Quarterlife crisis is an identity crisis experienced by young adults, as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. Although it is experienced by majority of young adults, women in particular are faced with additional challenges that the opposite sex do not experience. This research will explore the challenges women face during their quarterlife years, and how coaching can help them get through this crisis and achieve a balanced lifestyle.
Up until the time when someone enters the work force, everything was laid out with clear directions. All that was demanded were good grades, graduate, get into a good school, get a well paying job. When young adults graduate, they are faced with the biggest question in life:
Is this really what I want?
All a sudden there is no more directions, and unlike the older generations, they are now faced with more options than they can handle. This is the generation that has been told “You can be anything you want” all their lives. Except after college graduation, reality sets in, and not only do they have to figure out what they want, they have to figure out how to get it.
The extreme uncertainty that twentysomethings experience after graduation occurs because what was once a solid line that they could follow throughout their series of educational institutions has now disintegrated into millions of different options.… Quarterlife crisis is a response to overwhelming instability, constant change, too many choices, and a panicked sense of helplessness (Robins, 2001)
Quarterlife crisis is a real, valid, mental life crisis that is experienced by the majority of young adults, however it is often not recognized by society. Unlike mid-life crisis, the early life crisis typically arises due to a lack of stability, and can be experienced anywhere from adolescence to mid thirties. Although the crisis is nothing new, recent changes in both society’s and individual’s expectations have made it much more prevalent and difficult to get through, particularly for women.
For women in this generation, they are faced with the additional challenges of changing expectations from society. Though men are faced with similar challenges in their relationship and career, their role in society has not changed all that much. The majority of the workforce is still dominated by men and they are still viewed as the bread winner in the family. Older generations of women were happy with staying home and raising children. However, in this generation there is a common notion among women:
I don’t want to be like my mom, and I want to be a career woman.
At the same time, the expectation of taking care of the home and family has not gone away. In this decade, women are expected to “have it all” and “do it all.”
Causes of the crisis
Going from college to the working world, young women feel that they are defined by their jobs. If one does not like her job, she feels dejected. With older generations, it is common to stay with one company for a long period of time. With this generation of graduates, they tend to go through a few jobs before finding the right one. It has become the norm to change jobs after one to two years and young women believe that is how to advance their careers. They believe that one day, their passion and career will just gel together, and they can finally be defined by what they do.
With a lot of young women, their passion and career did not just naturally gel together due to unrealistic expectations. In 1999, teens predicted they would be earning on average $75,000 a year by 30, and the average income that year was $27,000 (Twenge, 2006). Reality came as a shock to the
You can be anything you want to be
generation. They are no longer looking for a job that pays, they are looking for a fulfilling job that pays well. Otherwise, they believe it is not worth having.
Young women have a rite of passage to pursue their dreams. However, most of them will not achieve their dreams, because very few dream of being baristas, or accountants. There can only be so many actresses, or vice presidents, given that everyone is pursuing their dreams. After years of pursuing dreams, most are left with no viable career when they are thirty. Now they are faced with the dilemma of whether to abandon their dreams.
Along with other idealizations of life, young women in this generation are looking for “The One.” Young women are almost desperate to find their soul mate. As with their career, they often have a laundry list of criteria for finding this perfect mate. After going through heart breaks and disappointment, they become frustrated in not finding the one. Essentially they are looking for someone or something else to make them whole, to fill a gap that they have created for themselves (quote book).
When things don’t go our way, blame it on the parents.
Parents have become more protective than ever, leading teenagers to be overly dependent, and ultimately they do not have the desire to grow up anymore. People getting their driver’s license at the age of 16 have dropped by 50%, because they now rely on their parents driving them, and there is no need to get a license. Surveys have shown that college seniors on average talk to their parents 13 times a week, asking their parents to make mundane decisions, remind them of their deadlines, or simply serve as their alarm clock in the morning (Allen, 2009). Due to the overextended adolescence, young women have a hard time adjusting to reality. They simply have not learned how to cope when reality does not meet their expectation.
Along with these challenges, at some point, young women can hear their biological clock ticking. Men may be able to continue pursuing their dreams indefinitely if they do not have other responsibilities, however there is a physical limit as to how long women can continue with the pursuit before settling down with a partner should they choose to have a family. For this group of women, it is not just about finding the right career, the right partner, it is about finding the right life.
How coaching can help
Quarterlife crisis is not a new phenomenon, it has been experienced by generations. In recent years, young women have become more willing to discuss their challenges, and brought this crisis out in the open. This creates more awareness among themselves, and how they can work with life and career coaches to achieve what they want in life.
Coaches can help with two stages in this journey:
- They can help the client figure out what she wants to do; and
- They can help the client devise a actionable plan to help her achieve her goals. The process can following four general steps: Creating Awareness, Shifting Perspective, Prioritizing Goals, and Balancing Actions.
Much of the shock for young women comes from reality not matching up to expectation. If the client has not recognized what reality looks like, a coach can help create awareness. Ex. Client is waiting for the right job to come along, which will pay the bills, fulfill her passion, and lead to a successful career. Her friends seem to be getting everything they want, and she sees herself as the only one struggling with a quarterlife crisis. First, the coach can help the client see the reality of other people struggling with similar issues. They may be at different stages of their lives, and struggling with different challenges mentioned here. It would be helpful for the client to recognize that it is common to experience these challenges, and she is not alone. This may require challenging the client’s perspective, and encouraging her to talk to other people and do some research on the topic.
Due to misaligned expectation, a client may never be able to achieve what she envisions her career and relationship to be. The coach can clarify this expectation for the client by shifting perspective. By asking powerful questions, the coach can provide feedback to help the client understand whether her expectation is realistic or not. Through exploration and comparisons with the client’s friends, the coach can help the client visualize other examples around her, what her friends are able to achieve, and what they have to sacrifice.
A client can only move on to this step when she recognizes that the world is not perfect, and she may not get everything on her wish list. Now she is ready to tackle the question of “What do I want more?” Young women in this generation are no strangers to this question, they have thought about it for a long time. However, their minds are also clouded with what other people want, including the expectations from society, expectations from family, and expectations from peer pressure. A coach can work with the client to clearly define her own priorities by understanding her values and underlying beliefs, what makes her happy, and what are good fit for her strengths and weaknesses.
After setting her priorities, the client may struggle with putting them into action. A coach can support the client in this stage by providing the right resources to devise a plan, encourage her along the way, and hold her accountable in the process. When creating a plan of action, women often focus on trying to achieve “work-life balance”, balancing the time they spend on work versus family. The definition of work-life balance defers depending on the client. Given the ambitious goals of young women in this generation, some careers simply do not allow a solid line between work and life. Coaches can be particularly helpful in supporting clients achieving “work-life integration”, rather than the traditional definition of balance. Work-life integration focuses on shifting priorities and schedules around, such that work and life can co-exist. For example, some parents may need to leave the office early to pick up the kids at 3pm, and subsequently work a late shift after the kids have gone to bed in the evening.
In conclusion, coaching can have significant impact on young women who are in the quarterlife transition period. There has been increased awareness and recognition of quarterlife crisis as a real phenomenon. As young women around the world become more open and willing to discuss their challenges and feelings, there will be greater demand for coaching to support them. A combination of life and career coaching will benefit them in various stages, and coaches are well equipped to support them in order to achieve a balanced lifestyle.
Allen, Joseph and Allen, Claudia W. Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009.
Bouris, Karen, ed. 31 Words to Create a Guilt-Free Life: Finding the Freedom to be Your Most Powerful Self - A Simple Guide to Self-Care, Balance, and Joy. Maui: Inner Ocean, 2006.
Erikson, Erik H. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Freston, Kathy. The One: Finding Soul Mate Love and Making it Last. New York: Miramax, 2006.
Robins, Alexandra and Wilner, Abby. Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties. New York: JP Tarcher/Putnam, 2001.
Seixas, Abby. Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman's Guide to Recovering Balance & Meaning in Everyday Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
Twenge, Jean M. Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York: Free Press, 2006.