Motorbikes, questionable fashion choices and spontaneous career decisions; we’re all familiar with the classic symptoms of the mid-life crisis. But now research claims Britons begin evaluating their existence and direction much earlier, pin-pointing the so-called quarter-life crisis at just 26 years and nine months.
According to a study by LinkedIn, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of young professionals in the UK have experienced a quarter-life crisis, leading them to re-asses their career path and life choices.
There are many pressures young people face that can lead to these crises, but the survey revealed that the top two are getting on to the property ladder (57 per cent) and finding a career you’re passionate about (57 per cent) – both ranking higher than the pressure of finding a life-partner (46 per cent).
Clinical psychologist Dr Alex Fowke defines the quarter-life crisis as “a period of insecurity, doubt and disappointment surrounding your career, relationships and financial situation”.
“This can stem from a period of life following the major changes of adolescence, when a person starts to doubt their own lives and begins to face the extent of the stresses associated with becoming an adult,” he says.
And the prevalence of quarter-life crises seems to be increasing, with today’s millennials struggling financially more than their parents did – they are the first generation to be less well off than the previous one.
Dr Fowke believes the quarter-life crisis has become increasingly prominent in recent years due to the substantial pressures younger generations face, especially when compared to older generations.
“Nowadays, twenty-somethings are under intense pressure to get themselves onto the housing market, navigate the increasingly complex professional landscape, struggle to maintain relationships and are commonly subjected to a distorted notion of life through social media,” he says.
“Literature suggests that key challenges faced by people aged from between 18 and 35 can include identity confusion, internal conflict (failing to reach the expectations set for themselves) and uncertainty.”
8 well paid jobs that don’t require a degree
For many millennials, the problem is that they’ve been brought up to be ambitious, but feel like they can’t get anywhere, and they’re struggling to find a career path that’s right for them.
“I did a job for a year after graduating, then felt unfulfilled so went back to uni,” 26-year-old Rachel Farmer from Bristol told The Independent. “Now I’m trying out freelancing and it’s very stagnant at the moment. I definitely think the quarter-life crisis is a thing.”
Changing jobs is not unusual as a result of a quarter-life crisis, and for some people it hits earlier in your 20s.
“I was so excited after I graduated uni,” 26-year-old Adam Robertson* from Rotherham explained. “I got a job but after a couple of years found myself thinking, ‘Is this it?’ It felt like things weren’t going anywhere.
“It was school, then college, then uni and each of them was so fast-paced and directed, then you graduate and it’s like, ‘What’s the next thing to be looking forward to?’ And there isn’t anything.”
These sentiments have been confirmed by the research, finding that 31 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed felt they have wasted years in the wrong job, 34 per cent have relocated to another part of the country or abroad, 35 per cent have changed their career entirely and 22 per cent have handed in their notice without having a job to go to.
29-year-old Katie Henning* from Liverpool had a quarter-life crisis at the age of 26 and ended up moving abroad as a result.
“I worked for a charity in London for a couple of years but then realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do and my life wasn’t what I thought it would be like,” she explained to The Independent.
“I thought, ‘F*** it,’ and moved to Sweden for two months.”
Katie spent her time hiking through the Arctic Circle (“I needed a sense of achievement”), jogging around lakes thinking about life and also working on a research project.
When she came back, she got a work placement at a news organisation and is now a journalist.
“I had a fully real quarter-life crisis,” she says. “But I found myself in Sweden.”
The research revealed that women are actually more likely to feel unsure about what do in their careers than men, at 61 per cent to 56 per cent.
It’s not just job worries that can cause a crisis though – for many people in their 20s, it’s the realisation that buying a property is a long way off.
“I one hundred percent freak out about money,” 26-year-old Jacob Turner* from London admitted. “I look at pals who are buying houses but at the cost of going out every weekend and think, ‘That is NOT for me.’
“But then when I go out and get wasted, I spend the next day lamenting my life and hating myself for spending all my money I could have put aside in my savings.”
These aren’t just quick bouts of uncertainty that last a week or two though – the average quarter-life crisis lasts for 11 months.
Your likelihood of having a quarter-life crisis depends on where you live too, with Liverpool (82 per cent), Cardiff (78 per cent), Norwich (77 per cent) and London (75 per cent) taking the top four positions.
Bristol, however, is the city where millennials are least likely to have a quarter-life crisis, at 66 per cent.
A selection of the most powerful millennials in the world
And of course, not everyone will experience a quarter-life crisis.
“I’m not sure a quarter life crisis is a real thing to be honest,” 27-year-old Jamie Hucklesbury* from Leicestershire told The Independent.
“I’m aware that I’m becoming more of a grown up, mostly because I now seem to feel tired all the time, but I still feel young enough that I’ve got a lot of my life ahead of me and plenty of time to figure out where it’s going exactly.”
If you are in the midst of a quarter-life crisis though, don’t despair. Try and think of it as a chance to take a step back, re-address the situation and think about what’s important to you.
Darain Faraz, Careers Expert at LinkedIn, shares his top tips for dealing with a quarter-life crisis:
1. Stop comparing yourself to others
A sure-fire way to bolster the feelings of disappointment and underachievement is to compare your own career trajectory to your peers. Remember that everyone is at a different stage of their journey, so don’t compare yourself to others – whatever your definition of success is and whatever makes you happy is enough.
2. Take a step back and identify the root cause
It’s easy to be weighed down with all of the pressures of work and family expectations, often making you too close to the situation. Take a step back and write down what is making you most nervous, be it saving, not being happy in your current industry or even your personal relationships. This will allow you to address the problem and stand you in good stead to talk to others.
3. Be kind to yourself
Going through a quarter-life crisis can be a difficult process and exacerbated by becoming your own worst critic. Remind yourself that it’s a positive experience that will hopefully enable you make a change and progress, both with your career and with your life, eventually making you happier in the long-run. As you can see from the research, the crisis doesn’t last forever!
4. Talk to others
It’s important to discuss feelings of discontent. Talking to others about certain issues not only helps you rationalise the problem but helps with the solution. Though it’s great that your friends and family are there to support you, it’s also good to get an unbiased point of view, especially from someone who has the experience in your industry.
Once you have discussed your situation with the relevant people, it’s important to go away and research your options and most importantly your passions. Whether it’s starting a new career altogether, going travelling or progressing with your current role – it’s necessary to be aware of your possibilities.
*Names have been changed