Navigating a quarter-life crisis
Published on: July 28, 2022
There is a point in early adulthood when most of us are thrust into a quarter-life crisis: a tug of war between security – job, relationship, savings, housing – and finding what gives 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’ll meet most of those needs. His book, Quarter of life: the search for the self in early adulthoodis a guide to achieving this balance.
Q&A with Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC
In general 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, purpose. privacy and value.
In my book, I explore how quarter-lifers tend to enter adulthood by adhering to one set of values or the other. I simply call them stability types and meaning types.
In quarter-life, stability types initially seek structure and security as their primary focus. These people tend to lean more towards classic notions of what adulthood is all about – gaining security and climbing the ladder. It’s, “If I can just get that amount of money or get that promotion or find that partner or check those boxes.” At some point, they’ll have to go in search of something bigger – ultimately, stability itself isn’t satisfying.
At the other end of the spectrum are types of meaning. They are more likely to challenge the standard acquisition-oriented values of society and initially seek meaning and value. They will likely struggle to achieve goals of security and stability in early adulthood. They will have to find a way to combine security with their sense of purpose.
In Jungian psychology, there is a notion of shadow work: it is about understanding that on the way to our most holistic life experience, we must recognize that those we judge most harshly can do something good thing. They do something that we must also do if we are to achieve balance. If I identify as a Meaning Type, for example, it’s worth exploring what the Stability Types know in my life and vice versa.
The goal is to integrate both sides. How do we listen to our need to seek meaning? How do we reconcile this with our need for physical, emotional and financial security?
It starts with self-awareness, healing and active personal development. Psychological development is hard work. Psychology isn’t just about mental illness, although that can be part of the story. It’s also about our magnum opus: becoming who we are.
I identify four pillars of quarter-life growth: separating, listening, building and integrating. They are not stages, because they are not linear. These are areas of personal growth and personal development that we can work on together.
Separate is the pillar that distinguishes you from your childhood or from your parents or from the community in which you were raised. The job is to develop your own independent life, whether through a conversation with your parents or a thorough assessment of the values you were raised with.
Listen is the inner work necessary to witness: What do I need to heal? What do I like? What don’t I like? What should I transform internally? It’s yin work – being receptive.
To build is the pillar of working with will, discipline and focus to create the life you want. There are a million ways it can manifest, perhaps learning a new skill, dating, finding intimacy, or working on communication. It is yang energy. What it is not: hoping that one day everything will happen, or putting whatever you want in the back of your mind.
To integrate honor what materializes. There are extraordinary moments of transformation in the quarter of life – a new job, an intimate relationship. It is important to celebrate when hard work begins to pay off.
Keep on going. Honor that it is a long journey and it takes a lot of patience, dedication, faith and healing.
The self-development of a quarter of life has always been a matter of self and society. There are countless structural and systemic issues in our world that impede quarter-life pursuits of themselves. I don’t want this to go unnoticed, because it’s not just about finding your happiness in the most simplistic way. It’s about overcoming huge obstacles. By creating our real lives, we can also co-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 subjects related to coming of age and Jungian psychology. Byock is the author of Quarter of life: the search for the self in early adulthood.
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