What to do About That Quarter-Life Crisis: Careers

What to do About That Quarter-Life Crisis: Careers

by Brie Shelly, LMHC, CRC

In the first of our three-part article series, therapist Brie Shelley shares her best advice for 20-somethings navigating careers and other crises.

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What are some common "quarter-life" identity crises you see among 20-somethings?

I regularly see individuals facing situations where they had one expectation of their life and are realizing now that it’s turning out differently. Examples include:

  • Everyone looks happy, engaged, traveling, etc. on social media but not me.

  • I went into the finance world because my dad wanted me to and the money is great, but I really want to run a non-profit for at-risk youth.

  • I really want to go to this graduate school, but I didn’t get in and feel like a failure.

  • My girlfriend took an awesome career opportunity in SF, and I’m lonely and stuck in my entry level position in Boston.

  • My old boss never came through on his promises after five years, so I quit and haven’t been able to find a new job in over a year.

  • I’ve been with my husband for four years, married one, and already feeling like we’re growing apart.

What steps can college seniors and recent grads take to help choose an initial career path?

I always encourage students to take advantage of volunteer and internship level positions throughout college, after graduation, and even when considering a career transition. By being in the environment, you can learn so much about the industry, the day to day life of someone in the field, and have hands on experience to help guide your decision on whether this is a career that you want. Plus, your experiences will be great conversations starters during future interviews.

It can be daunting to realize that your first job and the initial career path you laid out for yourself isn’t what you expected it to be. What advice do you give to a 20-something who is considering leaving their first job and trying something totally different?

 Book a free initial consultation with Brie Shelly on her  profile .

Book a free initial consultation with Brie Shelly on her profile.

First, I always tell clients that they are not alone in feeling this way. Even though previous generations might stay at a job for their entire career, most individuals these days work at several companies or transition into completely different fields. While I still recommend that clients consider their finances before making a major transition, I encourage clients to consider an internship, time off, or a lower level position in a different field as an information gathering period that is an investment into their future. Regardless of whether you return to your original field or venture down a new path, your experience will enable you to grow both personally and professionally while also gaining countless transferable skills along the way.

When should you consider looking for a therapist to help you navigate a quarterlife crisis? How can therapy help?

While I believe it’s never too late to start therapy, I do encourage individuals to start considering therapy as soon as they notice a shift in their usual behaviors, such as a loss of interest in things they used to love, increased anxiety or rumination, changes in temperament, or changes in sleep patterns.

Often times, my clients have concerns at work that they do not feel comfortable sharing with their human resource department or feel like their support network is tired of listening to them. I believe that therapy can be a neutral, safe space where individuals can openly discuss these concerns without any repercussions as well as a place that empowers individuals through coping tools and strategies.

What’s the one thing you tell every 20-something experiencing a quarterlife crisis?

I encourage my clients to reframe the current “crisis” as an opportunity to learn strategies for both internal and external growth that will help propel them further along in their life. I regularly tell clients that by taking the time now to overcome this hurdle, they are becoming a stronger individual, and we can hope that they will glide through other crises later in life.


Brie Shelley

Brie Shelly is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor in downtown Boston. Brie specializes in eating disorders, body image, substance use, life transitions, career development, and life design coaching, and offers both traditional talk therapy and coaching services.