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.

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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?


  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 pic2 Paula Coogan, The Quarter Life Coach

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

Opportunity knocks: graduates creating their own jobs through social enterprise

Social enterprise is a sector that offers a wide range of versatile opportunities for graduates, particularly those who are dynamic and innovative with a social conscience and a head for business. The sector offers graduates unparalleled job satisfaction as they both make money and help their communities.

The social enterprise sector is rapidly expanding in Ireland; a Forfás report published last week has shown that the social enterprise sector has the capacity to create 25,000 extra jobs by 2020.

‘… the social enterprise sector, which currently employs between 25,000 and 33,000 people in approximately 1,400 social enterprises with a total income of approximately €1.4 billion, has the potential to double by 2020.’

What is a social enterprise?

The report defines a social enterprise as ‘an enterprise that trades for a social/societal purpose, where at least part of its income is earned from its trading activity, is separate from government, and where the surplus is primarily reinvested in the social objective’. The report also names the four main types of social enterprise in Ireland, see diagram below.


The success of social enterprises shows how all aspects of the community and society can contribute to Ireland’s economic revival, a fact that the government is also acknowledging by investing in the sector:

‘Social enterprise is a small but growing part of the enterprise base and ecosystem that has potential to bring further job gains and deliver economic potential. There is both a demonstrated need, and a market for, social enterprise in Ireland. With the appropriate enabling and promotional effort, there appears to be scope for increasing jobs in the sector.’

Due to the demand for social enterprises, it is unsurprising that there are many graduate opportunities within the sector. There are specific social enterprise postgraduate degrees, where students learn about both the commercial and social aspects of the sector. Graduates can go on to set up their own social enterprises, giving them a chance to work towards social issues they are concerned with while also making money. They put their university-learned skills into practice in order to help their communities, the economy or the environment, therefore job satisfaction is a huge perk to working in social enterprises, particularly if the graduates set up the businesses themselves. They provide jobs for the marginalised in society, and have the strong potential to become self-sustainable business models, according to the report:

‘The social enterprise sector in Ireland has the potential to develop enterprises that can be self-sustainable. Such sustainable, self-reliant business models are important to the survival and development of social enterprises and it is in the shifting of the sector towards the commercially oriented model that job creation potential is foreseen.’

Case study

Dunhill Rural Enterprises Ltd (DREL) was formed in 1999 in Dunhill, Co Waterford and is part of the ACTION project. It is a not for profit organisation, dedicated to developing entrepreneurial culture and sustainable rural regeneration. DREL is a member of a community network called Dunhill, Fenor, Boatstrang and Annestown (DFBA) Community Enterprises Ltd., whose mission statement is ‘to develop our community socially, economically and culturally by harnessing the talents of our people and the resources available’. The belief of this organisation is that jobs can be created and sustained at a micro-economic level. DREL assists entrepreneurs in establishing new businesses with a self-reliant business model. The profits made from the ACTION project are regenerated into improving the social enterprise and benefiting the community, rather than being given to the shareholders.

Getting involved in social enterprise is hugely beneficial to graduates, whether they see themselves working in the sector long-term or not. Social enterprises allow graduates to build up key skills such as leadership skills and entrepreneurship. Graduates who have worked in the sector automatically become more attractive candidates to employers, as they typically show resilience, innovation and initiative. Graduates can experience a sense of independence by creating their own jobs, rather than waiting for a job to come to them; therefore no matter how small the venture, involvement with social enterprise is always a worthwhile option for graduates.

A year working abroad can improve your employability back home

Recently we’ve blogged about the pros and cons – from a recruiter’s perspective – for taking time out. Here Jos Weale, gradireland summer intern, gives a graduate’s viewpoint. Jos has recently returned from a year in Berlin spent working as an English language trainer.

A year working abroad after university could be an option for you if you’re not sure where to turn career-wise, and not just because it can give you a bit (or a lot!) of distance to focus. Time working overseas can boost your CV and prepare you for the ‘real world’ back home much more than you might think.

By working abroad you are constantly developing the usual key skills and gaining experience that prospective employers back home are looking for, including team work, interpersonal skills, time management and communication skills.

What’s the twist? You’re learning and developing these skills in a foreign language, environment and culture. That looks pretty impressive from an employer’s perspective.

What’s more, as you live, breathe and eat in a culture which is different to your own, you are developing more than just buzzwords for your CV. As a rule, intense character building comes with the territory of working abroad: dealing with language barriers every day, getting used to foreign bureaucracy, joining the local football team or meeting up with tandem partners… it all requires patience, perseverance and some guts!

The experience of working abroad is unique to each person – perfect for making a CV and interviewee stand out in the crowd. If you’re proactive during your time away, you can weave the skills you’ve learnt together with an alternative perspective and improved confidence; all of which could give you the edge when you’re going for that first graduate job on your return.

Taking time out – is it career suicide?

road leading to mountains

Time out could lead somewhere in the long term.

I met a recruitment director from a high street bank recently and he had spent the first two years after university doing voluntary community work. He wasn’t all that old either, so clearly the fact that he had not gone straight into ‘serious’ employment after graduation didn’t arrest his upward career trajectory. In his view, it actually helped because by the time he was ready to commit to working in the commercial world, he was more focused on what he wanted and more eager to get there quickly.

I mention this because, at this time of the year, there will be many recent graduates contemplating a bit of ‘time out’ either as a response to not getting a job or because they are knackered after several years of unbroken study. Now it’s entirely up to you what you do with your life but I just wanted to say that, whatever your motive, if you did want to do something different for a year or two, something that may be related or unrelated to the career that you want to pursue, then it won’t necessarily hold you back.

The key issue, according to my high-flying recruitment director from a high street bank (and he should know), is that whatever you do, wherever you go, it all should have some sort of  ‘explainability’ built in. This means that when you find it’s the right time to apply for the job that you want to do, you can clearly explain the huge benefits to you as a person and a potential employee arising from the experience. In all his many recruitment interviews, he says that he never holds a period of time out against the applicant – as long as it was genuinely useful and can be explained as such.

Volunteering overseas on a shoestring

South American schoolchildrenAs the academic year approaches its half-way point, final year students will be thinking about life after college; for many this will involve some overseas travel. Voluntary work overseas has long been popular with gap year students and graduates keen to immerse themselves in and support other cultures. Not surprisingly it is big business for travel companies.

Gap year organisations offer virtually every kind of voluntary experience you can imagine – from teaching, conservation or adventure trips, to work experience, community and care projects. Many people find it reassuring to book placements and programmes through large companies that can offer 24-hour support to the young traveller, but many others are put off by the big price tags that often accompany such projects.

If you are keen to do some voluntary work as part of a gap-year trip but balk at the costs, then don’t despair – for confident and sensible would-be-volunteers then there are plenty of opportunities that won’t break the bank. If you shop around (don’t just sign up with the first organisation you come across on the internet) you can find huge variations in price for all manner of volunteer activities. Websites such as Volunteer South America list free or low-cost volunteer opportunities for independent travellers in Central and South America that bypass agency fees completely (True Travellers Society and offer the same for those looking to volunteer in other regions, including Asia or Africa).

And if you are happy to organise things as you go along, then this is by far the cheapest way to do it; by waiting until you are already in the country you’d like to volunteer in before officially signing up to a project, then you immediately cut out a great deal of the cost. Some institutions, such as NUI Galway, offer advice on selecting voluntary placements, both at home and overseas, via their own dedicated websites, which can be a great way to start your research.