Navigating a quarter-life crisis
Published on: July 28, 2022
There is a point in early adulthood when most of us are thrown into a quarter-life crisis: a tug-of-war between achieving security – jobs, relationships, savings, housing – and finding what gives us meaning, purpose and identity .
For those struggling on either end of the rope, psychotherapist Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC, believes the key is to find a comfortable middle ground where you meet most of these needs. her book, Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthoodis a guide to finding that balance.
A Q&A with Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC
Broadly speaking, 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 adulthood adhering to one set of values or another. I simply call them stability types and significance types.
In quarter-life, stability types initially seek structure and security as their primary goals. These people tend to orient themselves towards more of the classic notions of what adulthood is all about – gaining security and climbing the ladder. It’s, “If I can just get this amount or get this promotion or find this partner or check these boxes.” At some point, they will have to go in search of something bigger – in the end, stability in itself is not satisfying.
At the other end of the spectrum are meaning types. They are more likely to take issue with society’s standard values aimed at acquisition and initially seek a sense of meaning and value. They are likely to struggle with the goals of security and stability in early adulthood. They will have to find a way to combine safety with their sense of purpose.
In Jungian psychology, there is a notion of shadow work: It’s about understanding that on the way to our most holistic experience of life, we have to recognize that those we judge the most harshly might be getting something right. They are doing something that we must also do if we are to achieve balance. If I identify as a significance type, for example, 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 is not just about mental illness, although that may be part of the story. It is also about our magnum opus: becoming who we are.
I identify four pillars of growth in every quarter of life: separate, listen, build, and integrate. They are not stages because they are not linear. They are areas of personal growth and self-development that we can work on at once.
Separate is the mainstay of separating yourself from your childhood or parents or the society 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 you were brought up with.
Listen is the inner work necessary to witness: What shall I heal from? What do I like? What don’t I like? What should I transform internally? This is yin work – being receptive.
Barley is the cornerstone of working with willpower, discipline and focus to create the life you want. There are a million ways this can manifest – maybe it’s learning a new skill, dating, finding intimacy or working on communication. It is yang energy. What it’s not: hoping it will all just happen one day, or putting what you want in the back of your mind.
Integrate honors that which comes to fruition. There are extraordinary moments of transformation in neighborhood life—a new job, an intimate relationship. It is important to celebrate when the work starts to pay off.
Continue. Honor that it is a long journey and that it requires a lot of patience, dedication, faith and healing.
The self-development of quarter life has always been about oneself and society. There are countless structural and systemic problems in our world that get in the way of the quarter-life’s pursuit of self. I don’t want it to go unrecognized because this is not just about finding your bliss in the most simplistic way. It involves overcoming enormous obstacles. When we create our truest lives, we can also create a more just and empathetic society.
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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