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  • Quarter-Life-Crisis: Navigating by Your Inner Compass

    Quarter-Life-Crisis: Navigating by Your Inner Compass


    “An alarming number of college graduates are feeling uncertain about their future,” said my colleague. 


    We were discussing our recent experience with coaching twenty-somethings. One of his former clients, now in their twenties, had recently written him, “I took this great job and I’m making good money….but I’m really unhappy. I don’t get it. Where did I go wrong?” 


    As we shared our stories, it appeared that we were glimpsing a larger trend. A little research confirmed my suspicions. Among the several reports I read, a Harvard Business Review story summed up how the world of work has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, particularly in its impact on young adults.


    “There are nearly fifty million twentysomethings in the United States, most of whom are living with a staggering, unprecedented amount of uncertainty. Most have no idea where they will work or where they will live in five years. They don’t know if they are a day or a decade away from a promotion, or when they will be able to pay their bills.” 

    Meg Jay, HBR, August 2020, ‘Recent Grads are Drowning in Uncertainty”


    Over the past year, I worked with several men and women ranging in age from 20-29, each of whom, in their own particular way, was stalled and adrift in their professional life. They had been referred to me by their parents, who were concerned about their children’s lack of direction and motivation. These same parents were highly educated and well off themselves, and had provided their children with the education, life experiences, and career guidance that  that our culture seems to indicate is a roadmap to an engaging and rewarding career. Yet within a few years of graduating from college they had lost their way. They had traversing unknown territory with no map to guide them.




    Jamie is a highly creative, outgoing, young man who can be highly focused when he wants something. Yet when we met for the first time, he seemed frustrated and confused by the direction of his life.


    “I was coming out of a poor relationship, experiencing the shock from the suicide of a good friend, and had moved back in with my parents when the pandemic started. I had no income or friends to rely on. My goals were extremely rigid, consisting of eating healthy and doing the exact same thing everyday…”


    Jamie had been brought up to believe that hard work and personal dedication was the path that led to a meaningful career, and all that came with it. But as he researched his options and followed on social media what other people were doing, nothing fit his interest and limited work experience. What did catch his eye, however, were stories about people like himself, with little experience and education, making piles of money day-trading penny stocks on online investment platforms. 


    The world of market and day-trading wasn’t in alignment with what he valued in life, nor did Jamie have any prior experience in finance. But Jamie can be very focused, and he threw himself into the task at hand. After months of daily study and practice, an arduous physical regime and a diet of eating the same foods every day, he had little to show. Physically and emotionally exhausted, he had no idea what to do next.


    What I heard from Jamie echoed what I heard from the other twenty-somethings I worked with – and, in fact, from my regular clients, all of whom are middle aged or older. It’s the shared belief that our outside circumstances of life create our inner experience—that it’s the right job, the right friends or partner that give us the experience of purpose, wellbeing, love, and satisfaction we all desire. 


    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work over the past ten years, it’s that we create our lives from the inside-out. How to do we do that? First, we are all born with an innate purpose, happiness, and wellbeing. Just as we know that the ability to love lives within us, these other feelings are part of our wiring. Learning to use these feelings as a guide is a navigational process. Fortunately, we are also born with an inner compass that can guide us towards creating what we seek from life. Learning to use it is what I teach my clients.




    Just as the iron needle of a magnetic compass always points north, in alignment with the earth’s magnetic field, our inner compass is always pointing in a direction that is in alignment with our life’s purpose and what we desire in life. We experience it through our feelings.


    When our thoughts and actions are in alignment with this inner compass, we experience feelings of excitement, happiness, inspiration, and connection. Life is meaningful. When we are in alignment there’s an ease to what we choose to do. 


    The feeling can be strong, a knowing, or it can be a subtle inner tug: let’s go this way. 


    When we’re aligned, life begins to flow. Ideas, people, and opportunities manifest which are congruent with our goals. One indicator of alignment people notice is synchronicity, the simultaneous coincidence of an outer event and inner feeling. We meet the right person to help us on our journey. The solution to an obstacle pops into our head.


    When we are out of alignment, we experience feelings of doubt, anxiety, purposelessness and loss. Life is hard, a struggle, often becoming a test of willpower. 


    Learning how to be guided by an inner compass is a process of understanding which feelings to follow, and how to choose. It can be an obvious or a subtle distinction. We can see the mountain top, but where is the path? It may be direct, or it may be circuitous, like following a trail of breadcrumbs through a dark forest.. 


    One thing we can be sure of: our inner compass knows the way. With practice, awareness grows. 




    In my initial meetings with Jamie, we spent time exploring and appreciating what he enjoyed and cared about. Jamie had enjoyed music and playing guitar since he was young. However, he had been taught by his parents and friends that his love of music had little practical application in finding a career. In keeping with his rigid beliefs about work, he had mostly excluded his music and his love for music from his life. 


    Jamie’s eyes lit up and his voice rose when he talked about his music. He became more animated. I suggested he give more attention to his feelings about music, that his enjoyment was a feeling that could lead him to his path. 


    When we light the lamp of inspiration, we see new possibilities. Jamie began including guitar and singing in his daily routine. He started toying with a long-held dream to perform in public, the thought of which used to fill him with anxiety. But inspiration is powerful antidote to fear, and one day he informed me that he had signed up for open mike night at a local cafe. 


    The day of his appearance Jamie was so anxious he could barely eat. But he showed up that evening, guitar in hand. He sang one song. The audience applauded enthusiastically, and afterwards, a member of the audience invited him to play at a larger venue in another town. He was thrilled.


    Jamie also began exploring possibilities for work. His day-trading was stressful and not making him much of a profit, but he was now paying more attention to what felt good to him. One day, on a whim, he visited a local department store, his guitar slung over his shoulder. A sales rep in the shoe department approached him and shared that he had the same guitar. They connected around guitars and a mutual love of music. The sales rep mentioned that there was an opening in the shoe department. Jamie happened to have an interest in fashion, and he submitted an application. The next morning, he was offered the job. 


    Three months months later, he had become the top sales rep in his department and was on track to a six-figure year. He also met a woman at an open mike night who also liked to perform. They started playing playing and writing songs together, and in time began a relationship 




    Jamie and I didn’t connect again until six months later. He was happy with the money he was making, enjoying his new relationship, and composing new songs. At the same time, he recognized a continuing desire to keep growing, doing purposeful and creative work. For example, Jamie loved wearing hats and, in alignment with his interest in fashion, was toying with idea of learning to make them. He told me:


    “….Now, I seek relationships with people. I desire to be seen. This manifested in the form of starting to perform music live. All my life I had taken a back seat to musical performance. I feared the spotlight. But now I crave it and welcome the challenge. The grounded confidence I now feel has opened the door to a new career and life partner. I am reaching my financial goals and learning how to build a life of my own away from my parents….Heading towards the light is different than running from the dark. I now understand the difference.” 


    Jamie’s story is unique but the experience of finding one’s inner compass is universal. The feeling of purpose lives on, tugging at us to become all that we can be in this life, to discover the fullness of who we are. 


    For other stories and articles by George:

    George Carver is a life transitions and retirement coach. 

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