February 17, 2014

11 Life Lessons From a Quarter-life Crisis Survivor. ~ Robin Stremlow


I’ll be honest—it’s just dawned on me that my recent trail-blazing act of bravery and gumption was really just the product of a pretty common experience felt by nearly all 20-somethings in today’s western world.

Almost every millennial around my age is going through, has survived, or is just about to have a shake-up similar to my own.

Turns out, I’m not as special as I thought.

I didn’t realize it, but a few months after I turned 25 I started to experience symptoms now labeled as the “Quarter-Life Crisis” which are not-so-secretly devouring the souls of 20-somethings across the country. This enigma is plastered all over the Internet (on Huffington Post, there are 26,900 posts tagged “quarter-life crisis” alone!), but when I started to experience it, I hadn’t a clue others were going through the same thing.

At 25, all I knew was that I was unhappy and I was searching for something more, something greater than what I was experiencing. My job was good, my friends were good, my income was good.

Life. Was. Good.

But, I just couldn’t shake the desire to rip my hair out and run free—starting with quitting my office job and moving to the jungle.

Just days after I turned 26, I did just that.

Despite having a semblance of a “plan”—a few months on a Costa Rican permaculture farm where I would blog about learning to be a “good person”, figure out my purpose and how to take care of myself and the environment better, followed by a move to the Pacific Northwest where I would surround myself with “good people” and get to work on living my purpose—I really had no clue what was waiting for me.

Regardless, in the middle of my crisis, I took off.

Over the past year, this 27th year of my life, I lived in the Costa Rican jungle and worked on a farm—where I did surround myself with “good people”, and I did kind-of-sorta figure out my purpose and how to take care of myself and the environment better.

Then I changed course, traveled to Nicaragua and Guatemala and dove into yoga and spirituality. I then felt compelled to fulfill a stateside commitment made months prior so I came back to Michigan instead of moving west. I moved around a bit and stayed with friends and (god forbid!) my parents.

I picked up a few odd jobs I’d always wanted to try: bartender, sommelier, suburban nanny…then I took a safe, career-style position at a mid-size newspaper (where I’m still working) and I recently moved downtown next to a local food co-op in a picturesque northern Michigan resort town.

Life. Is. Good.

I can honestly say I think, and hope, my quarter-life crisis is over and that I indeed have survived. More than that, I’ve grown and I’ve learned many things I hope to keep with me as personal truths for as long as I live.

This year wasn’t easy, though. The twenty-seventh year of my life was probably the most difficult year I’ve had. But I’m grateful for it. Through this year of sky-high peaks and below sea-level valleys (literally and figuratively) I’ve learned many valuable lessons.

Regardless of our current stage in life and whether or not we’ve experienced a life crisis, incorporating a finding or two from my post-twenty-something-freak-out into your life just might help us all have better, richer human experiences because of it.

Life is amazing. And full of lessons. Here are eleven from my very own quarter-life crisis.

11 Life Lessons from my 27th Year

1) Stop asking for your purpose in life.

We need to let go of figuring out what we should do and just do the things that make us truly happy—that is our purpose. Things that bring us bliss will help spark our inner fires and will guide us closer to our dharma—our unique paths in life that will enrich this world.

2) Don’t be them. Be you.

We’ll always be disappointed and unhappy if we keep comparing ourselves to others, envying the attributes of others and trying to be anyone but ourselves. Each of us are blessed with our own unique strengths, with gifts that only we can share, and loves and likes tailored to our own special being.

Let’s be real, we’re each pretty awesome.

3) Let your voice speak the loudest!

Everyone has an opinion of who we are and what we should do and why, but really, the only opinions that have any weight on these issues are ours. Only we know just who we really are (if we don’t, we should make a point to figure it out), and ultimately only we have to live with our decisions.

So, starting today, make yourself proud.

4) Choose to be choosy.

This is your life so you should live it how you want to, right? If it makes you feel good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Simple.

We need to choose how we spend our time, with whom we spend it with (even if that person is our-self more often than not), what we wear, what we eat, how to exercise, where to live, etc. The list goes on and on.

Each day we’re faced with choices and if we’re not choosing for ourselves, who is?

5) Move! Physical motion is magic.

Our bodies aren’t meant to be sedentary. We have muscles and joints, we’re flexible, we’re strong—we’re alive!

The health of our bodies and minds is directly connected and we must make sure to take care of each. For our bodies, the best thing we can do is move. Walking, running, dancing, yoga, swimming—the activity doesn’t matter, it only matters that we move.

6) Spend time outside. Every day.

We’re part of the natural world and, to connect more with ourselves, we need to spend time in the natural world. Be outside, observe the plants and animals, hear the wind in the trees and water lapping on a shoreline, smell the flowers or hay fields, feel tree bark with our fingers or grass between our toes—just be outside.

This world is pretty amazing, and observing the natural way of things can help put our lives into perspective and calm our overactive, production-focused minds.

7) Listen to your body.

If we listen to our bodies—to our energy levels, to our cravings, to our aches and pains—we’ll gain plenty of insight into what we need. If we honor the body’s intuition we’ll feel better and reclaim balance within.

Sometimes we need to take a day off. Sometimes we need some extra protein or water or fruit. Sometimes the way we’ve been exercising isn’t right or we need to adjust our posture.

If we listen, we’ll know.

8) Prioritize your pleasure points.

What makes you happy? Think about it. Write it down.

A few things that really make you happy, think of activities—yoga, cooking, swimming, writing, hiking, etc. We should then make it a priority to incorporate these things into our lives and into our daily routines.

Each day, we shouldn’t go to bed unless we’ve done at least one thing that gives us pleasure.

9) Make peace with your past.

Guilt gets us nowhere, and regret and shame are big roadblocks to self-love and living fully. This is a tough one, but it really is important to accept our decisions, regardless of outcome, and move on.

We’ll feel a lot lighter and much more at peace with our present if we do.

10) Happiness happens but so does pain.

Everything is cyclical and our moods are not exempt from this truth.

Regardless of circumstance, we will experience bliss, but we will also experience sadness. We can try to contain feelings we enjoy but no matter what, emotions are fleeting and every day will not be a good day. However, there is peace in this truth because, just as happiness fades, so does sadness.

11) Manifestation works!

Think of what you want to happen, what you really want to bring into your life, and ta-da! There it is! Maybe this is mystical stuff and too much for many of us to believe in but hey, it seems to work!

So, dream!

Dream big dreams, little dreams, dream whatever-your-heart-desires dreams. Just start thinking of what you really want to bring into your life and get your daydream on.

Maybe my acts weren’t so unique after all. Maybe most of us have a moment (or, let’s be real, set of years!) where we’re compelled to break free from our routines and dive into an unknown world in search of something we’ve yet to define. Maybe we’re all seeking out lessons like the eleven above, and maybe it takes drastic measures to recognize these truths sometimes.

I know for me, had I not moved to the jungle and then back to my childhood home, I probably wouldn’t have uncovered these truths.

I wouldn’t have been forced to crumble and humble my ego, or mindfully build myself back up with grace and persistence.

I’m beyond grateful for this twisted journey of self-discovery—for the infamous, epic, quarter-life-crisis so many of us are blessed to have.

And for the fact I kept my hair.


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Assistant Editor: Richard May/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: courtesy of the author

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Robin Stremlow