Just because you feel like you should do something doesn’t mean you have to.
I received a newsletter recently that spoke to me on a deep, existential level. The subject line? “I just want to give up and take a nap.” Naps aside (because we all probably need one), the feeling of wanting to give up is a strong one – and one that resonates with me.
The good news here is that I’m not alone. You see, this email from Girlboss spoke to a topic that’s gaining some unfortunate popularity: the quarter-life crisis.
Are we even allowed to feel crises when we’re so young? Often, the resounding advice from the world at large says “NO” – that millennials have it easy, we live in the land of opportunities, that we have so many resources and options within our grasp that we “should” have it made.
And yet, there’s that word. “Should.” We’ve talked about it a few times in this blog. The quarter-life crisis seems to come from all this pressure we feel stemming from what we hear we should do. Not whether we could or even want to; it feels so often like not only do we need to have it all figured out, but we also have to make it meaningful too.
But here’s the good news: just because you feel like you should doesn’t mean you have to. It’s absolutely OK to not have it figured out in your twenties, your thirties, or beyond – we’re allowed to make it up as we go along.
Here’s how I support myself when I’m feeling the pressure of the quarter life crisis:
- Do what you need to do. Take a breath and focus on the present – what’s actually on your to-do list? Forget the things you feel like you “should” do for a minute and instead look at the short term items you know you have to tackle today. Sure, this can easily backslide into procrastinating, but perfectly fine to take a break from long term stress to deal with short term tasks. Build momentum by crossing tasks off your list one step at a time.
- Ask for help. Talk to a friend or family member about how you’re feeling – getting some outside perspective is a good way to remind yourself that sometimes we’re the ones putting the pressure on ourselves. If your anxiety is particularly strong, talking to a therapist can be a huge relief too.
- Remember it’s temporary. The anxiety from existential problems like this can certainly feel like it’s going to swallow you whole, but thankfully anxiety is not a permanent feeling. Try to step back from it and remember, it’s called a quarter life crisis because you’re only in the first quarter of your life. As you give yourself the emotional space to make up your path as you go along, the anxiety will pass and you will figure out the next step you need to take. Another helpful tip? Think back to the last time you felt overwhelmed – what was the outcome? More importantly – did that moment end? Trace your feelings backward and you’ll see – the overwhelm is fleeting, and the outcome rarely matches how anxious we feel about it.
- Let go of things that aren’t serving you. Is the anxiety coming from a specific source – a task you don’t feel up to, a relationship that’s turning toxic, maybe a role that doesn’t fit you? Sometimes the things we think we want aren’t what we really need. And what’s more, sometimes we tell ourselves we can do it ALL – and realistically we don’t have the bandwidth to do everything. Let go of the “shoulds,” focus on what you can AND want to do.
- Figure out your own personal definition for success. You may hear the world telling you that success is a certain set of goals – making money, getting married, having kids, climbing the corporate ladder. But are those goals right for you? Maybe success looks like the space to take that nap on your couch when you need it; or it looks like nailing your next performance evaluation. Your goals can be as short or long term as you need – just keep that keyword “need” in mind.
Getting through the quarter life crisis isn’t really as simple as aging out of your quarter-life, unfortunately, but luckily the feeling doesn’t have to stick with you day in and day out. Remind yourself it’s 100% OK not to have it all figured out – I’ve yet to meet the person who does – and that it’s OK to make it up as you go along. I know I certainly am!
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”