AUDIO: Interview with Dr Oliver Robinson: Is the quarter-life crisis worse for women?

We met up with Dr Oliver Robinson from the University of Greenwich in London, to ask him a few questions about the quarter-life crisis. He talked about gender and whether the qlc really is just whining, as a few people have dared to suggest

Here’s what Dr Robinson said.

Quarter-life Crisis: 10 Steps to Recovery

Although your journey out of the depths of crisis may not correlate with my timeframe, these are my personal steps for escaping the quarter-life crisis in handy timeline form.

Come for the info, stay for the .gifs



Has this been helpful? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @QLClueless and visit our tumblr.


VIDEO: What’s the best thing about being in your twenties?

With the arduous job-hunting, high rents and scary choices, we sometimes forget that being 20-something is seriously exciting.

For a nice reminder, we asked four fellow millenials to do a selfie clip each telling us what they like most about their age. Here’s what they said.


Courtesy of justine-reyes, Creative Commons

Courtesy of justine-reyes, Creative Commons




The Quarter-life crisis in words

QLC word cloud

“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go

What does this guy know anyway? Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What does this guy know anyway? Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Well hold on there F. Scott Fitzgerald (#namedrop), you haven’t even seen what we’re going to do with them yet! Jeez, this guy.

In a previous post, we looked at how the quarter-life crisis was represented in news media, and now we’ve gone back to the features, news stories and guides to the quarter-life crisis to look at the words it’s couched in.

For our purposes, these word clouds pull out the most frequently used terms – the bigger the word, the more times it was used in the original articles. In this first overall word cloud (above), there’s a lot of peripheral information to sift through, particularly irrelevant numbering.

The themes that pop out (aside from obvious terms like ‘crisis’) aren’t that surprising; ‘work’ and ‘jobs’ were used frequently enough to correlate them with QLCs. However, some are more interesting. ‘Parents’ would seem to reflect on both a comparison with previous generations and a need to live at home for financial reasons.

If we break it down further, we can see trends more clearly. For example, if we focus only on the long-form news feature articles and raise the bar for times a word is used, a slightly clearer picture emerges. We combined this guardian article, this telegraph article and this msn article to create this:

QLC feature word cloud

Again, we see ‘parents’, ‘jobs’ and ‘career’  are frequently used, but so are more personal terms: ‘trapped’, ‘depressed’, ‘feeling(s)’ , fear, ‘age’, ’25’ (a key age as opposed to the spectrum of numbers in the first word cloud), ‘want’, ‘phase’ and many others that display the universal feelings of distress that people can feel in these situations (incidentally Damian Barr, previously interviewed on this blog, also pops up a few times).

Blimey, this is getting a bit depressing; are all QLC articles this gloomy? Well, no; as any of our regular readers can attest, the rib-tickling levels of fun and hilarity that can be squeezed from the QLC knows no bounds; but what do these funnier articles on the topic from Metro, Buzzfeed and our very own Alex Horne (in this post) tell us?

QLC funny

Well, possibly slightly less. Although things are a bit less doom and gloom in these articles (as you might imagine), they also tend to gloss over key parts of the QLC experience (except the one from us, of course. We’re amazing). There are still trends that emerge, however; education, careers and emotional themes keep rising to the fore.

But perhaps you want something a little more helpful, and so for this last word cloud we’ve drawn together some articles which offer practical advice:

QLC helpful articles

It’s essentially what you’d expect. Keep your ‘faith’; one ‘stage’ at a time. ‘QLCs’ can make your ‘twenties’ intolerable, but ‘even’ during them, you must know they’re ‘just’ a ‘stage’.

That might seem pat and cheap, but it’s true. The language of the QLC is as universal as the experience – but also as the simple techniques to get past it are. So that’s what the investigations, the lists and the advice tell you.

As the last word cloud says: Your Move.

(Well, technically it says ‘youre’ and ‘MOVE’ separately, but it’s close enough. Ssh. And Robinson.)

With thanks to for the word cloud programme.

Full list of articles:

The quarterlife crisis: young, insecure and depressed (The Guardian)

Quarter-life crisis: Find me a twentysomething who isn’t having one (The Telegraph)

20-something and stressed? How the quarter-life crisis got worse (MSN News)

Feeling depressed? It may be your quarter-life crisis (New Scientist)

‘Quarter-life’ crisis hits three in four of those aged 26 to 30 (Daily Mail)

10 Signs You’re Having Your Quarter-Life Crisis (Buzzfeed)

6 signs you’re suffering from a quarter-life crisis (Metro)

How to Survive a Quarter-Life Crisis (Self)

7 Cures for Your Quarter-life Crisis (Relevant magazine)

My 20s Weren’t Supposed to Be Like This: Getting Through the Quarter-Life Crisis (The Huffington Post)

Are You Having a Mid-twenties Crisis? (The Huffington Post)


Top 5 Quarter-life Crisis sites

So you thought getting over your quarter-life crisis would be like ABC, easy as 123, as simple as do re mi?

Well unfortunately, you were wrong (again). Everybody’s different, which is why the good folks at Clueless have compiled the internet’s top 5 QLC sites (it’s actually only #2 to #6 – you already found #1), each focusing on different problems, tastes, and personalities.  Take a wander and see which one suits you best…


Courtesy of Kirk Akahoshi

1 – Kirk Akahoshi, life coach, quarter-life crisis expert

Kirk Akahoshi is the Mr Miyagi of life coaches. His approach to the QLC is very much ‘wax on, wax off’ – that is, getting in touch with your spiritual side before kicking your QLC in the crotch. His blog is all about pinpointing what’s wrong in your life, then making peace with it. It also features a ton of personal challenges which will help shape the way you handle things like finances and relationships – for example making a promise to yourself, like working out an extra couple of days a week, and then donating money to charity every time you break the rules. Bow to your Sensei.


Courtesy of Rebecca Fraser-Thill

2 – Working Self, creating meaningful work with Rebecca Fraser-Thill

Working Self is for QLCers worried about their career(less) life. Rebecca Fraser-Thill describes herself as a “free spirit who regularly turns down ‘prime’ opportunities in pursuit of work that fits my values, goals, and purpose”. As you can see, this blog is less about how to land fat dollar, and more about how to get happiness and meaning out of your work – as well as building your confidence along the way. Rebecca also likes data, as you’ll find in her blog, and is constantly drawing up stats and graphs providing tips like ‘why people who have mentors tend to get salary increases and promotions faster than workers who don’t have mentors’.


3 – My Name is Elizabeth, stories about identity, family, and culture

Deeply personal and spanning everything from growing up to religion, My Name is Elizabeth takes a serious look at some of our most private worries and inhibitions. Combining her cultural experiences with a fair bit of academic study (a PhD in clinical psychology. And a master’s in psychology. Oh, and another master’s in theology.) Elizabeth provides an incisive look into what makes you tick. You’ll be challenged by some of her writing, but probably reassured too. Definitely worth a look for those millenials feeling a bit emo.


Courtesy of Molly Mahar

4 – Stratejoy, You Want to Love Your Life

One for the ladies. Molly Mahar’s Stratejoy is a great place to figure out the coaching, courses, and community you need to get involved with to sidestep your QLC. With hundreds of contributions from women all over the world Stratejoy looks at QLC problems unique to women, whether it’s fighting your corner in a male-dominated workplace or even preparing to have a child. In the community section feel free to post your own questions – you’ll receive a dozen answers from women who’ve been there and done that.

5 – Elite Daily, The Voice of Generation-Y

Ah, the hipsters choice. Teeming with buzzfeed-style articles for quick relief from Microsoft Excel, Elite Daily is a playground for QLCers. Alongside the life, money, and dating pages you’d expect from a QLC site, it also has plenty on sports, music, and humour, among others. Particularly interesting are the travel posts, so those of you looking to “get away from it all” can follow a path well-trodden by QLCers past and present.  It might not be an in-depth look into “where-you-went-wrong-and how-to-set-it-right”, but it provides light relief and laughs, and who can argue with that?

Guest Post: Quitting that first job. By Zena James from Eyes Wide Opened

It’s no secret that 20-somethings often feel guilty about leaving their first job to pursue something they really want to do. After all, it was so hard to get a job in the first place.

 Zena James from social enterprise Eyes Wide Opened (the organisation helps people get on track at any stage of their lives) has written QLClueless a guest post about quitting that first job.

The first job


Zena James, freelancer at Eyes Wide Opened. Photography courtesy of Eyes Wide Opened

I stayed in my first grown-up job for four years. Invaluable experience in a top PR firm, it was the best start anyone could have. But as the politics and additional responsibilities (not always fun ones) of climbing the ladder increased, I wondered whether I was missing something by staying in the unforgiving private sector, managing the reputations of profit-making corporates. I watched quietly and curiously while a colleague who’d joined as a graduate 2 years after me left us after only 2 years in the job to go and work for a charity that helped the homeless. She was radiating excitement. I was fascinated and strangely disconcerted that she chose to jump ship so soon after landing such a great job.

The need for meaning

We both had at our fingertips some of the world’s best PR practitioners and strategists, interesting clients, a clear progression path, a sense of belonging, a varied and sometimes hilarious work-related social life, and a fairly decent salary for the hard work we were expected to put in. But somehow, although it took me two years longer than her to feel it, there was something missing. And that something was meaning, a cause, and in both our cases, campaigning for something that wasn’t about profit.

And there we have it. Meaning.


As Roman Krznaric says in his thought-provoking short book, How To Find Fulfilling Work (published byThe School of Life), money and status are not enough for most people. At this very moment you may be huffing and puffing up your own career ladder or maybe you’re coasting, but you daren’t quit your job security for fear of overwhelming regret, not to mention fear of being labelled foolish, even careless, by parents and peers.

But what’s the point of staying if it’s giving you very little back except money, a tiring commute, a sometimes slippery career ladder and a nagging feeling that there really must be more to life?

Like using our talents and passions, or, as I was harbouring an increasing desire to do, be making a meaningful difference in my long day at work.

The quarter-life trap

‘Quarter-life’ is a curious stage to be at. Your bold decision to quit the security of that first job may well alter the course of your entire career. But that’s OK, isn’t it?  It may seem like a reckless and irresponsible move, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Asking yourself the right questions and consulting others around you about your true values and beliefs and what you really stand for counts for a lot right now. You may feel trapped and uninspired and feel like leaping but with no idea where to leap.  Again, that’s OK. Small steps towards change are better than no steps.  Put the time and energy in and it won’t be a wasted effort.

After all, fear of quitting, or being seen to quit, is really just fear of the unknown.

Who wouldn’t be anxious about a big change? It’s a risk. Psychology studies show that we’re much more sensitive to negative than positive stimuli. It’s primal, and Krznaric quotes evolutionary biologist theories:  that hazy object in the distance could be a fruit-laden bush, but it might be a lion, so our instinct is to steer well clear. So when it comes to career change, we are psychologically predisposed to magnify everything that could go wrong.


How to take the leap

But that doesn’t help those of you with little or no job satisfaction and a growing desire to do yourself a favour and move on, does it? So, now that you’ve accepted that YOU are the author of your life, it’s time to face the facts. You, like everyone, have strengths and qualities unique to you. No-one else can tell your story. So what are they? What gets you out of bed – is it really just money and status? What sets you apart and how are you going to translate and communicate that?

If you’ve got a sideways/upwards move in sight, ask yourself why you’re going for that role.  List all the reasons and prioritise them.  What rises to the top?  Are you happy with that? Assume for a moment that you’ll have several careers.  Right now, one might be based around a skill or knowledge area.  What about two others?  Where might they lie?  What underpins them – a passion?  A value?

And what did I do?

Why it was worth jumping ship

I’m proof that following your instinct towards more meaningful work and asking those hard-to-answer questions makes you happier with your own life story.

You should enjoy telling your story and enjoy knowing that you’ve been true to yourself. If I hadn’t jumped ship from that first job even though it was perfectly secure, I might never have gained the experience and variety you need to make the most of freelance life. So go on, do some serious research, consult everyone around you, reflect on what makes you tick and if after all that, it still feels slightly more exciting than terrifying, then enjoy the next life stage!  No -one else will do it for you…

Thanks to Zena for giving us some much needed inspiration!

Zena now freelances happily for organisations whose goals she really cares about, including Eyes Wide Opened, a social enterprise that runs career-clarifying coaching courses for people who crave more meaningful work.

The next London course is on 16 and 17 May.logo

Guest Post: Quarter-Life Crisis – Natalia Lukaszewicz

Here Natalia shares the story of how she overcame her quarter-life crisis by planting veg, dancing to Elvis and embracing uncertainty.

Natalia Lukaszewicz is a resident of New Zealand where she runs a food blog called and interns for

Natalia Lukaszewicz

Natalia Lukaszewicz

“I had come home because of an aching sadness and debilitating anxiety”

On a sunny weekend in September 2012, I drove to a plant shop and walked out armed with two bags of soil, plant pots and nine assorted vegetable seedlings. My parents had left me alone that weekend, albeit reluctantly. And understandably so, I had come home because of an aching sadness and debilitating anxiety that had set in some 4 months prior, and most days, I dreaded being alone with my thoughts. My buying those vegetables marked the first day of my recovery from what I might jokingly refer to now as a quarter-life crisis, but at the time felt like a very real – and scary – decent into overwhelming uncertainty.

In 2012 I was 24, and I had returned from travelling in order to begin my postgraduate studies in Clinical Psychology. I moved to a new city, not knowing a soul, but I had romanticised the place and my future there. In my head there would be parties, my studies would inspire me, and I would be lost in a whirlwind of new people and experiences. But instead I wound up alone, disenchanted with my degree, and the city I had thought would bring me All The Things broke my heart.

“What do I do now, what do I do now, what do I do now?”

I remember a moment in which I sat staring out the window. My hair clung to my cheeks, which were sticky from tears. My hands gripped a cold cup of tea and outside a ferocious wind howled. Were it a movie, I imagine the scene would be somewhat romantic and poignant – black and white, perhaps – but in reality, I felt pathetic, sad and horribly lonely. What do I do now, what do I do now, what do I do now?

This singular question was the cause of so much of my anguish: why did I feel so uncertain when I had been promised a linear path to success (and so, I assumed, happiness) so long as I ticked the boxes (go to uni. Get A’s. Make contacts. Move forward). What do I do now? I don’t know, became a chant that mocked my days: it taunted me when I was made to answer, “what are you up to these days?” and when I was confronted with everyone else’s happy, filtered faces on Facebook. The world started to seem to me a dark and broken place, and where once I had dreamed of ways of trying to fix it, I now felt broken myself.

“Not knowing has the potential to be as great as specificity”

The day I planted my first courgette was the day I gave myself the license to be ok with not knowing what was meant to happen. It seems a simple solution, but for someone who had announced how she planned to retire at the age of 15, this was a revolutionary and liberating move. I decided that I might know diddly about what or how my week would progress (let alone the coming year); but I knew that the tomatoes needed to be planted at a depth of 15cm, and that the coriander liked the shade. And maybe that was all I needed to know in that moment.

Summer rolled in and the sun drenched my garden- it blossomed and grew and I relished the fat strawberries that came as a result. And I grew too: with certainty that not knowing has the potential to be as great as specificity, and with confidence in my ability to navigate doubt. The people I have met, stories and opportunities that have accumulated since are testimony to this growth. There are days that all I know is that I have friends, family and a cat who loves me, and that dancing to Elvis songs makes me happy. And I have to – and I do! – believe that that is enough.

If you’ll allow me to take up the position for a moment as someone who can share advice – or at least an opinion – on managing impending quarter-life Crises, then I have this to say: please don’t be afraid of uncertainty, and embrace change if it comes, whether that be changing your dreams, goals or ideas about who you are as a person. It really, truly, will be ok in the end.



Has this been helpful? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @QLClueless and visit our tumblr.



Can dating apps help cure a Quarter-Life Crisis?

In our latest podcast we discuss whether dating apps, such as Tinder, can help make QLCs that little bit easier.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

In an attempt to wade through the world of Plenty of Fish, Tinder and OkCupid! we speak to Eve Simmons of Apphrodite – a new and exciting blog exploring the realms of dating apps. In the podcast we discuss whether dating apps really are helping people, why they’re using them and what you can do to avoid being the perpetually single one amongst your friends. Have a listen and we hope you enjoy our pearls of wisdom.

Guest post: Dr Oliver Robinson

The Clueless team has only gone and snagged Dr Oliver Robinson for a bit of academic, incisive QLC discussion – lucky us! Doc Robinson is Programme Leader for the BSc Hons Psychology with Counselling degree at the University of Greenwich. He’s something of a QLC expert, and his research has been published in the New Scientist, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4, The Telegraph and The Times (Wow. We actually are lucky). Today he’s going to wax lyrical on the basics – what is a QLC, and where does it come from? This is the kind of guy who has many leather bound books and a Rolodex, so listen up people…

Dr Oliver Robinson. Photograph courtesy of The University of Greenwich

Dr Oliver Robinson. Photograph courtesy of The University of Greenwich

What is the quarter-life crisis? After all, traditionally the period of midlife has been most strongly associated with having a crisis in adulthood, but it is now widely accepted that they are just as likely in the first decade of adult life. A quarter-life crisis is a period of stress, instability and major life change that occurs when a person is either in their twenties or early thirties.  Such a period typically occurs when a person has entered a job, relationship or marriage, or has developed an adult lifestyle, which they then realise they no longer want because it is causing them distress or preventing their personal growth. The crisis period acts as a turning point during which old commitments are ended, new ones are begun, and many strong emotions are experienced.  Crisis episodes are often reflected on as developmental important periods, during which much personality development and emotional development occurs.

“A quarter-life crisis is a period of stress, instability and major life change that occurs when a person is either in their twenties or early thirties”

My research has investigated the quarter-life crisis using questionnaires and interviews, and I’ve found it is quite a common phenomenon – about one third of British adults aged 30 and over reflect on having a crisis in their twenties.

However, there are good arguments that the quarter-life crisis is more common now than in the past.

Firstly, adults in their twenties report higher levels of stress than any other adult age group.  It is a time during which major decisions are made that shape the remaining decades of adult life – this is a source of pressure and anxiety and one that is increasingly complicated in the modern world as there are more kinds of job, more possible identities and a wider set of options for relationships.

An additional challenge for young adults is changing roles from being a dependent child who lives at home and is financially supported, to being an independent adult. This transition to adulthood can take many years to achieve in full due to longer periods studying and the high price of property.

While age 18 is the commencement of legal adulthood in the UK (and many other countries), most young adults do not actually think of themselves as adults for some years after that.  This is referred to as the stage of ‘emerging adulthood’ – when a young adult is neither fully adolescent nor fully adult.

In the past, the start of adult commitments such as marriage, parenthood and career occurred earlier, so by the age of 25 a young person would quickly be embedded in adult society through entering these social roles. Now, in the UK, the average age for first marriage is approximately 30, and parenthood also starts at this age on average.

This delay of commitments means that a young person has more freedom to explore and be educated than ever before; it means that major life changes are more possible and manageable. For example, a career change is easier if the person does not have financial responsibilities towards children and so has the capacity to re-train for a period of their young adult life, while a relationship change is also easier if the relationship in non-marital and does not involve children.  These are the kinds of changes that make quarter-life crisis a more common phenomenon than in the past.

A quarter-life crisis is an episode in life that typically lasts a year or two, and includes a number of recognisable features.  All episodes start with Phase 1. This involves a life situation that is causing the person stress, dissatisfaction, a deep sense that their development is not progressing healthily and optimally, and feeling trapped in a set of commitments that have been made but are no longer wanted.  This is often accompanied by not feeling in control– of being pushed around by circumstance and other people.  The negative emotions that characterise Phase 1 are often held within, and not expressed outwardly.

Phase 2A brings with it a greater desire for change, and a belief that change can occur. During this phase, a person separates from a relationship, social group or job to search for a new path into adult life. This is a distressing period, for it brings a sense of loss, confusion and a sense of anxiety about the future.

“Rather than living with a routine and automatically, life in Phase 3 is experimental and spontaneous”

Phase 2B is a time of questioning and self-examination. One of our participants said of this period: ‘‘I had to reflect, I had to see about the past and what went wrong, why things went wrong”. This emphasises the nature of this period – a time to reflect on why their life had led to a crisis and how to move forward.

Rather than living with a routine and automatically, life in Phase 3 is experimental and spontaneous. New ideas, identities and commitments are then tried and a person looks at options available to them for the future. The aim of Phase 3 is to search for a career or relationship that is more closely aligned with their ‘core self’ – they values, aspirations and deep sense ‘who I am’ than before.

Phase 4 is termed the ‘rebuilding phase’ and it involves active steps towards building a new adult ‘life structure’ – an integrated set of commitments that can stand the test of time and act as the foundation for the decades of adult life to come.

To read more of Doc Robinson’s work on the QLC and coping with adulthood, check out his book Development through Adulthood: An Integrative Sourcebook. You can also catch excerpts of his keynote speech at Mind The Gap’s launch party in March on our liveblog coverage of the event.