No one warned me about the Quarter Life Crisis.
In 2020, I completed my university degree and entered the “real world”. At this time, I was 22 years old and had not stopped to consider the logistics of which career I wanted to pursue. Did I want to go back to school? Did I want to work in consulting? Tech? Recruitment? Event planning? The list of options was long and terrifying to come face to face with. I call this my Quarter Life Crisis - that time in your life when you’re suddenly faced with the opportunity to make choices that impact the trajectory of your career - but you have no idea what to do.
What I learned during this time, is that there is a significant lack of conversation around the sheer number of individuals who feel overwhelmed at the idea of having to navigate their careers. The fear of making the wrong decision (or not being able to make a decision at all) is a feeling that many individuals experience, but unfortunately, don’t talk about.
Some individuals leave high school or university knowing exactly which path they will be following. Many choose paths that inspire them, that they’ve had their heart set on for as long as they can remember, whereas others pick their course based on external factors (i.e. money, family, accessibility). Remaining, are the group of individuals who suddenly feel underprepared to face the reality of the decisions they will have to make because the need to make what seems such a “final” decision is often paralyzing. This is the group that I fell into. I worked all through university, however, my main goal was to pay off my student loans - not to build a solid foundation of experience and line myself up for my dream career.
Many young professionals don’t even know how to begin determining which career path makes sense for them. I don’t remember having a single conversation throughout the duration of my studies on how we were going to figure out our careers. The individuals around me were changing their career aspirations every other week from “I want to pursue a master's degree” to “I think I might switch programs”.
As it happened, most of the driven and inspired individuals I knew throughout my degree suddenly felt lost after graduation. There is safety in academia, having known only the classroom and education system for almost 2 decades means that without the safety of a classroom to explore your interests, many individuals suddenly feel pressured to align themselves into a thriving and successful role right after graduating.
Additionally, social media networking is at an all-time high, with websites such as LinkedIn being flooded with the professional successes of our colleagues. When in a career rut, it is difficult to remind ourselves that the posts we see on LinkedIn are just the highlights of people’s career pathways. I often had to remind myself that the pressure that I felt is one that thousands, if not millions of others have felt throughout their careers. It is challenging to remain motivated when you feel as though you’re alone in the struggle you are facing. It can be even more difficult when you believe that everyone around you is thriving based on their social media presence.
With all of this in mind, I worked to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I did research. A lot of research. Joining communities like Elpha or Slack communities for professional women allowed me to connect with individuals who could empathize with the challenges I was facing. I had phone calls, video calls, and continued email conversations with others who had experienced this same feeling of career paralysis at some point in their careers. I sought advice and understanding and was shocked to discover how many others had felt the same way as I did.
For those who have felt or are currently feeling stuck in their career journey, I encourage you to consider discussing this challenge with those around you. Whether it be with your friends, colleagues, or online community, the sentiment of not knowing where to go or what to do is more common than you may realize. Opening up and being vulnerable about the difficulty I was having allowed me to connect and empathize with others who had experienced the same feelings.
In addition, I’ve found power in reflecting upon my experiences. Even fresh out of my university degree, I still had preferences regarding my work environment. Making lists and breaking things down helped me process my options. Do I want a career where I work independently, or do I want to work in a collaborative environment? Remote versus in-office? Public versus private sector?
Without realizing it, the pieces of careers that fit into my personal preferences started to align, and this would not have happened had I not discussed the challenges I was facing with those around me.
Despite its challenges, figuring out my Quarter Life Crisis was fulfilling. It has allowed me to connect with wonderful individuals that I would have never met if not for the difficulty I faced. It has also allowed me to help and provide reassurance to my friends and colleagues who experienced the same sense of hopelessness or confusion around their careers.
There is power in connection, and anyone who is feeling a sense of loss or confusion around their careers shouldn't feel as though they are alone.