This mid-twenties crisis post was one I originally put together around five years ago, but it seemed good timing to give it a bit of a makeover just a few months before my 30th birthday. A lot's changed in the last five years and you know what? I was wrong about a lot of what I said five years ago. Perhaps it was a touch of naivety, or a dash of innocence that skewed my views. But I'm never afraid to hold my hands up and say when I'm wrong. At the time, I really thought a mid-twenties crisis was no big deal and was totally blown out of proportion. But now I see how important they really are.
I think more so for millennials than any other generation that has come before us. Having a real crisis of confidence in ourselves, our choices and the lives that have been set out for us. It's an important part of growing up, to suddenly realise the world isn't what you have been taught it is. It's a drastic unlearning of an entire lifetime of social conditioning and there's no denying it can be a traumatic experience for some. I hate the term millennial, but it's important to refer to this generation. Why are we so affected? Well it's simple, during our lifetimes we have see the most dramatic change to the way we live and earn money than the generations before us. The expectations still hang over us from those who have gone before us and yet we're living in an entirely different world.
But what is a mid-twenties crisis?
Hands up if you hit your mid-twenties and suddenly started questioning everything? Yup, me too. It's a time in our lives when we're finally out of full time education. We are finally set up in a job or still hunting, and we're starting to actively think about the future. It can be a crazy time – stuck somewhere in that limbo between being a wild teenager/student and adulthood. For some, it's the first real freedom we have to earn and spend money as we wish. To party when we want and live far from home. For others, it's a massive adjustment to a life where they have to be responsible for themselves and finally see how they handle adult life. It can be a real wake-up call to find out how much it costs to be an adult, and how many worries are involved.
Suddenly there is all this pressure to have a great job and career, to have a partner and start moving towards marriage and kids. Everyone looks like they're achieving so much and social media becomes a game of keeping up with the Jones's. All of this costs money and let's be honest, there's not actually that much of this flying around. Before you know it, you're overwhelmed with this feeling that you're not doing enough. That you don't know which way to turn. Fears of being stuck in the wrong career, worries of being alone forever. Or being stuck with the wrong person and missing out. It can be a really stressful time and the fact that no-one really talks about this, just makes it even worse. We internalise the whole experience and don't realise everyone is going through the same.
Blame it on Mercury in Retrograde
For those entering your mid-twenties now, take it from those who are just starting to see the light at the other end of the tunnel. You're not alone, everyone goes through this weird period in their life and it can seem pretty hopeless and confusing. But as crazy as it is at the time, having a mid-twenties crisis can be really valuable to your life. It gives you an opportunity to completely change your life plans at a moment's notice, while still within the safety of youth. Trust me, the earlier in life you decide to make these decisions, the better. It becomes much harder to completely change your career, to chase family life or move abroad the later you leave it. It may seem crazy at the time, but crazy is good when it pushes you out of your comfort zone.
My mid-twenties crisis was the defining moment of my life. I look back now and I see I originally wrote this blog post, two years before my life changed forever. I was working as a journalist post-university and was in a long-term relationship of nine years. But deep down there was always a part of me that wanted so much more. Fast-forward a year and I snapped, I said no to the job that was driving me to exhaustion and underpaid me. I said no to the boyfriend who cheated and lied. Most importantly, I said yes to travel. I had always wanted to travel the world and to live abroad independently. I made my own dreams come true. Five years later I've lived and travelled nearly 40 countries and set up my own online business.
How to cope with a mid-twenties crisis:
Recover from burnout and stop staring into the abyss
It can be easy to lose yourself in the small decisions when the big ones become too intimidating. Before you know it, you're staring at an avocado in the supermarket and feel unable to make even the smallest of choices over what to have for dinner that night. In this world of constant productivity being marked as a sign of success, it's so easy to lose the real value of time out. If you're overworked and find it hard to say no, you may find yourself suffering from burnout. Draining you of your passion, energy and interest in your own existence, it can leave you feeling numb and directionless.
Tips for recovery:
- Take time out – a week's holiday, a gap year, a few days. It can all make a big difference by giving you a chance to rest and gain some perspective.
- Take back control of your hours. If you're working far more than you should be, either speak with your boss and explain how you feel and ask how this can be reduced.
- If the company don't support you and try to help, look for a new job. Your health is more important than working yourself into the ground for a company that don't care about you.
Get yourself off the wrong path and into the right career
Have you suddenly realised you've achieved all that was expected of you, but it's not what you want? It's easily done, from a young age we're shepherded through education – told to be quiet and score high. We're pushed towards university as the only option and then towards our first job. But quite often we find ourselves in a career that doesn't actually suit the person we really are. The problem is we spend our whole lives trying to be what is expected of us, only to find that actually isn't success.
My sister for example, studied to become a fashion buyer only to find she hated the actual job and most of all, the people she worked with. She has since completely retrained to become a personal trainer. I was working as a journalist, only to find myself disillusioned by the media and preferring a self-employed life. It can be super scary to completely change your career, but it's the best time to do it and start from the bottom.
How to make a change:
- Look into courses you can do alongside full time work to learn a new skill or qualify for a new role.
- Ask your boss if there is a different department you could either move into, or get experience with. Make the most of what you have directly available to you.
- Consider going freelance if this is an option – it opens up a whole new way of working for those who don't enjoy traditional employment.
Consider whether your relationships add value to your life
This one is really important and many of us go through a massive cull of friendships and relationships during this period of our lives. It's a good time to really ask yourself what people are bringing to your life and whether their friendship might actually be harming your mental health. So many of us get into relationships quite young, and as we grow and change, we want different things in life. It can seem scary to end relationships, but it's not a sign of failure, more a sign of growth and change.
Some people grow together, and others grow apart. It might be that a relationship becomes a negative factor in your life. That a person makes you feel bad or guilty for not being the person you were five years ago. It might be a cheating or toxic relationship, or a manipulative friend, or someone who just wants you to be their friend when it suits them. Those people who bring constant drama into your life? They're not friends, they're just the kind of people who need an audience.
How to know your true relationships:
- Take note of the people who clap for your successes, and aren't just there for your failures. Some people thrive on seeing others struggle but can't handle it when things are going well.
- Cut out one-way friendships – if you feel like you're making all the effort, just stop doing it for a while and see what is left of the friendship.
- Be honest with yourself – are you in a relationship because you're really happy and in love? Or is it just because it's what you've always known and the idea of being alone is scarier than staying?
5 things I wish someone had said to me when I was 20
It's amazing what you can see with the benefit of hindsight. I remember being in my early twenties and really just not seeing a way out. When I would cry in the toilets at work because I was so stressed. I felt lonelier in my relationship than I ever have while I've been alone. It was really tough for a while, but I'm so glad I went through that time because it pushed me to make big changes. Reaching that point forced me to push myself out of my comfort zone on to a totally different path.
Five years later, and I'm still travelling the world, happier single than I've ever been and my career has gone from strength to strength. However hopeless it may seem at the time, out of those darkest times comes the brightest future. I know I would have really appreciated a guiding hand when I was going through it. So here are the five things I wish I had been told when I was going through a mid-twenties crisis:
- You're doing okay. Stop worrying and don't be in such a rush. Slow down.
- Work hard, build a foundation and a career you can take anywhere.
- Travel – once you have 2 in the bag, prioritise travel because it will be your biggest regret if you don't.
- Forget relationships – the one you have with yourself is far more important than some idiot guy.
- It's okay to have a hobby and not turn it into a business.
Have you experienced a mid-twenties crisis? What has your quarter-life crisis taught you? What advice would you give to those experiencing this?