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Scientists Describe Five Phases of Quarter-Life Crisis, Recommend the Experience

By Veronique Greenwood
May 5, 2011 8:40 PMApr 18, 2023 3:35 PM


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Are you in a rut? Is it time to take life into your own hands? Are you ready take a time out to find yourself, and start over?

Are you 25?

It may be your quarter-life crisis knocking, say psychologists studying the phenomenon of 25–35-year-olds having a come-to-Jesus about where they’re going in life after having barely left the starting gates. Given the ambitious list of life to-dos many not-yet-disillusioned people give themselves (build killer start-up, and nab the corner office, and travel the world, and have kids, and be faithful to childhood dreams), it’s probably not too surprising that the phenomenon seems to be widespread among a certain class of people. Let’s come right out and say that like affluenza, this is not likely to be a problem outside the wealthier parts of the world.

In a study presented at the British Psychological Society meeting this week, researchers distilled the five key phases of the quarter-life crisis (via New Scientist) from a survey of 50 volunteers who’d had them:

Phase 1 – A feeling of being trapped by your life choices. Feeling as though you are living your life on autopilot. Phase 2 – A rising sense of “I’ve got to get out” and the feeling that you can change your life. Phase 3 – Quitting the job or relationship or whatever else is making you feel trapped and embarking on a “time out” period where you try out new experiences to find out who you want to be. Phase 4 – Rebuilding your life. Phase 5 – Developing new commitments more attuned to your interests and aspirations.

Having a quarter-life crisis may be a good thing: 80% of the respondents said that the experience turned out to be positive. And having your crisis early might keep you from having one when you turn fifty, after the rift between what you always wanted to do (be a chef! Write a novel!) and what you wound up doing (tax law! Wealth management!) has grown far vaster, researchers suggest. More studies are certainly in order, even if we have to wait 25 years for a progress report.

Are you at risk for a quarter-life crisis? The researchers say that idealists who also want to achieve conventional success—marriage, children, corner office—seem to be the population most affected. So examine thyself. Is a crisis in order?

(via New Scientist)

Image credit: olishaw/Flickr

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