Everyone has heard of the mid-life crisis. But years before we reach that stage, many of us go through an identity crisis that is just as debilitating and with potentially even more long-lasting consequences. Welcome to the “quarterlife crisis”.
You’ve got your whole life in front of you, the world is your oyster, your choices are almost limitless – and that’s just the problem. You’re overwhelmed. What should you do with your life? How do you know you’re making the right decisions? How can you even be sure about what it is you really want to do? How do you wade your way through all the choices and decisions you have to make on everything from your career to your relationships and how do you get started?
You can’t find out what you want until you find out who you are. What are your values? What’s most important to you? What are you passionate about? What do you really want out of life and how do you want your friends and family to remember you? Taking the time to think about the things that really matter to you is a good starting point for making your choices. Try to visualise your “ideal life”.
Think about what you want from your working life. What are the most important aspects of your current job? Is it the money? Your work colleagues? The working environment? What kind of work-life balance do you want? All of us have to make trade-offs of some sort (in other words, it’s hard to earn a six-figure salary if you only want to work 1 day a week!), but the clearer you can be about what your priorities really are, the easier the choice will be. If money was no object, or you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you really love to have a go at? What’s holding you back?
If you conclude that the only way you could be happy at work is to be doing something completely different, somewhere completely different, don’t jump straight in. Find a way of building a bridge to your new career. Network - find someone who might give you some work experience, or take you on part-time. And don’t be afraid to think imaginatively – the working environment is more flexible now than it has ever been, so allow yourself to think outside the “9 to 5” box.
One area where many young professionals struggle is getting their foot on the property ladder. Again, it’s useful to sit back and think about different strategies here. For example, would you be prepared to live at home for longer to allow you to save a deposit? What about exploring some of the new options on the market where 3 or 4 graduates can purchase a joint mortgage based on their total salaries – giving them good buying power? Again, it’s about trade-offs – what’s most important to you at this stage?
Similarly, money management is something that many young professionals tend to put off because it seems too dry or too daunting. The message is: don’t! Money that you save in your twenties will earn you a much higher return than anything you save later in life – because it has more time for growth. Think about a personal pension if you don’t have a company one; as a minimum, make sure you use your tax-free ISA allowance every year if you possibly can. Read the personal finance pages of newspapers, search the Internet, book an appointment with a financial adviser - do whatever it takes for you to get money-savvy.
Try to put less store by what other people think and focus on the approach that’s right for you. It’s very easy to get sucked into the trap of trying to meet other people’s expectations – parents, friends, your contemporaries or what the media dictate. But the only opinion that really matters is your own. And that’s not being selfish, by the way – it’s about fulfilling your potential.
The key to handling – or even better, preventing – your quarterlife crisis is to have a strategy for your life. That means knowing where you want to go career-wise, what kind of life and lifestyle you want to have, and putting in place an action plan to get you there. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t panic! Just starting to think about some of these issues in a more structured way will give you greater clarity.
Finally, remember that, in the final analysis, it’s your life, your career, and your unfulfilled potential if you don’t find and follow your dream. So go for it – you owe it to yourself.