Can A Bad Economy Make A Quarter-Life Crisis Worse?
While it’s never fun or easy to go through a crisis, if you allow yourself to sit with the discomfort of facing the changes you need to make, it can change your life for the better. A quarter-life crisis is a period of uncertainty in which a young person starts to question the direction of their life. It can be a time of great confusion and upheaval but a vital process to better understanding yourself and the kind of person you want to become.
Any kind of crisis you go through is challenging. The quarter-life crisis can be particularly difficult because when you’re young, the possibilities are limitless. You’re (most likely) not married, have no kids, and have no mortgage. You can go anywhere, do anything, travel the world, or stay right where you are. You have so many options in front of you, which is exciting but also overwhelming. This is why this time of your life and subsequent crisis can be so stressful.
One of the keys to navigating a quarter-life crisis is exploration. You need to be able to go out into the world and explore. Try different jobs, relationships, and cities to see what works for you. It’s through that exploration that you learn about yourself and what’s right for you. When a young person is going through a crisis, they feel compelled to move to another city (sometimes country), quit their job, or maybe their career in the hopes of better understanding themselves.
Before the pandemic, when young people experienced a quarter-life crisis, the toughest aspect was trying to make choices. In this post-pandemic era, quarter-life crises are showing up a little bit differently and feel a lot more out of control.
People are losing their jobs, getting laid off, and facing a bad economy. In addition, higher interest rates make it harder to reach milestones for young adults, like buying a house, which historically has been a marker of success.
While the US economy added more jobs in May, the unemployment rate is up. The US economy added 339,000 jobs in May, exceeding economist estimates of 190,000 and surpassing the upwardly revised 294,000 jobs in April. The unemployment rate rose to 3.7%, up from 3.4% in April and higher than expectations of 3.5%. The unemployment rate is at the highest level since October 2022 but still near historic lows (see chart). The unemployment rate increase is due to a number of factors, including a decline in self-employment, the end of temporary jobs, and layoffs.
What makes these events, like the mass layoffs, so difficult is the lack of choice. It’s one thing to choose to leave a job because you’re unhappy; it’s another when you’re let go. Just like it feels different when you decide to break up with someone as opposed to when they break up with you, while it may feel like it’s all about our egos, it’s really about survival.
Despite what research has shown, humans equate having choices with having control. Our drive for survival tells us we need to have control in order to survive. The more choices we have, the more control we have. We see choices as a form of power. We are constantly seeking control, and it’s this desire for control that keeps us seeking choices. In a nutshell, our choices = control = survival.
Since a big part of the process of going through a quarter-life crisis is exploration, feeling like you don’t have any control can feel really limiting. It’s the lack of choices right now that’s making it really hard for young people to navigate through their crises.
The process is more than simply exploring and “finding yourself.” It’s about being able to learn new skills and abilities, try on new personas, and gain new perspectives. It’s about being able to fall down and fail so you can discover what isn’t right for you as much as what is right for you. The quarter-life crisis experience is already full of angst and fear. The lack of choice only adds to the feeling of overwhelm and makes it even harder for young people to explore the world in any capacity.
How do you focus on what you can control when so much feels like it’s out of your control?
Start by focusing on the one thing you have complete control over: yourself. Focus less on what you’re doing and start focusing more on how you’re being and feeling. It’s really easy when you’re going through a crisis to get stuck on, “What am I doing with my career?” or “Will I find love?” or “Where should I live?” Those are all important questions but only one part of the larger equation.
You also need to know how to identify and manage your thoughts and emotions. You need to be able to find ways to cut all the noise in the world so you can listen to yourself. You have to be mindful of your circle of friends, and you have to know how to create your own opportunities.
Here are four skills you can begin to practice today to help you navigate your quarter-life crisis in the midst of a bad economy:
1. Manage Thoughts And Emotions
The greatest skill you can develop is awareness. Learning to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions will help you navigate life with so much more confidence because you’ll understand what’s driving your behavior and what’s influencing your thinking. If you can learn that, then you now have the ability to start to change how you react to situations and to other people.
Start noticing your thoughts, and instead of letting them pass by, stop and reflect on them and ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? Think like a reporter and investigate, no judgment. It’s our judgment that gets in our way. Once you know where it’s coming from, ask yourself if there is a better way to approach this situation or maybe there is a kinder way to speak to yourself.
2. Tune Out The Noise
Our world is noisy. This noise isn’t necessarily the kind of noise you listen to; it’s how overwhelming our world is today with information, stimuli, and things that demand our attention. There are so many different ways to communicate with someone now. You can Slack, email, IM, Facebook Messenger, DM, Snapchat, Tweet, Text, you could actually pick up the phone and call (who would do that?!), and the list goes on.
All of these constant stimuli are making it impossible to stay focused, and it’s making it really hard for us to listen to the one person we need to listen to: ourselves. As you work on your awareness, you always want to work on what you’re letting into your mind, and you want to protect and cherish the information that you take in.
The best medicine for too much phone time: outdoors. Go outside and leave your phone at home (or at least put it on silent or do not disturb).
3. Be Selective With Your Circle Of Friends
Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with friends who lift you up and make you better. We’re greatly affected by the people we’re surrounded by, and while there are some people we have no control over, bosses/coworkers, there are other people, like friends, we do get to choose. Finding friends post-college isn’t easy, so if you’re struggling to find meaningful friendships, don’t stop looking. There are so many people out there who want friends but are afraid to put themselves out there. You just may have to be the one who does the heavy lifting in the beginning.
If you’re unsure about your current circle of friends, take some time and think about your core values. Are you and the people you associate with right now aligned with your values? If so, then you’re in a good spot. If not, then you need to reevaluate your friendships.
4. Create Your Own Opportunities
Due to the economy, it’s not feasible for many young people to quit their jobs. For some, they can’t risk not being able to find another in this market. For others, they fear their new job could be even worse than their last, and they won’t be able to get another job. Some young people are concerned about what large gaps on their resume will look like and are afraid to take any risks.
When choices and opportunities are taken from you, the only thing to do is create your own. If you’re at a job and you’re not happy, this is your chance to use this time to learn a new skill, network with colleagues, work on a project or focus on something outside of work. It may be challenging, especially if you have a demanding job, but if there is a role you want and a skill you need to develop, this is the ideal time to develop it. It may mean getting up early or giving up Sundays, but the trade-off is you’re going to feel confident and in control of your career.
Whether you’re feeling discouraged by a lack of choices or overwhelmed about what choice to make, it really comes down to figuring out what you actually want and then choosing things that align with that desire and your values. If you’re not sure what you want, remember you can always go back to being the explorer to uncover your true desires, and you can always change your mind. Moving past a quarter-life crisis doesn’t mean you have everything figured out for the rest of your life; it just means you have found what makes you happy right now.