Two years ago, I was stuck in a job that made me miserable and living a city I hated. Every time my alarm went off in the morning, I’d feel a shooting pain go up and down my back. I used to call this pain my “Morning Edition,” because it coincided with NPR waking me up.
My Morning Edition would shoot up and down my back when I was tying my tie before leaving the house, riding the bus to work, and when I scanned my ID badge on the way in to the office. I’d feel it on the elevator ride upstairs, in weekly team meetings when we went over bullet-pointed to-do lists and discussed “best practices,” and when I was out a bar with friends, feeling my Blackberry vibrate with an email from my boss at 10pm.
The pain, which manifested itself physically as shingles on my side (usually common among 75 year-olds, not 28 year-olds), was actually far worse emotionally. It was the pain of knowing I wasn’t where I was meant to be, but having no clue where I needed to go or how to get there.
It was the fear that I might never make a change and be stuck forever in a job that wasn’t right for me. It was the stress of not knowing the answers—what some people call a quarter-life crisis—although I certainly don’t wish shingles upon the 50 million twentysomethings out there.
During my quarter-life crisis, I felt paralyzed to make a change. I felt stuck. I often told myself the following: “I wish I could do _________. But that’s impossible, I’d never be able to do that. It’s too late to do that, I’m already 28. All my friends on Facebook are so successful. I’m so jealous. I want to do what they’re doing. Some of my friends are lawyers now—that’s nuts! A kid I went to college with was nominated for an Oscar! Wow, my buddy is traveling around Southeast Asia. I feel so boring. Everyone is getting engaged—I’m tired of being single.”
Everything feels impossible during a quarter-life crisis, even small decisions like what to eat for dinner or what to watch on Netflix. Here are three simple cures for anyone feeling stuck or overdosing on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
1. Express Gratitude. Remember what really matters. Be grateful for the opportunities you do have and think of the people in your life you love most. Write a postcard or letter to five people you’re grateful for—they could be family, friends, partners, or co-workers.
2. Stop comparing yourself with others. In the era of social media we only see the coolest parts of our friends’ lives, like when they get a new job, fall in love, or travel somewhere beautiful. We think, “Wow, I really need to get my shit together.” All of us are figuring it out, even our friends whose Facebook grass looks really green. All of us are on different paths, with no right or wrong answer. Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time. Stop worrying about other people think and start figuring out what you want. A good way to do this is to take a one week social media sabbatical. Don’t check your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for a week. Trust me, it’s not that hard. At least try a weekend-long sabbatical. During this time, experiment daily with a creative activity you love to do, like writing, photography, or painting.
3. Listen to the voice within. We all know the sensation of being stuck in a job that’s not the right fit. But very few of us actually act on that sensation. If you’re unfulfilled in a job or unhappy with something in your life, it probably means you need to make a change. This doesn’t mean you need to quit your job tomorrow, but it does mean your gut is telling you something important. Use the voice within (we all have one) to guide you in the direction you need to walk. Maybe it’s telling you to explore a new career path, move to a new city, save up money to travel, learn a new skill, find some new friends, ask someone out, launch a company, or start a creative project. Whatever it’s saying, start listening.