The ‘quarter life crisis’ is not a new phenomenon. Young people are all too frequently suffering from the kind of existential panic that was once the sole domain of the middle-aged. And instead of sports cars and extra-marital affairs our own brand of crisis is characterised by eating disorders and apathy.
Earlier this month the Prince’s Trust published research that revealed that young people feel more stressed and hopeless about their futures than ever before. With 47% admitting to having suffered from a mental health problem.
And I get it. The world is a scary place right now, especially if you’re young. You’re likely broke, directionless, wishing you’d invested in Bitcoin five years ago. Perhaps you’re four years deep into a soul crushing job that you took after university in order to save some money, and now you find yourself genuinely using the word ‘synergize’ without any sense of irony.
But it might be time to take inspiration from that clichéd world of business buzzwords and apply some ‘disruptive innovation’ to your own life. As a stereotypical lost millennial I know first-hand what it’s like to feel trapped in a cycle of negativity and despair. So here’s my five step plan to breaking free.
Step 1 – Panic!
A few days before my 25th birthday I experienced what can only be described as a full on meltdown. I realized I was no longer in my early twenties and I had no good excuse for my continued incompetence.
In a recent job interview I had been asked the question, “what is your proudest achievement?” and had failed to think of a single thing I was proud of. Getting an okay degree from a mediocre university? Training for but then not bothering to run a half-marathon? Being part of a team that won a pub quiz that one time?
I was almost 25 and I hadn’t done anything.
While this kind of realization is by no means a pleasant one, it is useful because it freaks you out enough that you will finally be motivated enough to change things at all costs. Of course with any luck you can skip this step entirely because you’re better than me and you don’t need to have a crisis to start enacting change in your life. But if necessary try asking yourself what it is you’re most proud of and embrace the following terror.
Step 2 – Stop Drinking
I know, these are two words that make you want to throw whatever device you’re reading this on at the wall and defiantly crack open another beer. But like it or not, quitting drinking (or even just cutting down) can be a real game changer in terms of disrupting negative patterns in your life.
Alcohol is a sneaky bastard because it’s great in the moment but really bad for future you. It sends you to sleep, but it makes the quality of that sleep worse. It alleviates all your worries about money but also takes a hefty chunk of your salary each month. It makes you feel happy but it’s also a depressant.
If you sometimes feel depressed you might want to ask yourself if you feel this way more often after drinking, and then ask yourself if this feeling has become routine. I know it sounds like basic stuff but sometimes we simply never stop to think about the alternative.
For the record the alternative means more money in the bank, a trimmer figure, a more structured (if a little less crazy) social life, and feeling genuinely okay about waking up every morning.
Step 3 – Travel without a Plan
Travelling is good for us in just about every way, but ditching the itinerary is what can potentially change the experience of a holiday into a transformative experience. Abandoning plans and going with the flow means you’re more likely to listen to your instincts. With more flexibility you are free to move slowly, get to know people, become distracted by anything that interests you along the way, and learn more about the cultures you encounter.
Sure you may meet the occasional setback because of your lack of planning, like jumping on the wrong train or having to bribe your way across a border, but all this just means you’ll come home with some good stories (assuming you don’t screw up so badly that you never make it home).
Step 4 – Scare Yourself
Last winter I fell into a canal while cycling home late at night (because I hadn’t yet gotten to grips with step 2 and having dragged myself out I quickly realized how much trouble I was in. I was a long way from home, my phone was dead, I was shivering from the cold and struggling to stay conscious. Of course eventually I did get home and I have never so much appreciated being warm, sober and alive.
Admittedly this kind of ridiculous but life-affirming experience is difficult to cultivate. So I would simply suggest doing something that scares the shit out of you. Whether it’s skydiving or stand-up comedy, having done it you’ll probably notice a new appreciation for life.
It might be a cliché but getting outside of your comfort zone and doing something that genuinely scares you can be a pretty effective way of establishing lasting change. That said, I’m not jumping into another canal anytime soon.
Step 5 – Just Say Yes
This comes with the caveat that obviously you shouldn’t say yes to everything all the time. I recently made the mistake of saying yes to smoking some ‘special tobacco’ in Vietnam. I never did find out exactly what it was but it made me feel momentarily euphoric, then I fell asleep for 14 hours and woke up with my limbs aching as if I’d just run a marathon.
Anyway what I want to say is you should be open to experiences what ordinarily you might be tempted to reject. When you say ‘yes’ life becomes instantly more exciting. You meet new people, learn new things about yourself, and do things you never thought you’d do. In the last few months saying ‘yes’ has led me to eat dog, learn to juggle with fire, and appear in a Korean music video. I might not be keen to do any of those things again but I’m glad I did them once.