The Quarter-Life Crisis- It Really Exists!

Below is my article which appeared in yesterday’s Irish Times Health Supplement.

Take some time to have a read and let me know what you think.


MIND MOVES: ONCE UPON a time there was the mid-life crisis. But in today’s fast-paced world, where things happen more quickly than before, we have the quarter-life crisis.

I remember laughing when I first heard the phrase. I thought it was simply another term made up by a group of spoilt young people who believed that mummy and daddy should hand everything to them on a plate. The all-about-me generation.

But then I hit the age of 26 and suddenly it all made sense. People always talk about the difficulty of the teenage years. But no one ever tells you what a pain in the ass your 20s are. It was tough being a teenager, but in my experience it’s even harder trying to navigate life as someone in their mid-20s.

So you’re probably wondering what this quarter-life crisis is about. It’s essentially a period of anxiety, uncertainty and inner turmoil that often accompanies the transition to adulthood.

The quarter-life crisis is unique for 20-somethings today – it’s taking much longer for us to become adult if we look at traditional markers such as financial independence and starting a family.

Our 20s are supposed to be a time of opportunity and adventure, before grown-up things such as mortgages, marriage and mayhem have come along. But instead, reality involves struggling to cope with stress around jobs, unemployment, huge college debt and relationships. Like many other students, I took out college loans in good faith and am left struggling to pay off thousands of euro of debt without the security of full-time employment.

As a teenager I believed the world was my oyster. But by the time I reached 25, reality set in and I realised that life was tougher than people had made it out to be.

Life isn’t a Hollywood movie, and I wasn’t going to snap my fingers and have the perfect job, house and man magically appear. Unfortunately, life is not an episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch .

I haven’t been brought up to be a spoilt little princess who gets everything she wants. My parents raised me with good values and a good work ethic, but I’ve also learned that this doesn’t always yield results.

This false sense of entitlement has been accelerated due to people my age having grown up with relative wealth during the boom.

This all came crashing down the instant it became our turn to enter the world of work.

So imagine my relief when last month a study proved that the quarter-life crisis exists. It wasn’t just me who felt like I had no direction in life.

Researchers in Greenwich University interviewed people between 25 and 35 about their experience of crises in early adulthood. They found that the crises usually lasted about two years and often left people questioning who they were and where they were going in life.

This research is supported by a survey which found 86 per cent of the 1,100 young people questioned admitted feeling under pressure to succeed in their relationships, finances and jobs before hitting 30.

Like many of the young adults in the survey, I too have had all these questions running through my head, stirring everything up. “Who am I?” and “Where am I going with my life? ”

I’ve had this noise in my head for quite a while, but since I turned 26 it has reached a whole new level. I’m no longer in my early 20s, and since passing that threshold, I feel like I should know where I’m going with my life.

The pressure to have it all figured out is overwhelming. I want it NOW. I feel like Robert Frost in the poem, The Road Not Taken . The poem is a metaphor for life, and it scares me that, no matter which path I choose, I’ll never know if it was the right one. Or what the consequences would have been, had I chosen the other.

Every day we’re faced with the decision on what path to take. Do we take the one everyone else takes, or do we create our own path?

Will I ever really know which road to take? Or maybe life isn’t about the destination, but more about the journey.

I’ll come back to you in 2015 – surely I’ll be closer to figuring it all out then . . .

Marie Duffy is a youth adviser to Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health ( Tony Bates is on leave


2 thoughts on “The Quarter-Life Crisis- It Really Exists!

  1. Hi Marie,
    I can totally relate to the quarter life crisis experience – I definitely felt the pressure to have it all figured out in my twenties – and with shockingly high student loans and the 20-something super-achievers the media presents us with (sports stars and super models come to mind), the stakes get higher.
    It wasn’t until I reached 35 when I started to realise how hard I was being on myself. Admittedly, that year life gave me a few hard knocks which helped me re-evaluate what’s important, but I found as I shared my experiences with the people around me, a lot of people my age were doing the same thing. Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, but you become more resilient and maybe even a little more “selfish” – in the sense that you start to take care of yourself better regardless of your income, social scene or marital status.
    Hang in there – it gets better!

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