Quarter-life crisis – A millennial hazard?

“Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch…a psychological metamorphosis” Rebecca Solnit

Some call it a funk, some call it a continual groundhog day, some call it a sense that something isn’t right but not knowing what it is. But whatever you call it, there can be no denying that quarter-life crisis is on the rise.

In short a quarter-life crisis is a period of doubt, disappointment and insecurity about work, love, friends and money.  We can feel lost and confused. Unsure of what to do, we become stuck.  We experience a loss of meaning in our lives and anxiety often fills the void. It is in this void (the gap between our true selves and our external lives) that the crisis occurs.

Much like it’s mid-life counterpart, it is a time of discomfort and unease. But it is also a sign that change is needed. It can be a time of immense personal reflection and can get us onto a path of living a more authentic life.

Numerous studies have shown that the average age of someone experiencing a quarter-life crisis is between 26-30 years old. The ‘crisis’ stage can last around 11 months on average and it normally takes someone six months of feeling this way before taking action.  Action can include seeking therapy, reaching out to peer groups (for example Escape the City or The Quarter Life health Project), attending to self-care and volunteering, to name but a few.

Why does it happen? 

There can be various triggers to cause a quarter-life crisis, but heading towards the BIG ‘30’ seems to be a very common factor. We have been conditioned (by parents, media and society at large) that we should be ‘sorted out’ (whatever that means) by the conclusion of our twenties.  We ‘should’ have some property to our name, a long term partner, great friends, a fulfilling career etc etc…

We arrive at our first proper job post university and after a few years wonder “is this it?” Our previous life stages have been fast paced and marked with various pinnacles; exams, university, graduation, 18th and 21st birthdays and now what seems to be a vast unknown lies before us lacking in such tangible goals.  We begin to take stock of where we are in our lives, measuring ourselves against peers, parents and society and find ourselves wanting, with the ticking of time adding to our panic.

Is it becoming more common?

A recent study has found that 6 in 10 millennials (i.e. those born around 1981 to 1996) are experiencing a quarter-life crisis, citing financial concerns as the primary cause, closely followed with the pressure they feel to find fulfilling work and getting on the property ladder.

Millennials are the first generation who will be less well off (financially speaking) than the previous generation (so comparisons to where their parents were at their age is futile let alone wholly inaccurate).  Combine this fact with crippling student debt, the rise of technology, an inaccessible housing market and growing austerity and you have what I believe is a ‘perfect storm’ for a generational quarter-life crisis.

However suffering a quarter-life crisis, although painful at the time, can be a very positive development in the long term.

A break down to break through 

I believe that a life crisis can be reframed as a positive sign towards personal growth. It is a break down in order to break through. To break through into a new way of being; one which is more authentic and aligned to our soul nature. To experience a life crisis should be welcomed. It is a sign that change is underway.

Just as Rebecca Solnit writes (in her wonderful book “A field guide to getting lost”- as quoted above), a quarter-life crisis provides us with the opportunity to burn away old ways of being, of getting rid of the “shoulds, woulds and coulds” and replace them with our own values and paths on which to travel.

Factors affecting the millennial generation have caused an almost ‘perfect storm’ where the chances of having a quarter-life crisis are dramatically increased. The millennial generation (very close to my own) are more vulnerable to suffering an almost existential sense of disappointment than any other previous living generation.  I believe millennials are having to face the harsh realities of their lives and the world far sooner than those who came before. And although this seems pretty unfair, I do also believe that the millennial generation will become more emotionally intelligent and self-aware as a result. And this can only be a good thing. After all today’s millennials will be tomorrow’s leaders.



Photo by Nicholas Barbaros on Unsplash

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