Being a millennial isn’t always easy. It’s the time when questions like “What do you want to do with your life?” meet head-on with what you’re actually doing with your life. Adolescence is behind us, and the rest of our adult lives are ahead of us.
Obviously, it’s easy to feel the pressure.
A “quarter-life crisis” happens when confusion, disillusionment and the search for meaning all come to the forefront at the same time.
For those of us having at least some difficulty with this season of life, how should it be processed and overcome? There is no simple answer, but here are a few categories for understanding and dealing with a quarter-life crisis:
Examine Your Expectations
Much of our discontentment comes from unrealistic expectations for what life should look like. This is an understandable mistake, because we all yearn for more than deadlines, timesheets and TPS reports.
The thought of living seemingly “mediocre,” unfulfilled lives is a terrifying idea. And this fear is largely dormant in the high school and college years, due to an understanding that we’re still in the process of chasing our dreams, and this isn’t “it.”
But eventually, preparation gives way to achievement, and suddenly we have crossed the threshold of all previous expectations. Most people think that happiness will come after they’ve “made it,” but are disillusioned to find out that graduation and a good job don’t automatically bring fulfillment.
Setting realistic expectations for our personal and professional lives—and understanding the difference between contentment and complacency—can help us be joyful in the present while seeking God’s will for the future.
Seek God’s Purpose
Dissatisfaction with meeting life goals inevitably leads to bigger questions about personal purpose: If academic and vocational ambitions were a let down before, will they always be?
The world is a really big place. Can one person really have a meaningful role in it and make a difference? Are childhood aspirations about changing the world 100 percent naive, or is there some goodness there?
Self-doubt is not uncommon, especially in these formative and uncertain years in our twenties and early 30s. Yet God’s people have prayed prayers that show we aren’t the first ones to have these fears:
“The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:8).
David reminded himself of God’s purpose for his life. He is speaking truth to himself. Why would he have to say “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me” if he didn’t, at some level, doubt it was true?
As foggy as things might be, God has purposes for you. And He will fulfill them. We can have peace knowing that.
Be Honest with God
We all know we’re supposed to read our Bibles and pray and go to church, but frankly, those things don’t always make us feel better. Many people have simply given up on God altogether when their faith gets rattled, and taking these steps don’t offer the results they were hoping for.
Some of this is due to a growing distaste with what author Scott Sauls calls “Bible Band-Aids.” In his recent book, Jesus Outsides The Lines, Sauls describes a superficial reaction to difficulty. “Some … affirm rightly ‘God is good all the time’… but they fail to acknowledge the feelings of being betrayed by God, which are expressed in the Bible, as well.”
So many of us have been taught reductionistic views of Christianity, which do not have any room for things like doubt, confusion, anger or questioning. Thankfully, God and His Word are more honest than many Christians are, and we can bring our very real frustrations to God Himself.
“With my voice I cry out to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before Him” (Psalm 142:1-2).
Part of having a solid walk with God is being able to be honest with Him—and ourselves—so our faith can remain strong even in seasons of difficulty.
Stay Rooted in Community
Losing the proximity of close friendships and community is an incredibly difficult part of life, and it seems to be a common absence felt by people experiencing a quarter-life crisis. Uprooting deep relational roots takes a toll.
The time and effort required to build new friendships often isn’t considered when applying for jobs and pursuing next steps. An honest person will admit to being caught off guard by the loneliness that comes with a transition.
Since humans were designed by God to live in authentic community with one another, it is no surprise that transitional seasons of life can be draining and, at times, unfulfilling.
Making community a priority—along with pursuing passions involving our callings and careers—is key to getting the support we need when crisis mode kicks in.
Look at the Bigger Picture
All that is happening in this stage of life can be overwhelming. Again though, we can look at the prayer of David and see we’re not alone.
“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, you knew my path” (Psalm 142:3, NASB).
Remember that to be overwhelmed is not a manageable thing. It means to be affected very strongly on multiple fronts, to have too many things to deal with. By its very nature, to be overwhelmed is to be influenced beyond normal operating capacity.
So what is our hope in this season? It is that God knows our path even when we cannot. It is that God is somehow bigger than our tired souls. When we can’t see things clearly, He can. Even when we are overwhelmed, He is not.
Peace during a quarter-life crisis can’t rely on our own ability to navigate our futures, but in a reliance on God that He will be the strength in our weakness.
Ben works for Acts 29 West and lives in Huntington Beach, CA. He spends his free time writing, staying active, and following the Chicago Bulls. You can follow him @bwcliff, or check out his blog here.