A few weeks ago a Positively Present reader contacted me and asked me to write a post about coping with a midlife crisis. Though I don't think I'm quite to that midlife point yet (though I guess you never know!), I have had the pleasure of battling a what I'd call a quarterlife crisis. Between the ages of 22 and 25, I really struggled. I was in a job I disliked, my dating life was constantly up and down, my choices were reckless, and I was just flat out unhappy. I hated who I had become and I had yet to figure out who I wanted to be. Around age 25, I started to realize that this whole crisis thing I was going through wasn't just going to sort itself out. I had to do something.
The problem was that I had no idea what to do. I started reading blogs and websites about how to become happier. I picked up books like Quarterlife Crisis and Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis and 20 Something, 20 Everything (all of which were actually really helpful and made me feel so much less alone). But even while reading these and learning that other twentysomethings were feeling the same way I was, I felt silly and vain for claiming to be in the midst of a "quarterlife crisis." I had a job, a boyfriend, friends, a social life -- and I was still so young -- so what could I possibly be having a crisis about? I had my whole life ahead of me, right?
That's the thing with these crises -- quarter, mid, whenever -- there doesn't have to be a good reason. You don't have to have some terrible event happen to you (or any event at all). They just hit you, out of nowhere, and you're blindsided by them. In the media, a midlife crisis is portrayed in a comical way -- new haircuts, younger spouses, fast little sports cars -- but in real life, midlife crises (and, from my experience, quarterlife crises), are no laughing matter. They creep in, dripping into every aspect of your life, and suddenly you are soaked with the realized that this is your life and it not at all what you thought it would be.
Battling this realization is no easy feat. It's broad and sweeping and seems to cover pretty much every aspect of your existence, leaving you with little to hold on to in terms of hope. It makes you feel as if everything you've ever done -- and everything you're going to do -- has been a waste of time. It makes you want to start over, but you can't because this is your life. You are here now and you have to figure out a way to accept what's happened to get you here -- and find a way to conquer the thoughts that have made you feel like you are lost in your own life.
It took me a long time -- years, in fact -- to get to a point where I can honestly say I don't feel as if I am in the middle of a crisis. Life is far from perfect (and how boring it would be if it were perfect!), but it's stable and sane and happy. I wake up and I know why I'm here, what I'm doing, and how lucky I am to have the people in my life supporting me. I wake up and feel happy. But I had to make an effort (a BIG effort) to get from crisis to calm -- and here are some of the things that helped me along the way.
10 Tips to Help You Conquer that Crisis
1. Don't give up hope. When everything in your life seems like a mess and you have no idea why you are where you are, it can be so easy throw in the towel and let yourself slide into the quicksand of negativity. Don't do that. You deserve more than that. You deserve a second chance at your own life. Even if it's a teeny, tiny thread, cling to whatever hope you can find. It will save you.
2. Find a new activity. Doing the same things over and over and over again can be emotionally draining (and damaging). If things aren't what you thought they would be, if you want your life to be different, you have to make it different. Subtract an activity that's bringing you down and add in an activity that will bring you up. Not sure what will bring you up? Try lots of different things 'til you find a perfect fit.
3. Surround yourself with positive people. Crises can be brought on by the people around us, dragging us down. Evaluate the people you spend the most time with. How do they make you feel? What do you spend time doing together? If these feelings and activities aren't positive, find some new friends. A crisis is hard enough without a lack of support from positive people.
4. Seek professional help. Finding the right therapist can save your life. When you're really down and out, the unbiased, objective advice from a trained professional can be just what you need to get yourself back on track. Don't try to talk yourself out of it or let negative judgments about therapy get in your way. Sitting on the couch can be just what you need to get you back up on your feet.
5. Believe in your abilities. Scrub "I can't..." from your vocabulary. The more times you tell yourself that you can't overcome this crisis, the more times you'll be setting yourself back. It might seem impossible at times, but you will get through this and end up on the other side a stronger person. Don't ever stop believing in your ability to conquer this crisis. You can -- and will! -- do it.
6. Change what's not working. You can't live the life you've always wanted to be living if you keep doing the things that you've always been doing. You have to change. Hard? Yes. Possible? Definitely. Figure out what's not working in your life -- the bad job, the toxic relationship, the negative thinking -- and change it. And don't stop at one thing. Change all the things that aren't working, one at a time.
7. Figure out what you really want. Clearly a crisis isn't what you want. No one wants that feeling of isolation and frustration. But what do you want? We often whine about not being happy with our lives without giving much thought to what would make our lives happier. Make a list, keep a journal, tell a friend -- do whatever you need to do in order to figure out what you really, truly want in your life.
8. Take it one day at a time. Every day will have it's ups and downs, but every day you start focusing more on the positive, making changes in your life, and surrounding yourself with the right people is a step in the right direction. Don't dwell too much on the future. Take each day as it comes and, little by little, you'll find yourself putting that crisis further and further behind you.
9. Treat your body right. It's oh-so tempting to eat what we want, drink what we want, do what we want. After all, when you're in emotional pain, don't you need some sort of physical treat? No. No, you don't. What you need is a body that's in peak physical condition so it can help you battle those unpleasant emotional monsters. Eat your veggies, don't drink too much, get rest, exercise. No excuses.
10. Join a club or group. There may be people out there struggling just like you are. Find them and work together to conquer your crises. Can't find a group of people going through what you're going through? Start one. It doesn't have to be crisis-specific (what about a happiness project?), but it does have to be something that will inspire, uplift, and support you.
A few months ago, I was editing my bookshelves -- getting rid of old books to make room for the new ones -- and I came across my quarterlife crisis books. In previous editing sessions, I'd left them on the shelves, thinking, "I never know when I might need these again..." but this time I pulled them down, blew the dust off of them and thought, "I should donate these. Someone else might be going through what I was and could really use them." I added them to the stack of to-donate books, not thinking much of it. When I think back on that day, I realize that it was an important act, donating those books. It meant I'd made it through -- finally -- to the other side of that quarterlife crisis.
Maybe I would have a midlife crisis. Maybe I wouldn't. But making it through those turbulent early twenties gave me one thing I hadn't had back when I was a teenager: the realization that I could survive a crisis and come out stronger, better, smarter. For me, the old cliche had turned out to be (quite literally) true: what didn't kill me made me stronger. Strong enough to take those books off the shelf and pass them on. Strong enough to sit here and write this. Strong enough to know that those of you out there struggling will conquer their crises -- just like I did.