For many young adults, the transition from student to “grown-up” can be particularly challenging and stressful. After a lifetime spent in school learning how to make the grade and make a name for themselves on campus, many young adults are left feeling lonely and lost upon entering the real world. Other young adults, though their initial transition from student to adult was smooth, may begin to feel pressure to reach certain life milestones, such as marriage or starting a family. Adding in a graduate school career can complicate the matter even further. Whatever the reason, it seems it is much more common now than in previous decades for young twenty- or thirty-somethings to experience feelings of confusion, anxiety, and/or dissatisfaction with their current life trajectory.
One question I typically ask young adults who express concern about not being where they should be is, “Where did you get your life plan?” What I mean by this is, did you develop your life plan when you were still in high school, are you using your parents’ plan as a guide for your own, or are you comparing your life to your friends’ lives? It is very easy to get caught up in the idea of “shoulds,” such as I should have a job that pays as much money as my friend’s job or I should be married by now. The problem with “shoulds” is that they are often self-imposed rules that can leave you feeling depressed or anxious. Instead of relying on shoulds, I suggest looking at what you do like about your life, reevaluating your priorities with respect to what is realistic for your current situation, and making a new plan for how to obtain short term goals that may lead you in the direction you are hoping to go in.
For many people, just knowing that other young adults are feeling overwhelmed by their mounting responsibilities, changes in expectation, or the pressure to succeed, is enough to help them get through this tumultuous time; but, for others, they may find meeting with a psychologist beneficial. There are several advantages of talking with a professional rather than a family member or a friend; a psychologist is an objective party who does not have a preconceived notion of what your life “should” look like. Therefore, she is more likely to help you explore your needs, desires, goals, and self without the same expectations that those close to you may have. Additionally, a psychologist might be able to help you identify patterns of thinking or behavior that may be negatively impacting your life, such as “all or nothing” thinking, perfectionism, or self-sabotaging behaviors. Finally, you may find the mere act of talking through your concerns as helpful, especially when certain fears and worries about the future are normalized and validated. If you find yourself in the midst of a “quarter-life crisis” feel free to contact any of us here at FamilyFirst to discuss what options are available to you and to determine if setting up a consultation is right for you.
Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
January 24, 2011