This Is How Random Strangers Can Help With Your Quarter-Life Crisis

Audrey Morgan
Audrey is a freelance writer and recent graduate from Appalachian State that has an obsession with avocado toast and pop culture. When she's not writing you can most likely find her sitting down with a glass of red wine and judgingly watching reality TV.

It was about three weeks after graduation, the whole “follow your dreams” commencement mantra had worn off all its pixie dust, and my woefully unemployed self was feeling a big case of the “why me”s.

My two biggest questions the past week had been “should I even shower again today” and “what the heck am I doing with my life” — both were very tough decisions. I had an epiphany earlier that morning sitting in my crumb filled T-shirt, 40 applications deep, that my Dan Ruettiger spirit had done me no good when I picked a major where I thought I could get paid to do something I loved — I hadn’t been “ready for this my whole life.”

While my Bachelor of Arts degree and unfulfilled dreams were hanging over my head like a single Looney Tunes rain cloud, I wondered how anyone in the world had come back from a case of the quarter-life crisis this bad.

The quarter-life crisis is more than a line in a John Mayer song. While I do recommend crying to that track laying on the floor, face in the carpet of your childhood bedroom to relieve some pent up emotion, it’s an unfortunate reality. One minute we’re getting our college acceptance letters, the next we’re sending in the minimum monthly payment on our student debt. Our mailboxes are filled with bills and wedding invitations, and after the third RSVP with no plus one, you might think to yourself, “What am I doing with my life?”

This identity crisis hits millennials harder because we’ve always been told we could have it all.

We are the “follow your dreams” generation. “You can do anything you set your mind to” was the takeaway from our favorite childhood movies, printed on our bookmarks and painted on our murals. Now, 20 years later, your dream job seems like the adult version of Santa’s workshop.

No one tells you about unemployment, unequal pay or debt — it’s an inconvenient reality to the narrative. And while I sat there, finger on the send button to another application I naively thought was going to be my big break, I decided to reach out to some quarter-life crisis survivors.

I had found some professionals in my area who had killer jobs I’d love to find myself in one day. In my eyes, they either had managed to skip an identity crisis or were valiant survivors — both impressive feats. So I wrote them an awkward message of admiration like fan mail you’d write to your favorite Hollywood actor. I sprinkled in some buzzwords like “experience,” “advice” and “expertise,” hoping to hide my state of disparity and not really sure if I would hear anything back.

To my surprise, I heard back from most and met for coffee. Really what changed other than my monotonous daily routine of staying in my pajamas and staring at my cover letter was my perspective.

The best thing about meeting with random strangers wasn’t the thrill of them possibly being kidnappers or psychos, although that was interesting. It was that they didn’t feel the need to sugar coat anything. People who say the post-grad job search is easy are like mothers of five-year-olds who don’t remember the pain of childbirth, or are people who care about you and don’t want to send you into a panic.

It’s hard, a backbreaker of battles, but it’s doable. That’s what I learned.

Many of the people I met with hadn’t landed their dream jobs before they walked across the stage, like we too often see in films. They hadn’t been sure if they were pursuing their purpose right off the bat. They had doubt, horrible interviews, sent in tons of applications, heard nothing back, but they made it. The right job, timing, or connection revealed itself. They finally had their big break.

What advice spoke to me the most was to stop comparing myself to everyone else.

Those on my timeline, LinkedIn network, or newsfeed. I had constantly asked myself since graduation, who’s having more fun, living purposefully or really succeeding while I can’t even land an entry level position. I had a feeling of inadequacy because I had become a comparison junkie, and my self-diagnosed quarter-life crisis was not helping. I was told the best way to approach an interview, or life in general, is to walk in knowing I have something else to offer that no one else does — I’m me.

While I’m not telling you to pick at your cuticles during the always inspirational commencement speech about following your dreams, I’m telling you it’s not as easy as it seems.

Our childhood bookmarks should have read: “You can do anything you set your mind to, think worth crying about, losing sleep over, and are willing to work tirelessly toward.”

No one wants to quiet the “follow your dreams” anthem, but a random stranger just might risk telling you the truth.

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