I turned 25 this year, and with it came a whole host of emotions I just wasn’t prepared for. Mostly: panic, stress, and a general feeling of ‘what am I doing with my life?’
A seven-year-old me thought that at 25, I’d have everything sussed: a dream job after winning Pop Idol (despite the fact I couldn’t sing for sh*t); a mansion in the hills I could host star-studded parties in with all my famous friends; and endless amounts of money.
A teenage, more realistic me thought that at 25 I’d at least have a car, or a house, or enough money to buy either a car or a house failing the fact I didn’t have either. And yet here I am: car-less, house-less, and wondering whether a diet of supernoodles will be able to sustain me forever.
Even if that last part was a slight exaggeration, 25-year-old me is far from the ideal self I’d painted for myself when I was eight – when 25 was just a distant dot in the future and seemed like a lifetime away.
Now, nearly half of my wage goes on paying my rent and bills each month and I walk to work in an attempt to save the £3.50 it would cost me each day to use public transport. Oh, and I find myself counting the pennies in the week leading up to payday. Ah, the dream.
Of course, I’m not the only one. In fact, the majority of my friends and colleagues are in the same position – apart from the select few on Instagram who are busy buying their first homes and travelling to some exotic country for an exciting new job (I’m not jealous at all).
So why, when I reached the milestone quarter-of-a-century in age, was my immediate reaction ‘oh f*ck’? Why did I immediately start to panic about not having achieved everything I set out to when I was small? And why do I still feel as though I should be doing better?
Most likely because, like thousands of other people my age, I’m experiencing something of a crisis in my self-worth. A quarter-life crisis, if you will. Not the classic mid-life crisis, but a younger, more inexperienced version which manifests itself in younger, more inexperienced people.
Rather than going out and buying a fancy sports car, or quitting a job to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a singer, or a painter, or a model – as we might if we were experiencing a mid-life crisis – those going through a quarter-life crisis exhibit none of those behaviours because, well, the majority of us don’t have the means to do so.
We barely have enough money to pay our rent, never mind have enough to splash out on an expensive Ferrari or BMW. And you’re kidding yourself if you think we can afford to quit a career we’ve only just started and risk it all for potentially nothing.
So what is a quarter-life crisis? Research conducted by LinkedIn describes it as ‘a period of insecurity and doubt that many people in their mid twenties to early thirties go through surrounding their career, relationships, and finances’.
Emma Kenny, resident psychologist on ITV’s This Morning, told UNILAD a quarter life crisis occurs primarily because we have a set of expectations as to what we’re meant to have achieved at a certain age – and when we haven’t done so, we feel like a failure.
The psychologist explained:
It could be that you think you should have got a house, or be in a long-term relationship, have good finances, be able to pay a mortgage, et cetera. All of those things are really a blueprint from a time that’s gone by, so we’re still living with this very archetypal, non-reality based blueprint from say 70 years ago.
We’re applying this massively old set of rules and expectations to a young mindset who no longer conforms to them. But you’ve been brought up thinking that you should. Instead of seeing that you’re at a point of transition and that society is no longer how it was, you are being brought up with a sense of failure.
In other words, the expectations we set ourselves when we were younger (and which other people set for us) simply aren’t realistic anymore. Sure, it would be nice to be able to put a deposit down on a house with my boyfriend and save up for a secure future, but with what money?
With lower incomes and an increase in property prices ensuring approximately 40 per cent of young adults cannot afford to buy one of the cheapest homes in their area, as per the Institute for Fiscal Studies, you can see why young people often find themselves stuck in a period of doubt and uncertainty.
Especially when, even when we try to put money to one side in an attempt to get on the property ladder, rising rent prices are making it harder for us to save for a deposit in the first place – in effect leaving us stuck in a penniless rut. It’s no wonder some of us find ourselves having a crisis of confidence.
It’s even easier to get caught up in these feelings of despair when our peers are posting about their achievements and exciting opportunities on social media, a place where all of us put our best selves forward and yet still judge ourselves unfairly against the online presence of others.
Influencer culture doesn’t help either; how is anybody supposed to be content with their 9-5 job which sees them living paycheck to paycheck, when the people we follow on Instagram seem to be living their best lives every day – jetting off to exotic places, buying the most expensive clothes, and attending red-carpet events?
Emma Kenny warned that, by doing this, we live only in moments of ‘if only’s’ as opposed to feeling a sense of control over our lives, something which ultimately leads us to us questioning our own self-worth.
She told UNILAD:
We have comparables that we look at and think they’re doing better than us, and what we basically do is we internalise and explore other people’s advantages and we use it as a weapon against ourselves.
We think that it makes us have less because they have more, and that – as opposed to internalising all the things that make us the unbelievably unique humans that we are – makes us feel scared. We just feel really, really scared.
An important thing to note is that, if you’re feeling like this, you’re not the only one. Far from it, in fact. As Emma says: ‘It’s actually really comforting to know that nobody’s got their sh*t together. Nobody’.
UNILAD spoke to one 30-year-old who described himself as existing in a ‘general malaise’ throughout his mid-to-late twenties, partly because of the reasons just mentioned. Working in a job he hated while ‘barely scraping by’ after making some poor financial decisions, Jack reached a point where he knew something needed to change.
I was ‘living for the weekend’ so to speak. I’d spend most Fridays and Saturdays drunk and most Sundays (and later Mondays) hungover, eating junk food.
I can’t remember what exactly made me realise, but after two serious knee operations and a brief yet troublesome relationship with my pain medication, I found myself dangerously overweight and barely able to keep afloat financially, emotionally or otherwise.
When asked what might have triggered these feelings, Jack said he had always been self-conscious – particularly about his weight – but that those feelings worsened the longer he tried to disregard them.
He said that, while he had ‘always managed to get by on bravado’ by making jokes and ‘trying to have as much fun as it would take to forget any of this,’ it ultimately wasn’t sustainable. ‘I kind of broke down,’ the 30-year-old admitted.
In the end, Jack managed to move past what was happening by talking to people and seeking help. He also made some drastic changes, getting a personal trainer and changing his career completely by going back into education.
When asked what advice he would give others going through a similar situation, he said:
My advice to anyone, in the first instance, would be to seek help. I can’t emphasise this enough. For me, it was my mum, I opened up to her about everything and our relationship has been strong throughout.
I appreciate others’ circumstances may be different but there are always services like CALM or others who will have people whose job it is to help.
Jack isn’t alone. That same LinkedIn research I referenced earlier found a massive 75 per cent of 25 to 33-year-old’s have experienced a quarter-life crisis, often related to feeling like they are at a crossroad in their career and are not sure what to do from here.
(Disclaimer: I also put the question to my ever-so-loyal Twitter followers via a poll and got eerily similar results, with 76 per cent of people saying they’d experienced one. Only 17 people replied, so it’s not as accurate, but still…)
Of the 6,014 people polled via LinkedIn, 61 per cent said finding a job or career they’re passionate about is the number one cause of their anxiety, with nearly half (48 per cent) saying comparing themselves to their ‘more successful’ friends also contributes to these feelings of insecurity.
So how did they deal with it? Thirty-six per cent entirely changed their careers – as Jack did – switching to new industries and different roles, while 23 per cent took a career break during the period of uncertainty and took time off to reevaluate what they wanted to do. A further 28 per cent went travelling or took an extended trip, while 27 per cent uprooted their lives and relocated to a different part of the country.
Of course, whatever you decide to do doesn’t have to be as dramatic as any of those things. It could be as simple as taking some time out just to focus on yourself rather than compare every single thing we do to other people.
Because ultimately, that’s where the problem lies. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we should be doing and where we should be in our lives, that we can quite quickly lose grip on what really matters.
We’re only in our twenties, for God’s sake. As Emma explained, we need to drop the idea that it’s ‘all too late’ just because we’re 25. ‘Think about your twenties as a time of exploration: Try new things, get things wrong, learn new skills, and figure out what makes you content,’ she added.
The psychologist went on to say:
These are the moments of transition. Moments of crisis are the biggest moments of growth. They say that chaos creates the biggest growth, so embrace it.
As long as we stay focused on our own path, our own goals, and our own accomplishments, we’re headed in the right direction – and that’s enough.
And hey, maybe one day I’ll have enough money to buy that mansion in the hills. Until then though, I might have to start putting the Lottery on in the meantime…
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).