What is a Quarter Life Crisis?

J.A Ryan
6 min readSep 18, 2022

Article 1 of 52

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

Republished from my blog site: https://thequarterlifecrisis.org/articles/what-is-a-quarter-life-crisis

The last few years have brought with it a growing sense that the answers I had to life’s big questions were ill-considered and incomplete. My answers weren’t necessarily wrong — but they were built on precarious foundations that I steadily felt were at risk of crumbling beneath me as I watched on feeling like a passive observer.

Initially these thoughts took on no specific shape or structure. I assumed that my interrogation of topics such as careerism, romance and fulfilment were all independent quests whose common themes were my tendency for cynicism and overanalyses. Yet a common theme did arise. Albeit only when I started peeling these issues back toward their root causes. When I finally stumbled upon the definition of a Quarter Life Crisis (QLC) I had a eureka moment; not because I had struck gold but because I had struck a term that captured exactly what I was feeling, and it provided a framework I could use to start aggregating my thoughts under.

Quarter Life Crisis: “a period involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life” which is most commonly experienced in a period ranging from a person’s early twenties up to their mid-thirties”

Tickets & The Man

Having recently graduated university I stared down the barrel of a life of work and couldn’t help but think, perhaps, in my rush to achieve ‘adult status’ I had failed to think properly about what I wanted from life. Like most, I had arrived at the destination of my early 20’s using a ticket bought at 16. Decisions made during high school about what I thought I would like, and who I thought I would be, started a chain of events which ultimately led to my current position. It was annoying, and somewhat shameful, to then realise (1) I was not content with my current position and (2) I was directly and solely responsible for that discontent.

This realisation that I was entirely responsible for my own life may seem like an obvious, bordering on pseudo-intellectual, realisation — but it truly scared me. Throughout my life I had always had institutions or structures around me which I could rely on for guidance or direction, allowing my mind to remain focused on everything inside it, but ignoring anything outside that would represent a completely different way of thinking. Most significant of these structures in my life has been school and the military (the latter far fuller of adolescent behaviour than the former). Both structures gave me an easy-to-follow guide on the steps I would need to take to actualise their view of what I should be, and how I should be it. Obviously in the case of both school and the military I was not forced into following their way of thinking, but over time it became harder and harder to differentiate what I wanted versus what I think I was expected to want or to enjoy. My personal choices were always present, yet it was the equivalent of having freedom to explore an entire fish tank — explore as you might that glass, transparent as it is, prevents movement beyond a defined point.

As tempting as it would be to go around condemning cruel institutions as the cause of my problems, it would be wrong, disingenuous, and stupid to do so. Not only would it go directly against my belief of taking sole responsibility for my own life, but it would ignore many benefits that ‘the man’ does provide. I have no desire to rebel against ‘the’ system, nor to cast stones at all the institutions in my life that have provided me immense benefit — instead it is more about determining my exact place in things.

I view this next year as a way of revisiting the fundamental questions of life; however, this time in an active sense, with the benefits of hindsight while also firmly grasping the concept of unknown unknowns. In other words, I am comfortable returning from my crisis and willingly embracing everything I was told I should embrace — but only if I consent. If I deem the locomotive of collective middle-class wisdom, which would seem to drive our beliefs to an immense extent, as being correct — then all aboard. But not until I have tried my hardest to separate what it is I want from life vice what I think I should want.

Bit o’ Crisis

Amplifying my QLC was the fact that, objectively speaking, life was going well. If you’d cared to write down my life stats it’d be decent by white, middleclass Australian standards. By no means was it exemplary, but it was objectively ‘good’. Subjectively, however, it was maybe a light pass. And not because I had experienced any serious trauma, suffered at the hands of poor health, been rejected by friends, fallen out with family or suffered at the hands of immense heartbreak. No, all things considered my subjective experience had been a relatively smooth one. However, for reasons still unknown to me I did not feel satisfied or content, despite having every reason to feel the exact opposite. Over time these feelings tended towards a general anxiety that, I knew, was not the type of emotion to disappear without a concerted and active effort. Concerningly, I found this to be a common theme — there were masses of people who, prompted by alcohol and encouraged by dim lighting, would admit to me that there was a piece of life missing, and not just any piece, it would appear my generation was missing a significant piece of life which helped hold everything else together.

Interestingly these feelings seemed to be relatively isolated to the younger generation. The interviews I conducted for my YouTube channels first video highlighted that those over the age of 40 or so seemed to be perplexed, if not concerned, that people may be facing a crisis in their twenties. The most confusing aspect for this demographic seemed to be the question of; ‘what could you possibly have to worry about at that age’? Indeed, when I first showed drafts of this blog to older family members the feedback, I got went something like “it’s a bit sad and negative, why would you want to share that?”.

I am not one for wallowing in self-pity, but nor am I one to enjoy the act of pretending everything is OK when evidence points to the contrary. The point of a QLC should not be to spiral into a self-fulfilling prophecy of existential dread, sadness, and anxiety — it expressly should be to do the opposite. But, to solve a problem, you must first acknowledge that one exists. When it comes to personal crisis’ this is probably the hardest element; there is nothing stopping you from ignoring those little voices whose whispered arguments you know have merit. I suspect people do it all the time; I certainly did and do. But I want to do it less.

For me, a quarter life crisis represents a chance to be strategically self-interested and introspective. As tempting as the pursuit of lofty career goals, money or success is, I know that I must first properly understand exactly what I am trying to get out of life — because currently my previous ideas are flawed, and my current views are far from solid. Not knowing is something I can live with, but only so long as I’ve asked, and seriously considered, the right questions.

We spent 5 of out 7 days at work, leaving 2 days a week for some serious crisis-induced-philosophizing. Not enough in my mind. Having identified work as something that failed to provide me an adequate level of joy, I chose it as the first limb to be cut. Secondly, I decided that a crisis warranted a change in scenery. While Australia is lovely, Europe presented both too tempting a destination and too tempting a cliché to be ignored. Finally, to keep all those responsible adults off my back, and since I would be overdoing it in the thinking department anyway, I applied for postgraduate study. The result being that I have moved to Barcelona, started studying a Masters of Political Philosophy and am indulging myself in a Quarter Life Crisis that is set to end, hopefully, the day I turned 25. Welcome.

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J.A Ryan

Australian 🦘 I like to write on politics, society, philosophy, security & The Quarter Life Crisis