1. You’ve been daydreaming about doing something crazy.
You don’t know what you want, and you’re either stuck in a job you hate or still figuring out what you want to do with your life. Should you move to Europe? Join the Peace Corps? The military? Go to grad school? Sell your belongings and take up residence in an ashram? Suddenly, all of these are sounding better than treading water where you are.
2. …but you feel paralyzed by indecision.
Though you might have freedom to go or do anything, you’d almost prefer the problems of a midlife crisis — i.e., too much predictability or instability — to the weird flux of your twenties. You’re scared that if you pick something, it won’t bring you that fulfillment you’re looking for — and then you’ll be right back where you started.
3. You feel increasingly nostalgic for your high school and college days.
Remember when life was simple? You feel stuck between your childhood and your adulthood, and you long for a time when your hardest decision was what to wear to prom. (At least, that’s the way your brain is filtering your teen years now, thanks to those ever-rosy nostalgia glasses.)
4. The idea of making a budget terrifies you.
Not thinking about how much you’re spending on Chipotle and gin and tonics might not be smart, but avoiding your money issues definitely eases the existential pain a bit. (At least until your Visa bill arrives in your inbox.)
5. You’re starting to think of your dating life differently.
Maybe you’re not quite ready to take ALL hookups off the table, but if you’re single, you might be feeling increasingly unfulfilled by dates or encounters that lead to nothing. If you’re in a relationship, you might be questioning if you really want to be with this person long-term — and maybe even debating whether it’s too late to find someone else.
6. You have a sudden, intense fear of failure.
You’re already a little far from college, where one can take new classes, switch majors, and try new things with relative impunity. Now you’re panicked that failing at one thing means you’ll continue failing and fuck up your life in some irretrievable way.
7. You’re bored with your friends.
Going out clubbing seems less and less appealing, and you feel increasingly alienated from your college buddies and the activities you used to do back in school. You no longer feel shame about spending a night in by yourself; in fact, you might even start to prefer it.
10. You feel like your twenties aren’t turning out how you expected they would.
This might be the biggest sign of all that you’re starting to contemplate your quarter-life milestone: You can’t stop thinking about how this isn’t exactly where you pictured you’d be at 23, 25, or 30. Maybe you don’t have a significant other. Maybe you’re not exactly in your dream job. Sure, you were never a “white-picket fence” person, but you thought you’d at least have SOME of your shit together by now. Instead, you have papajohns.com bookmarked on your browser and a halfhearted OkCupid habit.
Sooo… now what? If you feel like you’re in the throes of your own quarter-life crisis, here are a few practical tips drawn from Alexandra Robbins’ book, Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived:
Remember that life isn’t a race.
Few of the decisions you make at 26 will make or break your entire life. Try not to feel pigeonholed into keeping a career you hate or a relationship that’s gone stale because you’re “already on this path” and you feel like breaking up or quitting will “set you behind” on the track. Life’s too short to toil away at something that isn’t making you happy in the long term; decide what’s worth giving up.
Muster up the courage to redefine yourself.
Adulthood means finding your identity. In high school and college, your identity is mostly drawn up for you like a paint by number: your grades, your major, your career plans, your extracurricular activities. But post-college, your identity is an empty moleskine, and your job is to ascertain who you are and to fucking fill that book up. You might end up with scribbled-out pages and plots that go woefully unresolved, but as Robbins says: “At some point in your life, you are going to have to confront yourself. You might as well do it now.”
Loosen your expectations, and find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
Even your friends who slipped right from college into seemed wedded bliss and cushy jobs are feeling the same pangs of uneasiness that you might be feeling. Surround yourself with people who make you feel safe and to whom you feel you can open up in a truly cathartic way. Personally, finding people I can share my struggles with has helped me immensely in my twenties; there’s absolutely nothing more valuable than a friend to whom you can say, “Hey, my life is shitty right now,” and hear back, “Me too. Let’s talk about it.”
It’s also the right time to finally let go of your expectations of what adulthood should be. It doesn’t matter if your parents married at 22 or if your friend is running a successful start-up; putting too much stress on preconceived ideas of what adulthood will be is a surefire way to tank all of your optimism and hopes. Life is too fucking short to daydream it away wishing you had someone else’s.