How to Manage a Quarter Life Crisis

If I May

John Mayer may have masterfully set the experience to music, but the Quarter Life Crisis (QLC) is nothing new. It’s been around since 25 stopped being an optimistic marker for one’s human halftime report.

It’s easy to know when you’re in the midst of one. You’re dating life is a disaster. Your career adventure forgot its passport. And while you may feel passionately about politics, saving the fill-in-the-blank, or so and so’s rights, you often feel equally powerless to do anything.

Other indicators include incessantly humming the Friends theme song and browsing the aisles of RadioShack for pirate radio station components ah la Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume. Of course, if you experienced those cultural touchstones in real time, you’re long past an actual QLC. No worries, youngsters. Just replace RadioShack with the interwebs and your Wolfman Jack impersonation with a podcast. Gen X is the MAN now and we’re ready to ignore your ill-informed bitching with the same vigor with which the Boomers ignored us.  

So how can you manage this second puberty without self-destructing?

  1. Understand It: A QLC is when you first see yourself as an adult and begin to compare your current reality with the initially envisioned state. The reason so many of us lapse into a period of woe is twofold. First, you’re a kid when you design the original goal and metrics – the what you’ll be by 25. And second, the models you use to form those images (parents, grandparents) are wickedly out of date by the time you get to that place in life. So, in short, you’re screwed.
  2. Embrace It: This period of self-exploration can be incredibly freeing. The soul-searching you do during a QLC can shape the person you’ll be when you are 45. Plus, it’s perfectly natural. Pebbles Flintstone went through a QLC. As did Perri “Pebbles” Reid the R&B singer from back in the day. Resistance is futile.
  3. Talk About It (or not):Some people find it comforting to share their woes while others prefer to stir in silence. Angst is angst. Do what works to see it through.
  4. Experiment:Try different jobs, friends, and hobbies. You’ll never have as much permission or time to chase adventure so be daring and take a few thoughtful risks.
  5. Ditch the Calendar:I know people who married at 20, at 40, and not at all. It doesn’t really matter. Life is a story. When you try to force the plot, you get Caddy Shack 2. Sure, you can plan, but be open to allowing it to evolve naturally.  
  6. Enjoy the Ride: Hard to believe, but someday when you’re deep in diapers, 529s, and 401(k)s you’ll yearn for today’s challenges. Nostalgia is okay, but don’t miss the moments as they happen. Remember, somewhere there is a grandparent out there bitching about why the kids don’t call and yearning to be the 40 something you can’t even see coming. That’s life. 

Finally, ignore all advice including this bit of wisdom. Everyone is susceptible to putting a positive spin on their 20’s once they’re through them. You can convince yourself later that eating Ramen noodles in a studio apartment was romantic, but let’s face it. It sucks.

Tim Toterhi is an author, career coach, and  CHRO. But mostly he’s a husband, dad, teacher and student. Learn more at

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