Early Adulthood: the 20-something Life Crisis to Conquer

 IMG_4329-minPhoto by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

By Vuthy Pisey  

How old were you on your last birthday? If you’re in your teenage years-innocent, young and free- age is maybe just a number. Yet, if you are entering  adulthood, in your 20s, age is surely a pain in the neck; happy or not, adulthood comes along with greater responsibility, bigger challenges and unexpected changes.  

When you’re an adult, you feel that the world is flipping  upside down. You have a lot of things to do, dreams to achieve, and the whole universe to explore, but you realize that you have less time and energy to do any of it. In the worst cases you feel “lost, scared, lonely or confused” about what steps to take next to properly become an adult. If what I am saying makes sense to you, you are entering a stage which is referred to as the Quarter-Life Crisis.

What is a Quarter-Life Crisis? Is it normal for adults?

A quarter-life crisis typically occurs in your twenties or thirties when you start to leave your peaceful  comfort zone to enter the complex and colorful real world (usually it is after graduating from university and starting a job). It is when you are hit with anxiety, out-of-control stress, internal and external conflict, confusion, and more. To make it more specific, quarter-life crisis is when you feel that you are at the lowest point in life, you lose your life purpose and direction and importantly you become a victim of your own emotion and fear.  

But don’t you worry! You are not the first and definitely not the only person to experience all of this. More or less, each person has been through this stage in their twenties or thirties. I can relate a lot to how you are feeling because I am also fighting this quarter-life crisis – a battle which I find hard to describe.

adulthood        Photo by Your Tango on Pinterest

Although the quarter-life crisis is common among young adults in their twenties or thirties, each person can relate to it on different levels and in various areas of their lives. But how to tell if you are in a quarter-life crisis?  Well, there are five common symptoms of quarter-life crisis to look out for.

  • You struggle to find your identity

“Who are you?” This question is the hardest to answer. Could you distinguish yourself from the crowd? Are you a truly friendly and outgoing person or are you just trying to be one to please someone? A lot of people are struggling to determine what defines them. They are trying to find what they like or dislike, the hobbies or interests that they enjoy most, or the lifestyle they wish to live. Sadly, while trying to figure this out, some are also trying to fit in and belong to a group, which may cause them to lose track of finding their authentic selves.

  • You are confused about your professional Career

So what if you have graduated with two bachelor degrees with grade A? Is this the right job for you? The questions go on endlessly. I believe that a lot of people start to doubt  their career path and the daily work they are doing. They feel they are stuck and trapped while their friends are moving forward to a higher position and better salary. Professional career is one of the major crises for adults as it determines their responsibility, role and status in society.

  • You feel pressure to be in a romantic relationship

Your colleague is already in a relationship with another co-worker. Your close friend has long been married and has two children. Even the lady next door whom you think is not that good-looking has been engaged with a rich and handsome man and the wedding is expected to be next month. And you? Single or never even been in a relationship. Your parents and friends start to question you about your romantic life. The peer and family pressures force you to doubt what is wrong with yourself and urge you to get into a romantic relationship.

According to the German psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of psychological development, this is the fifth stage  known as “Intimacy vs Isolation,” where people start to get worried or even depressed about finding the right partner and fear that if they fail to do so, they will be forever alone. As a result, some people try to get into a relationship or even marriage too soon and end up with the wrong partner.  

  • You are struggling with your work – life balance

 When you are young, it is much easier to manage your time since others set the schedule for you. However, as you get older, you are left to manage your time alone and shoulder much more responsibility. There is a meeting you have to attend; your mom does not feel well and ask you to take her to the hospital; your daughter is longing for you to join her primary-school graduation; there are a lot of house chores for you to take care of and the list of tasks goes on. Just imagine these situations, how busy and stressful an adult life is. You will feel that you are trapped and this is not the life you want to lead. Coping with work and life, personal and family matters, is a major challenge for adults.

  • There is always a comparison between “You” and “Them”

Comment below if you feel like you are always being judged and compared. Becoming an adult, you will be evaluated and compared with different people to determine your achievement, progress and value. People compare you to other people and make judgments on pretty much everything about you (for e.g. your possessions, work and salary, social status and network, so on and so forth. You name it!). Ironically, even you often compare yourself to others. You treat people, especially your peers, as a reference group or a standard to determine your worth, sucess and hapiness.

As the English author John Fowles put it, “Adulthood is not an age, but a stage of knowledge of self”. Although it is tough, adulthood is one of the most colorful stages of life. Just like the doctor who examines the symptoms of each patient before prescribing treatment and medicine, to overcome the quarter-life crisis, you first need to identify which problems you are currently facing and understand how much they are affecting you. By doing so, you will be able to seek for a cure and solution to the specific crisis.

In the next post, we will go through the solutions for the quarter-life crisis. In the meantime, I would be glad to hear the battle you are fighting or have fought in adulthood.


Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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