Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis
Written by: Raina Mendonça
Published on: July 28, 2022
There’s a point in early adulthood where most of us are thrown into a quarter-life crisis: a tug-of-war between attaining security—job, relationship, savings, housing—and finding what gives us meaning, purpose, and identity.
For those struggling at either end of the rope, psychotherapist Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC, believes the key is finding a comfortable middle ground where you satisfy most of those needs. Her book, Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood, is a guide to striking that balance.
A Q&A with Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC
In broad terms, the goal of adulthood is to achieve both stability and meaning—a sense of safety, structure, and security, but also a sense of purpose, connection, intimacy, and value.
In my book, I explore how quarter-lifers tend to start off adulthood adhered to one set of values or the other. I call them, simply, stability types and meaning types.
In quarter-life, stability types initially seek structure and safety as their primary goal. These folks tend to orient toward more of the classic notions of what adulthood is about—gaining security and climbing the ladder. It’s: “If I can just get this amount of money or get this promotion or find this partner or check these boxes.” At some point, they will need to go in search of something greater—ultimately, stability itself is not satisfying.
On the other end of the spectrum are meaning types. They’re more likely to take issue with the standard values of society geared toward acquisition and initially seek a sense of meaning and value. They’re likely going to struggle with the goals of security and stability at the start of adulthood. They will need to find a way to combine security with their sense of purpose.
In Jungian psychology, there’s a notion of shadow work: It’s about understanding that on the path to our most holistic experience of life, we need to acknowledge that those whom we judge most harshly may be getting something right. They’re doing something we also need to do if we’re going to achieve balance. If I identify as a meaning type, for instance, it’s worth exploring what the stability types in my life know and vice versa.
The goal is to integrate both sides. How do we listen to our need to pursue meaning? How do we balance that with our need for physical, emotional, and financial security?
It starts with self-awareness, healing, and active self-development. Psychological development is hard work. Psychology isn’t just about mental illness, though that can be part of the story. It’s also about our magnum opus: becoming who we are.
I identify four pillars of growth in quarter-life: separate, listen, build, and integrate. They’re not stages, because they’re not linear. They are areas of personal growth and self-development that we can work on all at once.
Separate is the pillar of distinguishing yourself from your childhood or parents or the community in which you were raised. The work is to develop your own independent life, whether through conversation with your parents or a deep assessment of the values that you were raised with.
Listen is the internal work necessary to witness: What do I need to heal from? What do I like? What do I not like? What do I need to transform internally? This is yin work—to be receptive.
Build is the pillar of working with willpower, discipline, and focus to create the life you want. There are a million ways this can show up—maybe it’s learning a new skill, dating, finding intimacy, or working on communication. It’s yang energy. What it isn’t: hoping someday it will all just happen, or putting what you want in the back of your mind.
Integrate is honoring what comes to fruition. There are extraordinary moments of transformation in quarter-life—a new job, an intimate relationship. It’s important to celebrate when the work starts to pay off.
Keep going. Honor that it is a long journey and that it takes a lot of patience, dedication, faith, and healing.
Quarter-life self-development has always been about self and society. There are countless structural and systemic issues in our world that get in the way of quarter-lifers’ pursuit of themselves. I don’t want that to go unacknowledged, because this isn’t just about finding your bliss in the most simplistic way. It involves overcoming tremendous obstacles. As we create our truest lives, we can cocreate a more just and empathetic society too.
Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon. She teaches and writes on topics related to coming of age and Jungian psychology. Byock is the author of Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood.
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