Are you having a Quarter Life Crisis?

Paula Coogan is The Quarter Life Coach, Ireland’s leading expert on The Quarter Life Crisis. Over the past 5 years, she has worked with hundreds of individuals in their 20’s and 30’s who were stuck in a rut, and she has helped them transform their lives.


I remember laughing when I first heard the phrase “Quarter Life Crisis” but to be honest, it just made so much sense and fit me so well!

People always talk about the difficulty and angst of your teenage years but no one ever tells you what a pain your 20’s are. It was tough being a teenager, but in my experience it was even harder trying to navigate life as a twenty something with so much expectations and responsibility on my shoulders!

The Quarter Life Crisis is essentially a period of anxiety, uncertainty and inner turmoil that often accompanies the transition from young adulthood to adulthood. What I love about the term crisis is that it doesn’t mean a huge catastrophe, it actually means ‘a turning point’ a time when an important decision needs to be made’. That’s exactly what it is!

The quarter-life crisis is unique for 20 and 30 something’s today – it’s taking us on average 6 years longer than previous generations to hit the traditional markers of adulthood such as financial independence, buying a home, getting a job and starting a family than previous generations and that gap is growing.

We had the notion that our 20’s were supposed to be a time of opportunity and adventure, before grown-up things such as mortgages, marriage and babies came along. But instead, reality involves struggling to cope with stress around jobs, unemployment, college exams and rollercoaster relationships…

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.

The questions “Who am I?” and “What do I really want to do with my life?’ are spinning around in people’s heads”. We expect that we should have all of these answers and when we don’t; we don’t know what to do!

The pressure to have it all figured out is overwhelming. There are so many decisions, so many choices and the fear of making the wrong choice is something that paralyses individuals into inaction.

So the clock is ticking but they’re not making any progress in life. Every day we’re faced with the decision on what path to take. Do we take the one everyone else takes, the one we think we should, or do we create our own path and do what we want to do?

This Quarter Life Crisis is not something that can be avoided, ignored or cured – it’s something that needs to be experienced. It’s uncomfortable and painful at times but its job is to wake us up. To figure out who we are and to find the answers to some big questions in our lives!

So, what are the big questions?

When it comes to our lives, most of the time we ask just 2 questions. They are

What do I want?


How Do I get it?

But the funny thing is that often, we’re not 100% sure what we want so we look around us to try and figure out what we should want. We’re told by others what we’d be good at, what constitutes a ‘proper job’. We are influenced by our friends, our families, our parents, media and our culture. We are conditioned to move towards things that we’re told we should want.

For example, if you were very academic in school, you’re pretty much guaranteed that you would be shepherded towards a ‘high points’ career choice such as medicine or law!

So many people make decisions based on what they think they should want or in other words, based on their conditioning.

So anyway then we ask the second question, How do I get it? We’re told the path- it’s generally work really hard, put your head down and keep going. So we duly oblige, we work really hard and pursue that path only to get there and realise that it doesn’t really fit us!

If we’re lucky and have the resources, we may be able to go back a step and ask the first question again’ Ok, what do I want now? And what happens, we spin ourselves right back into the same loop again.

I was spinning for a good while before I realised that I needed to ask 4 questions, not two. These 4 questions honestly changed my life and have changed the lives of so many people that I’ve worked with.

The four questions you need to ask, in this order are:

  1. Who Am I?
  2. What Do I want?
  3. Why do I want this?
  4. How Do I get it?

Who Am I?

How could we forget this most basic question? The first time I asked this of myself I hadn’t a clue! I couldn’t answer it without just saying I’m Paula. But really, the question is all about getting to the core of you. What makes you tick? What do you enjoy? What’s most important to you in your life? In your career? What do you value? What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about other people? What do you believe about the world? What shapes you? What did you love to do as a kid? What makes you you? You are completely unique! You have a unique set of skills, life experience, passions, characteristics, traits, thoughts and emotions to anyone else in the world!

Do you think it might be worthwhile to figure yourself out first before you decide what you want to do with your life?

What do I want?

We’ve met this question before but I assure you that the answer for a lot of people is quite different if they’ve taken the time to really figure themselves out first. There is clarity, confidence and a huge boost to your self esteem when you ask this question aligned with the knowledge of who you are.

Why do I want it?

This is the safety net question. If the word ‘should’ is in your answer then I want the Star Trek Red Alert noise to play in your head! By asking this question, you are making sure that you ‘own’ your decision! To make sure that there’s no influence or interference from people who are not you! To make sure that it is in sync with who you are.

How do I get it?

If you approach your life asking the above questions, you’ll have greater clarity about who you are and what you want to offer the world, you’ll know exactly what you want and what you need to prioritise, you’ll know the motivation behind your desires and that will be the driving force to get you to take action and because of your confidence, focus and passion, you will figure out how to do it.

So, if you feel you’re experiencing a Quarter Life Crisis right now, then look at this time in your life as a crossroads. You’re in between who you were in the past and right up to this moment and who you’re going to be from today, tomorrow and onwards. It’s a time when a lot of questions will come up for you, questions about who you are, who you want to be, where you want to go, what you want to achieve or accomplish, where you want to live. It’s a time of confusion, anxiety and frustration which to be honest, no one really prepares us for, but it also seems to be a really normal experience for our generation! This is the New Normal guys and ultimately if you have the courage to lean into the discomfort, learn from it and make some new decisions, your life will never be the same!

 Paula Coogan, The Quarter Life Coach

For more information about The Quarter Life Coach check out Paula’s website.

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