On paper, you should be having the time of your life in your mid-twenties. You’re on the career ladder, your biggest responsibility is paying your council tax and you’ve totally grown out of drunkenly embarrassing yourself.
In reality, you spend most Saturdays hungover while looking at #Fitspiration photos on Instagram, you keep swearing to give up dating apps while mechanically swiping right and you’re seriously considering retraining as a zoo keeper.
Above all, you can’t shift the feeling that you “should be doing better”.
Sound familiar? If so, you are well and truly experiencing a “quarter-life crisis”. Welcome to the club.
The concept of a quarter-life crisis is nothing new, with research conducted by Gumtree in 2011 suggesting 86% of young people feel under pressure to be “successful” in all aspects of life before hitting 30.
According to Jo Duncombe and Saskia Roddick, co-founders of networking group The Quarter Club, this pressure has a lot to do with outdated societal expectations.
“By the time we reach our mid-twenties, there are a lot of social pressures around the idea of ‘having your shit together’ – i.e you have a career sorted, you are settled into a conventional relationship, you own a nice car and a comfortable home and you are probably thinking about marriage and kids,” they told HuffPost UK.
“Watch any mainstream advertising slot on prime-time television and that’s what we’re being sold: mortgages, dating sites, nice cars.
“All of these ‘lifestyles’ are being marketed to a generation that are saddled with debt (especially if they’ve chosen to go to university), but more so, to a generation who have grown up with the internet and therefore with a boundless pool of choices when it comes to careers.”
With this in mind, Duncombe and Roddick believe it’s not surprising many adults are still “figuring out what to do” as they approach 30.
“Many of us have changed careers multiple times and many of us are juggling five or six jobs,” they said.
“The idea of a single career narrative – that lots of our parents experienced – has been replaced by that of the portfolio career. And it’s exciting, but it’s also stressful when society’s expectations haven’t caught up.”
To help you navigate this fiendish time, we asked a team of experts for their practical tips for thriving in some key areas.
Nail Your Career
According to Duncombe and Roddick, if you can’t shift the feeling that your career isn’t moving fast enough, speaking to others your age could help.
“Social pressures can make us feel uncomfortable about failing to fit into a particular norm, but when you begin to make connections with people experiencing similar concerns and dilemmas, it can be incredibly empowering,” they said.
“This is what we have tapped into at The Quarter Club – building a network of creative women who can reach sideways, to their peers, as well as upwards, for inspiration, support and advice. It’s always reassuring to hear about the narratives of other people, especially if you work as a freelancer or portfolio careerist, which can be an isolating.”
According to Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers and founder of WOW Championing Working Women, networking can also help you get that elusive promotion.
“The more networking you can do the better,” she told HuffPost UK.
“The one regret I have is that when I was first starting out I didn’t network more and I really wish I had.
“Networking offers so many opportunities, especially early on in your career, so I would encourage everyone to get out there and network their socks off. You never know who you will meet and what opportunity that will present you.”
If you like the idea of networking but don’t know where to start, check out our roundup of female collectives helping to push women forward in different industries.
Even if you do feel like your career is on track, imposter syndrome can also rear its ugly head, making you feel illegitimate or overwhelmed.
Duncombe and Roddick advise that being mindful of social media use can help.
“It’s hard not to get overwhelmed by the constant pressure of comparison online. Everyone is busy curating their own personal online narratives – selecting the very best of their story through filtered photographs and 140 characters,” they said.
“This ability to self-brand is part of what facilitates a portfolio career, and it’s valuable. But it’s really important, in amidst all of this, to forge connections and collaborations in real life – spaces where you can enjoy nuance and authenticity without the glare of a screen or an Instagram filter.
“Making time for IRL encounters, and building off-line networks, is for us, the best tonic.”
Suss Being Single
Let’s get one thing straight, relationships are not the be-all and end-all, but when every romcom is telling you to “find the one” and your mother keeps reminding you about your biological clock, that can be easy to forget.
According to dating expert and Mutual Attraction founder Caroline Brealey, dating changes in your twenties because “you’re starting to think of the future and who to share it with” and that can bring its own pressure.
“You start to see your once ‘life of the party’ friends slowly start to vanish as they become loved up and choose Netflix and chill over Saturday night drinks,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Seeing your friends in relationships can be hard and once one friend becomes engaged it’s the start of a ripple effect and before you know it your next three summers are blocked out with weddings.”
Brealey added that throwing yourself into your career often means you have little time to date in your mid-twenties and “the people you meet are more interested in hook-ups than anything serious”.
However, she insisted it’s “not all bad” because “your twenties are the best time to meet new people”, so for now, just enjoy being single.
“Say yes to every invitation, go to different events and parties, there isn’t a night in the week where there isn’t something fun happening you could attend,” she said.
“Put your phone down and talk to people. It’s not just about finding someone to date but meeting new friends, experiencing and enjoying life. You’ll be amazed at all the great people you meet along the way.
“Get your friends together and try singles events, if they turn out to be bad you’ll only have a fun story to tell. In your twenties give everything a chance and take every opportunity to meet interesting people.”
She added that before you delve into a relationship, it’s important to think about what you want from a partner.
“Don’t be afraid to date around and date outside your ‘type’, you never know until you’ve tried. Never settle just because you feel the big 3-0 creeping up and you feel it’s what you ‘should’ be doing,” she said.
Reflect On Your Relationship
Talking of singledom, know that the grass isn’t always greener and being a romantic relationship doesn’t mean your mid-twenties are a walk in the park.
Counsellor Barbara Honey, from the relationships charity Relate, said your mid-twenties mark “a major transition period, when big decisions are made”.
“Increasingly people have to move to get work and that can be very difficult for couples,” she told HuffPost UK.
“We increasingly offer telephone counselling to couples who are living apart and finding that very difficult. One person may want to commit and for the other it may feel too early. Many people in their twenties are still living with their parents because they can’t afford to get on the property ladder and this can also put a strain on a relationship.”
She said for couples to survive these tumultuous times, the most important thing for any couple to do is “talk and listen to each other”.
“Many couples don’t do any talking or negotiation about expectations, even about hugely important issues like ‘do we want to have children?’” she said.
“Other issues are around roles and responsibilities. Often people assume that their relationship will be like their parents’ and just make assumptions that their partner feels the same as they do.
“In your twenties, it’s important to understand that your partner may have ambitions and plans around a career path or travelling which may not fit perfectly with your own, so compromise is vital.”
Work Out The Smart Way
According to personal trainer Dom Thorpe, your twenties is “typically the time when your fitness starts to deteriorate”.
“Your waistline starts to expand and your training regime seems to move aside for more favourable activities such as dating, eating, drinking and dare I say it, working,” he told HuffPost UK.
“It’s easy to blame old age and a slowed metabolism for this, but really it’s a change in lifestyle which has the negative effect on your body.”
If you’re stuck in a fitness rut, Thorpe recommends making regular, scheduled time for exercise.
“Control your diet and alcohol intake and don’t overwork yourself,” he said.
“I’d recommend that you schedule two-four workouts per week, each lasting no more than an hour and a mixture of weight training and cardiovascular exercise.”
If time is an issue, Thorpe recommends upping the intensity of the training and condensing sessions into a shorter time frame. You can check out our roundup of London’s best HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes for inspiration.
“Also, be aware of your specific suggested calorie intake and keep nights on the booze to a minimum, perhaps once or twice per week. Remember, you can’t out-train a bad diet,” Thorpe said.
Of course, while exercise benefits your physical and mental health, it’s also vital to give yourself a break and sometimes, that includes skipping a workout or two.
If the onslaught on fitness images online is making you feel under pressure, have a think about who you follow and regain a sense of balance with these Instagrammers promoting positive mental health and body image.
Take Control Of Your Finances
Despite working your ass off in your twenties, it can often feel like you’ve got more coming out than going in, especially if you’re factoring in student loans.
Sally Francis, senior writer at MoneySavingExpert.com says doing a full audit of your finances can help.
“Look at all your direct debits – do you know what you’re paying for? If not, look into it,” she told HuffPost UK.
“See if there are things you’re still paying but shouldn’t be, like insurance for a phone you no longer have, for example. Then see if you can cut the cost of what you are paying, such as your mobile phone or broadband bill.”
She also advises looking at any debts you may have.
“If you’ve got a credit card you don’t repay in full and it’s accruing interest quicker than you can pay it, switch the debt to a 0% balance transfer deal. This is where the new card repays your debt on your existing card,” she explained.
“Then you repay the new card with no interest added during the 0% period. Budget to repay the debt before the 0% period ends though, or switch it to another 0% deal. You will need to pay at least the minimum payment each month, so do factor that in.”
If you don’t have debts and want to start saving, Francis recommends a Lifetime ISA.
“You can save up to £4,000 per year in one either as a lump sum or by putting in cash when you can. The state will then add a 25% bonus on top. So if you save £1,000, you’ll have £1,250 and if you save the full £4,000, you’ll have £5,000. And that’s before interest or growth,” she said.
“If you’ve already got a Help To Buy ISA – which also gives a 25% bonus if you use it to buy a house – you can get a Lifetime ISA too, though you won’t get the bonus for buying a house on both. You can save £1,200 in the first month and £200 after that (so £3,400 in year one, £2,400 after that). If you’re buying a place soon, it might be a better option as you’ll get the bonus on whatever you’ve got saved at the time – with the Lifetime ISA, you have to have an account open for a full year before any bonus is added.”
If all that sounds like gobbledygook, book in an appointment at your bank to talk to a member of staff about managing debt and saving for the future.
Ditch Toxic Friendships
With so much going on in your twenties, it’s important to surround yourself with the best possible people and that may mean ditching certain friends.
Relate counsellor Barbara Honey said: “People change hugely between the ages of 18 and 25 and the friendships we make as children and teenagers often don’t meet our needs as we become fully grown adults.
“As we develop and mature our friends don’t always mature at the same rate, or the things we used to love about them now irritate and annoy us. It’s tough to realise that friendships are not for life, we change and as we do so we need different things from friends.”
Honey added that fazing out friendships is never easy but may sometimes be necessary, especially if that friendship has turned toxic.
“Ideally try having a conversation with the friend about what’s not working to find out if anything can change. This isn’t always easy to do but by talking to them honestly and openly and also listening to what they have to say, you might be able to salvage things,” she said.
“Sometimes the only way is to reduce contact to minimal, especially if the relationship is unhealthy.”
Although your mid-twenties are busy, Honey also highlighted the importance of staying in touch with good friends to maintain your support network.
“It’s important to stay in touch with people, even if just by text or the odd phone call. Or put in the extra effort and send a card to a friend with a lovely personal message in it. Gestures like this can be so powerful,” she said.
“If you’re finding it tricky to fit in face to face catch ups, try thinking outside of the box.”
If all your Saturdays are booked up, Honey suggests meeting friends for breakfast before work or going to a fitness class together after work. After all, no one wants to tackle a quarter-life crisis alone.