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The Financial Ramifications of the Quarter-Life Crisis

   Posted On: January 14, 2014  |    Posted In: Millennials  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

Zoologist, geologist, nun, writer, lawyer, White House press secretary, news anchor.

At some point in my life, each one of those titles answered the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m still struggling to find the answer.

Like scores of my fellow millennials, I was raised thinking I could truly be whatever I wanted to when I grew up. Well, maybe not an Olympic athlete or a surgeon (I hate blood) — but almost anything. Suddenly, after years of putting such high expectations on your life, you find yourself no longer a recent college grad, just working an average job, living an average life and you realize being whatever you wanted to might not be possible.

Enter the quarter-life crisis.

While I am currently struggling with my own paralyzing fear of the future — note my recent post about whether or not to get an MBA — I’m going to focus on the larger issue here: MONEY.

Over the last few years, I’ve observed this paranoia of mediocrity take hold of my peers. Documentaries are made, novels are written and blog posts go viral about the decision to “follow your dream” and “live a fulfilling life.” A book-turned-movie like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ inspires a generation to just up a quit a steady job to travel the world teaching yoga classes and communing with humanity.

Give me a break.

A majority of millennials are tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt. Going off to find yourself won’t pay the bills. I’m not advocating a life of suits and climbing the corporate ladder (although that does appeal to some), but I am saying your struggles with self-actualization shouldn’t completely come at the cost of your bank account.

As I get closer to 25, I’ve started to notice the various types of quarter-life crisis.

The Job Quitter

“I hate my job.” “What’s the point of sitting at a desk all day and not making a difference?” “I’m not even using my degree.” “This isn’t what I wanted to do.”

The job quitter starts with small rumblings. She begins to feel panicked at the thought of getting stuck in a job she hates just to pay the bills. She often dislikes the routine, reads articles about people making a difference before 30, surfs travel sites at work and day dreams about the day she’ll put in her two weeks notice.

Suddenly, after one too many BuzzFeed listicles featuring compelling GIFs about why she should quit — she calls a meeting with her manager, throws down her two weeks notice and decides to just give acting/ teaching yoga/ documentary film-making/ being an au-pair/ starting a band a try. She wanted to always do that anyway.

The Wanderlust

There are two types of wanderlusts. Those who have a nomadic spirit but a healthy respect for money and stability and those who are genuinely happy having all their possessions in a backpack.

The first watches too much travel channel, sends in audition tapes to ‘Survivor’ and ‘The Amazing Race’ and starts a savings account just to fantasizing about a golden number that will be enough to quit work and travel the world (hint, this is called retirement).

The latter seems to rarely find full-time employment and starts traveling the world after college (or high school). She manages to live a seemingly glamorous life (aided of course with the right Instagram filter) just by wandering the globe, meeting fabulous people and some how coming up with money.

The Entrepreneur

A, potentially, respectable quarter-life crisis. If you aren’t finding fulfillment at work and have a Shark Tank worthy business idea, go for it. Well, as long as you can still pay the bills, cut checks to your lenders and maybe don’t have any dependents…

This version of the quarter-life crisis has the potential to drain all the money from your bank account because you get too close to your idea and can’t admit when it’s failing. It also could be the next Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, etc, etc, etc.

The Family Man/Woman

There are those who crave marriage and children early on in life. A quarter-life crisis isn’t always brought on by career goals, but instead can focus on a lack of romantic fulfillment by a certain age. It plagues both genders.

The Whiner

You all know one and if you don’t — you probably are one.

The whiner loves to complain about lack of money, an terrible job, never getting to do anything, having no hobbies, no passions, no direction and yet does absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

Just make a change — carefully

Making a change in your life, quitting your job, starting your own business or traveling are valuable life experiences. Just remember: money is important. If you’re going to make a risky decision; save up first, create a exit strategy and have a source of income. Don’t just blindly leap into the unknown because Julia Roberts made it look so appealing in that movie you saw once.

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57 responses to “The Financial Ramifications of the Quarter-Life Crisis

  1. Oh my gosh that proposal video – wow! Anyway, I would say I fall under “The Entrepreneur” and think about, almost on a daily basis, what it would be like running a small business instead of working in corporate. I loved your advice at the end of the post to do something carefully about your quarter-life crisis. Drastic changes usually will be regrettable so making small changes that move you towards whatever goal you have is the ideal approach.

    1. That GIF was just too great to skip using! Thanks, DC. I didn’t want to come off completely against changing course. I think it’s great to question and if need be, re-direct. It’s just important to remember supporting yourself is important!

  2. I think it all depends on who depends on you. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with just up and quitting and following your “passion” if the only person you’re really affecting is yourself. No, it might not end up being the best long-term decision, especially from a financial standpoint, but we have to learn about ourselves somehow right? But obviously if you have dependents then they have to factor heavily into your decisions and financial stability becomes much more important.

    In general, I can identify with feeling at least a little bit lost and I think it’s good to explore that feeling. But you’ll most easily find real happiness if you have some kind of real plan rather than just thinking that “change” is the magic you need. And no, your life will never be 100% perfect. But there are certainly ways to make it more enjoyable and it’s worth exploring them.

    1. Matt, I agree that finding real happiness involves a plan. Not that everything in life needs to be scripted, but that in order to achieve goals it’s best to create smaller ones to get yourself there. It certainly is okay – even good – to wander and feel lost, I just hope people consider all angles before throwing themselves into the unknown.

  3. I can identify a little bit with each of these. Wanting to wander, wanting stability, wanting a business and wanting to be done paying student loans. My 25th birthday is about 6 weeks away. so crazy how time flies.

    1. I certainly have felt all of these (except the family man/woman) at some point. Currently, I think I fall most under the entrepreneur umbrella. I’d love to be the wanderlust, but I think I’ll save that for after I save up some serious coin! I’ve had the great fortune to already do a lot of traveling in my life which helps curb the need to just get lost in the world for a year or two.

  4. I think a lot of millennials and young people today struggle with the idea “you should do better than your parents” – you should make more money, be more successful, and provide even more for the next generation.

    In spite of what the media would have you think, a lot of millennials want to be hard workers, but the path to being more successful than your parents is hazier than ever.

    Personally, I felt amazing when I started down the path of early financial independence. It was a path that I could go down with purpose and it was a path that I knew I could be successful at. A huge weight of doubt was lifted (and perhaps that is how I got over my quarter-life crisis).

    1. Thank you! I agree that many millennials are hard workers that want to be successful! Financial independence is part of my great quest. I do feel a great pride in being financial independent from my parents and that after I graduated college (which they helped pay for) I never have asked them for a dime.

  5. Have you been stalking me? Because each of those describes me in some way or another. I’m a few years behind though with my 28th birthday coming up this year…ugh. There’s still a part of me that has no idea what I want to do with my life. Every time I choose something, it somehow doesn’t work out.

    1. The only way to know is to try, right?! I’m starting my own struggle, but happy to be fully employed while I’m trying to figure things out. Once you’re fully back on the blogging map, I look forward to hearing how things are going for you!

    1. I know very few people who don’t have at least some wanderlust. That’s one of the ones I suppress the most. Entrepreneur is where I hope to be headed in the future.

  6. Wow…that proposal video…I hope he didn’t drop the ring! I know someone who has quit multiple jobs, traveled/volunteered in foreign countries to find themselves. The jobs are not similar at all and now into her 30s…she still “finding herself.” I understand the dissatisfaction and sometimes I think I’ve been playing it too safe. I have these golden handcuffs with my government job with great benefits and a pension if I stay. So while I understand making a change might sometimes be necessary and the right thing…do it carefully as you said. We always think that the grass is also greener on the other side.

    1. I get the whole “all those who wander are not lost” adage, but at some point you do need to figure out a type of direction otherwise it seems always searching for the sake of searching. I hope your friend finds what makes her happy. As for your golden handcuffs, I can relate to a degree. My salary isn’t terribly high, but I have great perks and I can see how it is easy for people to just settle in and get comfortable.

  7. This is a great post Erin. I know quite a few people who fit a lot of these categories. I think I’m just in this weird limbo waiting to make the next step. I am coming off of my quarter life crisis and trying to make the next steps.

    I have a friend who is one of the people who travels. She, hopefully, is going to find a job in Australia and make money that way. She seems happier there. It is interesting how each different person may take the “right” path, only to discover that they should be taking the wrong path (which is better for them) instead.

    1. Everyone’s right path does seem to be a little different. I do empathize with the feeling of limbo. I’ve been feeling that way myself. I hope your friend finds success in Australia, it’s a great country!

    2. The weird limbo time is difficult, so full of potential…and doubts and fears. I suggest tapping into your true desires and consider how you can take steps towards them, ofcourse without sacrificing your financial safety. Erin is absolutely right that money pressures do us no favours and often result in driving us back into something we don’t want. Good luck!

  8. Funny, I’m ALL THREE of the first types and even would be the last if I could. Money is important and it can control your life so I made sure that I was responsible in my life crisis changes – I paid off debt and saved up a bit first so I was prepared to be an entrepreneur/freelancer/traveler/crazy person. 🙂

    1. That’s really great! Being prepared to take a leap is so much better than just quitting because you get fed up one day.

  9. Quarter life crisis – so many years ago. Now I’m closing in on the Half Life Crisis. Yikes! Actually, I feel pretty good. Sure, I may love my hair colorist more than ever, but I do feel like I know who I am. 🙂 And “The Whiner: You all know one and if you don’t — you probably are one.” Truer words have never been spoken.

    1. I hear that mid-life one can be a doozy! We tease my dad that his mid-life crisis was buying one of those giant love-sac bean bag chairs. It’s the most comfortable piece of furniture in my parents’ home, but that thing is UGLY!

  10. I definitely had a quarter-life crisis, but I managed it through planning. I’d worked at the same job for 9 years and was going stir-crazy. I took a leap of faith and started a new position for a lesser wage in an industry I knew very little about. It worked out — I’m much happier and earning more than I ever did at the other place. PS: That proposal video made my afternoon!

    1. I sat on my couch laughing for a solid three minutes when I found that proposal GIF. Glad your leap of (carefully planned) faith worked out well!

  11. Great post Erin! There is a reason why I do things on the side. I test the waters before I jump right in. I would be classified as the entrepreneur. I was in over $50,000 worth of debt before I decided to shut down my business. I was too close to see that it was affecting everything around me.

    1. Thanks, Grayson. Testing the waters is so important and can probably help most people save up to make that leap into something else.

      I know you ended up in debt with your first venture, but you learned so much (as evidenced in your blog) and handled paying it off responsibly. At least it happened early enough not to set you back for too long. Sort of a classic case for why it’s best to try things young.

  12. Ha. I totally just had my QLC – took leave, travelled the world and now am back to normal life and relishing it.

    I used to want to be famous, really badly, to have people know my name (even though I hate the limelight). I’ve passed that stage and made my peace with mediocrity. A very small number of people might know my name from my byline and that’s all the recognition I really need.

    1. I LOVE acting (even majored in theater) but for some reason I never really wanted to be famous in that sense. I’ve always wanted more of a Warren Buffet type of fame. Probably still holding out some hope for that one…

  13. I think my quarter life crisis is officially over. Sure, I’m still struggling financially and in understanding my place and trajectory in this world, but in the past few months I’ve become very at peace with all of it. I travel a ton, I play hard, I work hard just to get by, but all in all, I live a pretty rockstar life, so I might as well enjoy it rather than worry about it all the time. I think I found a good balance.

    1. It does sound like you’ve found a really great balance. As long as it gives you the fulfillment you need, then I’d say the crisis has passed! The quarter-life crisis seems largely about finding the elusive sense of peace.

  14. Great post. This is very smart. I think it sometimes takes much too long for 20-somethings to understand the true ramification of decisions they make in their 20’s. I think it’s especially difficult if they weren’t given any guidance.

    I speak from experience and I sympathize with your MBA dilemma. I’m thirty and am just finally realizing I need to focus my efforts if I don’t want to financially struggle. I had my kids young (I have 3 and the oldest is 7) and I didn’t attend university – and that was fine for the time being, (my partner is a Financial Advisor.) But now I’m going to U in Sept. and I’m being very careful and waiting til I’m 100% sure that I want to invest that money. I mean, it’s A LOT of money.

    And when I look at job prospects and things I’d like to do, I feel like there is no perfect degree that will actually teach me what I need to know. It seems like experience is so much more important.

    I digress…

    1. All those thoughts bouncing around is how my head feels most days when I try to focus on the future. I really can empathize. There really is no perfect degree unless you know you want a really specific job (like neurosurgeon). It seems that getting a degree is often more about the network and the simple fact that you have one, which is why a lot of people balk at the cost. I hope you find affordable options that can give you what you want!

  15. Maybe I just haven’t interacted with enough Millenials in the work place but I really haven’t noticed it. Of course, I’m also of the opinion that the quarter life crisis is complete and utter bull-(expletive). That might be a part of it too. I’ve joked around about it with friends but none of us took the whole idea seriously. I certainly don’t expect to live to age 100 😛

    1. You can say bull-shit! I started an interesting twitter convo about the quarter-life crisis recently. Folks do have strong opinions one way or the other. I think using it as a cop-out is a problem, but I understand that feeling of realizing that suddenly life isn’t turning out like you’d hoped and trying to figure out how to right the ship (to use a terrible cliche).

  16. I kind of WISH I had made more of these bad decision early on! loll I kid..sort of. I think you’re right in that you just need time to prep to do something ballsy. And certainly not have debt or have someone else fund this magical adventure!

    1. There are times I’m worried that I’ll look back and think, “you lived a very practical life.” It’s part of my own little “quarter-life crisis.” However, I wouldn’t say I’m risk-adverse and I do try to just up and do things when opportunity presents itself.

  17. LOVE this, Erin!! I think we all, at some time or another, have the desire to just up and go find a more “exciting” life, but that’s not always the best or the right thing to do. Like you suggested, make changes carefully, so that you don’t wake up a year later going “Oh, crap, what have I done??”. I know several people who just “took the plunge” into their “dream” and ruined their own lives and a whole host of loved ones in the process. Sad stuff.

    1. It would make me incredibly nervous to have dependents and take a massive plunge like that. If you’re young with little to no debt and no kids/spouse then I can give you some wiggle room on the carpe diem attitude, otherwise, get your house in order before doing something drastic!

  18. Nice post! I must confess to being a cross between Wanderlust (the first type) and Whiner. (But I still have a little over a year to commit to one of these – I am 23 going on 24) I like the advice about “careful” changes. Just up and quitting my job with no realistic plan would be a mistake. This post is another reminder for me to build up a second source of income. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Brenden. I love when people own being part whiner. I think your lying to yourself if you think you don’t at least have a little whiner in you!

    1. I assume you mean just putting in 10 years of time at my current job. It isn’t a practical option because I’d be pretty much locked into doing PR (or something similar) for the remainder of my career, unless I went back to school at 34 to change career paths. Obviously, that’s an option, but I’d rather not be switching career paths around the time I’d be wanting to settle down a bit.

      1. Definitely don’t continue to do PR if you don’t see yourself in it for the long run. Make the move now yeah?

        I was thinking since you got 2-3 years under your belt, what about just working until the 10 year mark. I noticed A LOT more options open up after getting 10 years under my belt and hitting 30. Things just seem to get easier. Like the universe comes together to help you along.

        Whatever you do end up doing, I think you’ll have a good time in the process bc you’ll do what makes you happy.

        1. I do understand what you’re saying, but I’m more of the mind that I should evaluate other options now. If my career paid WAY better I’d probably consider staying for several more years. PR is more of a job I fell into about 1.5 years ago after I’d finished my stint at Letterman and needed employment to continue living in NYC. It was never a career path I had planned on taking.

  19. This is a great article and I love your closing advice: If you’re going to make a risky decision; save up first, create a exit strategy and have a source of income.

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