Career Transitions: Having a ‘Quarter Life Crisis’?

Anne Bryant, MA, LPC
Anne has thirty years of experience offering practical skills and support to people experiencing transitions in their careers and personal lives. Openings available for individual and group sessions.

Career Transitions: Having a ‘Quarter Life Crisis’?

Ever heard of a quarter life crisis?  The term was coined by Abbey Wilner after she graduated from college in 1997. “The quarter life crisis, or QLC, is essentially a period of anxiety, uncertainty and inner turmoil that often accompanies the transition to adulthood.”   For those who drop out of high school, it might begin during their teens.  It might not begin until the mid-thirties for those who go straight from college or graduate school in to an occupation without questioning their identity or career direction. Then they wake up one day feeling totally trapped.  Generally QLC refers to people who are twenty something and are facing challenges their parents might not understand based on their own experiences.

Because several young adults started showing up in my practice, I began researching.  The following is a comparison between another source and the “Work” section of The Quarter lifer’s Companion (2005).  According to Abby Wilner and Cathy Stocker, co-authors, “it is taking longer to become an adult today based on traditional markers such as financial independence and starting a family. The average American job hops 8 times before the age of 32, the average college graduate accrues $20,000 in education loan debt, and the average age to get married is now 27.”  Harper’s Index now reports that the number of Americans carrying student loan debt in excess of $200,000 is 167,000.  That’s enough to cause anyone anxiety. Then there is an overwhelming array of new types of jobs and changing technology, staggering rent, unaffordable health care, false expectations fostered by media portrayals of twenty somethings’ real life experiences, and the stigma of having to move back in with parents.

This all sounds really hard if you are the parents with a quarter lifer living with you, or if you are now that person.  However, it’s not all bad, and like other life transitions, there can be moments of real growth and excitement along with the disappointments, dread, and boredom.  For example, check out what Paul Angone has to say at  He is the host of All Groan Up, an author, speaker, story teller, humorist, and entrepreneur.  He says the value of the QLC is that “we learn how to fail. And struggle. And persevere. We learn that sometimes life must suck before it’s sweet. We learn how to explore again like we’re eight years old in the field behind our house.”

Angone’s blog on jobs and careers puts a new twist on facing setbacks and is relevant to today’s economy and culture.  He encourages young adults to define success for themselves, not by others’ standards, and to embrace false starts, confusion and disappointments as opportunities to learn.  In fact, he believes that failing big and failing often shows that you are taking risks.  Just don’t call yourself a failure.

What Angone’s blog and the Quarterlifer’s Companion have in common is helping recent graduates distinguish the difference between the linear progression of college and it’s predictable grading system, and the non-linear unpredictable world of work, fraught with office politics and slower pace without much feedback.  They also share perspective and resources regarding finances, relationships and inner well-being.  Wilner and Stocker’s book and website are geared towards those twenty somethings who want tips on job hunting and climbing the corporate ladder and much of the advice can be adapted for those with different career paths.  Both sources are geared toward college grads; not those who went from high school straight in to military service and are now transitioning to civilian life; not those who fell through the cracks in public education.

For those who are new college graduates, the Quarterlifer’s Companion brings up some useful points.  For example:

  • After applying, you may not hear anything back.  Being ignored like this is even more likely to happen when responding to ads on line.  Use the internet to research companies, industries and people.  Try to get a name and follow up with a phone call to learn how you might improve your chances next time.
  • Networking face to face is still the best way to meet people who will lead you to information that ultimately will get you hired.  For detailed advice, go to by Aly Aniker, and take a look at the 7 other networking entries in Career Transitions: The Inside Job. If you feel shy about doing this, it might help to join a job search support group.
  • Don’t expect the potential employer to connect the dots between your college experiences and the required skills and duties of the job you have applied for.  Translate what you have done in to industry or professional language.
  • Your ability to demonstrate how you have developed communication and team work skills matter far more to the employer than your GPA.

Try asking older adults about how they found a path to their jobs or occupations.  You will be surprised by how many people discover what’s been a good fit through the back door, or even a negative experience.  For example, in my late twenties I was working as an office manager, something I hated, in a nonprofit geared toward environmental and consumer protection, something I cared about.  The way people treated each other and the office politics were terrible.  Then it occurred to me that I wanted to focus on promoting personal growth and change, which led me to graduate school in Counseling Psychology.  Go exploring to look for more examples of how you might spin straw in to gold.



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  1. Five Self-Assessment Tips for a More Effective Job Search |Mac's List - October 9, 2012

    […] Career Counselor Anne Bryant says in, “Career Transitions: Having a ‘Quarter Life Crisis’?” that while this experience typically occurs in people fresh out of college, “It might not begin […]

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