How Entrepreneurs Can Navigate a Quarter-Life Crisis
Adulthood hits hard and right away.
I had my quarter-life crisis at 27. I realized I was chasing (more like martyring myself for) an unfulfilling dream and, suddenly, I was lost.
According to a survey by LinkedIn, I'm not alone: 75 percent of millennials have experienced a quarter-life crisis -- defined as increased anxiety and uncertainty, usually centered on career or debts. The idea of a quarter-life crisis is so common that the Game of Life board game company has even released a “Quarter Life Crisis Edition” that consists of players who must survive the difficulties of "adulting" while also attempting to pay off their student loans.
However, student loans and careers aren’t the only reasons a quarter-life crisis might occur. Many times, people are burnt out, going through a divorce or experiencing a tragedy. Many issues can be triggers, but for me, it’s that I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life.
As with any crisis, it’s hard to know how to navigate it. I felt like a hippopotamus was sitting on everything I did, making every task slower and harder to do. I was a crappy leader, and I infected everyone around me. Work wasn't fun anymore -- it became actual work. And I was constantly looking for ways to escape. Eventually, it got to a point where the pain of change was less than the pain of staying the same. So I quit my job and started down a new path.
If you're experiencing a quarter-life crisis, you might try these strategies that helped me navigate my way out:
1. Count your dollars and cents.
Especially as an entrepreneur, you need to know your monthly net income. Reducing that amount to as low as possible is OK. But in your 20s and 30s, it's important to be on top of your budget. According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt in second-quarter 2018 was well over $1.5 million.
Taking control of your budget by accounting for every dollar will help keep you from going under while you navigate your personal crisis. Plus, being entrepreneurial-minded, you might be thinking of leaving your day job to start your own business, and bootstrapping can keep you from taking out a loan or being beholden to someone else. Bottom line: At no point in my life have I ever regretted budgeting.
2. Stop relying on work.
As I mentioned before, work can be a huge trigger for a quarter-life crisis. Stop relying on work to get all of your creative satisfaction -- yes, even if you’re the CEO. You need at least one goal or hobby that isn't work-related but still keeps you excited about getting out of bed every morning.
According to research by health psychologist Matthew Zawadzki, hobbies and other types of leisure activity can provide immediate stress relief. Plus, the positive health effects of enjoying a hobby lasted hours after study participants stopped doing the activity itself. Answer these big three questions to figure out what your hobby should be: “What do I want to do every day?” “Where do I want to belong” “What must I avoid at all costs?”
3. Talk to someone on the other side of 30.
Chances are good that you’re not the only person in your life who has gone through a quarter-life crisis or something like it. The National Institute of Mental Health found that 10.9 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have experienced a major depressive episode -- you are not alone.
And even if you are the only person you personally know going through this, plenty of counselors and mentors are available to help. Regardless, talk to someone you can trust, because a third-party perspective can give you new resources and better ideas on how to navigate your biggest uncertainties.
4. Permit yourself to change.
You’re steering through murky waters, and change is hard. Read books, explore and decide whether you’ve reached the point where you're ready for a change. If this is about your job, weigh the pros and cons: Think about your pay, commute time and how much you’re learning. According to Census data, the average commute in the U.S. is 27 minutes. If yours is long, and you’re not happy with it, it's OK to fantasize about working from home. Go and do something about it.
Making big changes in your 20s is far less painful than experiencing a midlife crisis at 40 or 50. At 25 -- or in my case, 27 -- your sphere of influence is smaller and affects fewer human beings. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "There's never a wrong time to make the right decision."
If you do pull the trigger and make a radical change, you might look a little insane to your inner circle. Times like these let you know who is truly in your corner and who is acting the part. Change is never easy. But once you're on the other side, you'll wish you had taken action sooner. There's a tremendous freedom that comes from being honest with yourself. There's nothing wrong with you. Give yourself the gift of permission.