the “real world” can be a shock to the system. Life no longer consists of class schedules and longer-term academic plans, meals that are prepared for you three times a day, preplanned social events and money that comes from parents or in the form of financial aid loans and scholarships. Instead you are bombarded with an infinite number of responsibilities and decisions to make related to your career, finances, social life, romantic relationships, where to live, a future family and the list goes on. While the idea of infinite possibilities is exhilarating for many folks, it can leave many people feeling overwhelmed and lost. If you happen to fall into the latter category, it is important to realize you are not alone and you will survive and thrive!! It can often feel as though you are the only one struggling with this transition into adulthood and that everyone else has it all figured out, but that could not be further from the truth!
During undergrad or graduate school, there were always specific goals to be attained. For example, the goal might have been to finish a paper, make it to the end of another semester or fulfill the requirements for a certain minor or major. So then what happens when the ultimate goal of graduating is complete? Once you graduate, you expect life to continue in a similar fashion and to consist of a neat organized to-do list with goals to continually check off. You soon find out, however, that it is not as easy or as clear-cut as it once was. Instead, the goal becomes to live a happy and fulfilling life. At this point, you might be saying to yourself “Well how am I supposed to know how to do that?!”
In order to live a happy and fulfilling life, it is important to discover and know who you really are and what you really want from life. Parents, society, friends, etc. may have put ideas into your head about who you should be or what you should want from life, but these “shoulds” are not necessarily what will bring joy and contentment to your life. The answers to those questions can only be found within yourself. Through this process of self-discovery, you are able to uncover and better understand your values, your wants and desires, what motivates you, what brings you contentment and the list continues. When you know and believe in yourself, the real world, which consists of endless choices and possibilities, does not feel so overwhelming.
The process of self-discovery does not occur overnight (in many ways, it is a lifelong process) so give yourself the time and space you need. Getting to know yourself requires taking time to simply be. As a society, we have become so programmed to do-do-do and to continuously go from one task to the next. Amidst all the “doing” we often forget what the meaning behind all of it really is and whether or not what we are doing actually makes us happy. Taking time to just be and discover who you are can be uncomfortable in the beginning but if you gently push yourself through the discomfort and believe in who you are, the path in front of you will be much more fulfilling and consist of a lot less angst and fear.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ~ Aristotle
Katie Chisholm, Psy.D.