How To Manage Your Quarter-Life Crisis

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emIllustrated by Tyler Spangler.
I’m 28, and I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Help!

Bea Arthur, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
First off, don’t freak out — you are not alone! Even though the big trend right now seems to be baby-faced CEOs making millions before their 21st birthday, your 20s is the first true stage of adulthood, and most people find themselves swinging on a terrifying pendulum between taking risks and being responsible during this decade.

If you’re 28, I imagine you haven’t just been sitting around waiting for a sign. You’ve probably tried several different career paths. And, though it may seem like you've wasted time venturing on these various career paths, it’s actually extremely valuable to know with certainty what you don’t want to do with your life. Otherwise, you could fast forward this quarter-life crisis to a mid-life crisis and suddenly realize that you’ve hated your job for the last 20 years.

Before I started my company, I worked as a personal trainer; I held jobs in real estate, finance, art galleries, restaurants, and I'm guilty of replying to several questionable Craigslist job postings. Some of these positions I quit, and some I was fired from. At the time, I felt like a flake for not sticking things out or failing at seemingly simple positions, but no matter how bad it felt to lose a job, I remember that on some level, there was always a sense of relief — a sigh of peace when I thought, “Glad I never have to do that again.”

I’m especially grateful for the times I was fired because even if I was good at the work, my bosses could always tell if I didn’t care that much about it. It’s a mistake to invest time or energy in something that doesn’t add value to your life. I see a lot of my clients going through the motions and living life in a disconnected state, and that deficit adds up over time and can lead to depression, self-destructive tendencies, and a general dissatisfaction with life.

I don’t want this to happen to you, and I know it can be frustrating to want to make a change but not know where or how to start, so I have some advice:

Find out your strengths and weaknesses.
Go back through your resume and write down the pros and cons of every job you’ve ever had. When I did this exercise, I realized that I loved talking to people but hated follow-up paperwork, so sales was out even though everyone said I’d be great at it. You should notice a similar theme, and this will help guide your next steps.

Figure out how to manage your time, money, and expectations.
When you’re still figuring things out, a lot can feel out of your control so focus on the stuff you can control: Set a budget, exercise regularly, stop going out every night, and embrace structure. Personal development is just as important as professional development, and employers are attracted to stability and consistency. Also spend more time with friends you admire, as you might find yourself networking by accident.

Never stop learning.
I don’t recommend going into debt on an MBA just because you don’t know what else to do, but taking a class online or at a community college in an area you feel passionate about could light a long-dormant fire under your ass and also give you the confidence you need to pursue that passion professionally. Getting specialized certifications also shows employers that you care about becoming an expert in your field.

Get centered, make a plan, then act on it. You can’t lose.

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