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How to Overcome a Quarter-Life Crisis and Find Your Dream Job

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Dream Job Sign

Even though most people aren’t naive enough to expect their first job out of college to be a 24-7 party, many are undoubtedly surprised to find their first job so intolerable.

I too ended up in a job I hated, despite doing all the “right” things. I earned a bachelor’s degree and even went on to grad school to become a marriage and family therapist. After graduation, I landed a job in the mental health field. I lasted two and a half years until I finally said uncle and jumped off the career cliff with no real plan other than: get me outta here.

After I quit, I convinced my wife to sell our newly acquired house, and we moved in with her parents. Yes, I know, husband of the year material. I was a 20-something with very little work experience and no career direction.

The worst part was I didn’t even have a good cover story, like I was chasing my dream or some other semi-acceptable motivation.

The truth was that I had experienced the career equivalent of bonking. What’s bonking you say? In the cycling and running world, bonking is when you’ve hit the wall and simply can’t keep going, because you’re out of energy. That’s what happened to my career. I was out of mental, emotional and physical energy to keep going.

I started a photography business, worked temp jobs and interviewed five times in five days for jobs I didn’t want. Then I made a decision. I was going to get back on track.

Fast forward to now. I’m doing something I love, the house is back and I’m still on speaking terms with my in-laws. I made it through and you can too. Here’s what I learned about surviving a quarter-life crisis and how to find your dream job.

1. Start with you. I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and figured out that I am an INFJ. After I had a better grasp of my unique strengths, I had to ask myself some tough questions about what I like doing in my free time, how I would spend my time if money were no object and what jobs continually sounded appealing.

2. Get the right resources in place. Depending on your situation, you might consult books, a good friend, significant other, a community, a career coach or career support group. It’s unlikely that you will have access to all of these resources, so get the ones you can in place and use them to their fullest extent. Some great books to read during this time are: “48 Days to the Work You Love” by Dan Miller, “Live Your Calling “by Kevin & Kay Brennfleck, and “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles.

3. Make a plan. When I quit my job, I should have created a list of 10 perspective career fields that fit my personality and interests. Then, I should have created a step-by-step road map with timelines to know whether I was on track. I also should have asked myself the following questions:

  • What do I need to do between now and then to get into the type of work I enjoy?
  • Do I need to get additional experience?
  • Do I need more education or training?
  • How can I become more connected in my network?
  • What do I have to offer a potential employer?

4. Implement. This was actually the hardest part. After I knew what I wanted to do, it was a matter of self-discipline to stay the course. I recommend getting an accountability partner or group to help you stay focused. Whether that is your significant other, a friend, support group or coach, you are going to need someone to kick you in the pants from time to time when the going gets rough and you want to quit.

You will get tired, you’ll begin to doubt yourself and you’ll want to just settle for the life and job you have, but believe me if you can press on, you will come out of your career crisis stronger, wiser and in the best career for you.

Although your version of quarter-life crisis may be different from mine, my guess is you’re likely asking yourself the same questions I did. Will I ever find a career I like? What do others think of me and my failure? How will I ever get back on track?

Rest assured, you can find your dream job. The good news is the key to the lock on your career lies within you.

Adam Rico is a corporate recruiter and career coach. He blogs at Work You Enjoy and is @adampaulrico on Twitter. He is the author of  the free ebook “5 Essential Steps to Landing Your Dream Job.”

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Lindsay Curtis

    Another INFJ here. This is very valuable advice. But the only thing is…I finished my degree later in life (at 26) and am now 31 and in a job that makes me feel a pit of dread in my stomach before I go in every morning. Especially Mondays. The timing of this article was well-planned! :)

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      It’s never too late Lindsay. I know exactly what it’s like to feel that pit of dread on Monday mornings and that is no way to live. If you figure out what you would rather do instead, you can make a change. The key to finding a good career match is to find something that aligns with your personality, skills and abilities, along with your values, interests, and dreams.

    • http://www.victoree.wordpress.com Victoree

      Can you stand to hear from one more INFJ? I decided to change careers by earning a higher degree later in life (at 50), found out that going into nice, safe classroom teaching in early education was one of the worst things I could have ever done. Now I am almost 60 and having trouble convincing employers I am hireable.

      I have nightmares about the days I had a position where I became sick every morning when I approached the building. I had another position where I had to do everything possible and 3-4 cups of coffee per day just to keep myself awake. That was when I became a job gypsy, changing positions twice a year for a decade; running from jobs that made 0 use of my intellect; running from temp agencies that made me feel like I was being “put on the street”.

      At this “late” date I have finally begun to move back into my original love of words and images–writing and design–in a job an elder-placement program assigned me in 2010. I have been happy ever since. I will age out of the program next year, but by then I will be fully ready to fly on my own as a writer.

      Last of all, an introvert can learn to be out in front of people for the cause of love-driven passion for something. The job will be good as long as it also allows enough time, space and privacy in a day to retreat and recover.

      • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

        I can never hear from too many INFJ’s. There aren’t very many of us out there you know. I’m so glad to hear you are doing something you love. Yes, an introvert can learn to be out in front of people, but you’re right there is usually a recovery period afterwards. That’s how it works for me anyway.

  • http://www.tonygoddardconsulting.com Tonyjg

    A really good article. I bet you find being a recruiter and career coach very different to being a family therapist! Although there is no reason why an INFJ could not be a therapist. As you say it’s all about what energises you and drains you. I made a third quarter of life career change from being a well paid corporate warrior to running my own Executive and Career Coaching business. It’s one of the best things I have ever done.

    Tony

    • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

      Sure, there is no reason why an INFJ couldn’t be a therapist, but I can’t think of a reason why an introvert would want to have a job that requires you to be in front of people (especially in a specialization where everybody is bickering all the time.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      Thanks Tony.In many ways being a recruiter and career coach is quite different than being a family therapist. Although the theme that runs through both types of work is interacting with people in a way that moves them to action. I’m glad to hear you made a switch to running your own coaching business. That takes a lot of courage.

    • Serinpaul

      i really agree with you it has indeed been a great article

  • sc

    I’ve hated every job I’ve had, except one. Sorry, you can’t fix crisis with a checklist of solutions.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      What did you like about the one job?

    • San

      I’m in a similar boat. I had a job i loved in a position that I took over from someone it was created for, but i had to leave because they couldn’t pay me a living wage. I’ve tried to find another job similar to that one since then but it just doesn’t exist.

      • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

        What were some of the things you loved about that job? You may not be able replace that specific job, but likely you can find something that has similar components and that pays you what you need.

        • San

          I’m an illustrator/graphic designer and the job was to analyze client(illustrator’s) portfolios on a portfolio site.

          I would look at their stats through the first 3 months of their being on the site, see what keywords they selected, have a list of keywords site-wide that i KNEW were heavy hitters, look at their individual and all their thumbnails as a whole, go to their personal site(s) and see what direction professionally they might want to go…to name a few of the things i would do. I LOVED it. I could do something similar for other industries but unless it’s design related I don’t think i could be nearly as engaged in it.

          • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

            Excellent! Have you ever thought about self-employment? This seems like a service that would be helpful and needed by illustrators. You could provide this service to the illustrators on their own personal sites to help them get more web traffic.

            Also, there are social media consultant positions at more progressive companies if you are willing to move.

            Just some initial thoughts. Let me know if I can help further at Adam@workyouenjoy.com.

  • TNicole

    Can you help me? I’m in my 30s and stuck in a very negative environment, but with two kids, and little time, have no idea how to begin finding another way.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      I would be glad to help you. Likely you have more options than you are aware of. Without knowing the specifics of your situation, I would say the best place to start is with figuring out what you want in your job and life. It can be difficult to do this, but once you have that nailed down the rest is just putting the time and energy into getting what you want. If would like to speak further don’t hesitate to contact me at adam@workyouenjoy.com.

  • http://twitter.com/escmikey Mikey Howe

    Thanks Adam, really helpful. For all those people who are stuck doing something that they aren’t passionate about, I can assure you there are a lot of people out there who feel the same, and there is always a way out, its just never easy. So if you care about escaping your current situation and you want to do something different, you may also like to have a peak at http://www.escapethecity.org. This is not a plug, just trying to help out people who are obviously in the same situation I was in. Thanks again Adam, get in touch with me if you have a chance.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      Mike, I love your website and what you guys are all about. Fantastic and inspiring video by the way. I’m definitely going to spend some more time on your site. I would love to get in touch, what’s the best way to connect with you?

  • http://www.otleyrunfancydress.co.uk Fancy Dress

    Hay Adam,
    Great read and something that I wish more people would look into. It is not the be all and end all if you hit the wall early on in a career, mearly a wake up call and a time to turn your life around.
    I hear countless stories of people struggling to find work though I started my own business and have so far found the whole experience a positive one. Many of us have the ability to succeed without the guidance that they might need.
    Great post and I hope many learn from your experience.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      It’s interesting. Having fallen on my face with my career I’m not as scared of failure as I once was. It was tough, don’t get me wrong, but nobody died and I grew a ton as a result. I hope others can benefit from my experience as well. Thanks for your kind words.

      • http://twitter.com/downfromtheledg down from the ledge

        I get what you’re saying about failure; everything I’m afraid of has already happened…and then some. My MA in counseling also lasted me – get this – exactly 2 1/2 years! Strange coincidence. I was literally physically ill at the end, my stomach wrenched in knots walking into the building each day. Another INFJ, I was more cut out for my work with clients than the politics of the places I was at.

        Almost 4 years later, I haven’t really recovered. While I’m currently at a job anybody without a college degree can work at, there’s not a day I wish I was back where I left. Your story gives me a little bit of hope that my fate isn’t sealed quite yet.

        • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

          I’m so glad that you have renewed hope. With hope you can get through anything. That is a funny coincidence that you lasted 2.5 years in your job as well.

          I’m curious, what is it that you miss about your old job? Would it be worth it to return? Sometimes a little distance can give us a new perspective.

          Whatever you do keep fighting to do work you enjoy doing. Fortunately or unfortunately it is a shared characteristic of INFJ’s to do work that is important to us.

          Let me know if I can help you any further.

          • http://twitter.com/downfromtheledg down from the ledge

            I miss helping kids through a tough time…the feeling that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing…the feeling that I’m not at “work.” Mostly, I miss the opportunity to work with the real human being, not the mask/facade people put on for the world.

            I resigned from 2 places in a row, which has burned my bridges as far as references are concerned. I haven’t been able to get a job in the field for 4 years now. That fact alone has taken such a toll on my confidence that I don’t know how to cross back over.

          • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

            Actually, it’s fairly uncommon for a new employer to talk with your past boss. Are there others in the company you could ask for a reference? What about a team leader or other professional you worked with? How about customers/clients who will speak well of working with you? Or people you’ve worked with as a volunteer? (i.e.church and community activities)

            Please know that calling references is usually done after the decision has been made to hire you. They have already emotionally decided you are the person for the position. So it would take a really bad reference to not hire you at that point.

  • http://www.juskulitmanggis.com Gusti_pawana

    I’m very lucky. I’ve found my dream job.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      That’s excellent!

  • http://www.printinginabox.com Justin

    The Myers-Briggs idea is an interesting angle. I may just try that myself!

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      It’s great Justin, you’ll love it. Contact me at adam@workyouenjoy.com if you would like to take it.

  • Bryan

    Go INFJs! Whenever I’m feeling a little lost I return to this. Such a helpful tool and great way to remind yourself of yourself!

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      Agreed Bryan!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002365898487 Greg Miliates

    It truly is never to late to switch paths, no matter your situation. I started my consulting business in my late 30′s, married with 2 kids, working full-time, and requiring very little start-up cash. Just 4 years later, I’ve quadrupled my salary, work less, and have a lot more flexibility.

    Consulting is a great way to get out of a crappy job, because a consulting business has:
    –>low start-up costs,
    –>flexible hours,
    –>a high hourly pay rate, and
    –>you likely already have the expertise to get started.
    On my blog (http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com), I talk about how to start & run a successful consulting business on the cheap.

    Whether you decide to start your own consulting business as I and lots of others have done, you can use a bad situation to propel you toward a better place. As Adam mentioned in the article, taking action to move yourself forward is typically the hardest part. But if you break down the big, daunting tasks into tiny, easy ones, you’ll be less likely to put things off, and will start seeing measurable progress toward your goal.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      Thanks for your thoughts Greg. I totally agree with breaking down big tasks into smaller easier ones. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

  • Katrina Grant

    What if you know exactly what your dream job is, do all the right things, apply everyday, go on interviews, network and you are still having a hard time landing that job?

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      Katrina, if you are getting interviews for your dream job then you are half way there. Now it’s time to take a look at why they are not offering you the job. What can you do better in an interview to communicate to the decision maker that what you have to offer is exactly what they need?

  • http://AbsoluteADT.com April D. Thompson

    At 29, I’m finally digging myself out of my quarter life crisis. All of the pieces of the puzzle aren’t where I would ideally like them to be, but I’m making progress towards the life and career that I want to lead. I can’t stress how important it is to really to get to the implementation stage. I was prisoner to #2 and #3 for so long. This caused even more frustration because I was doing “the right things” but, not seeing any changes. But once implementation starts and small battles are won, momentum kicks in and you’re off to make this new dream a reality!

    Thanks for this post!

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      I’m so glad to hear that you are digging yourself out of your quarterlife crisis April. it’s Ok that not all of the puzzle pieces aren’t where you’d like them to be. The important thing is you are taking action and moving toward your goals. I wish you the best.

  • http://twitter.com/stuckaholic Alex Dogliotti

    Great advice. You could also try to play it that way in the job you have (if you can of course, big corporations are obviously more suitable than small businesses). Play your strengths at work, and plan how you’re going to move out of a role you dislike and grow into one where you can actually do what you like. The ‘plan’ part is probably the hardest because you’ll be asking yourself uncomfortable questions but stick to it and just making a plan will make you feel better.

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      Yes, absolutely Alex. An internal job search is a great way to find a job you love. Typically your network is larger within an organization and it’s easier to get the hiring manager’s attention. You’re right, having a plan can sometimes be difficult to come up with. In my experience, the hardest part is implementing the plan. If you can do that you will find success at some point.

  • http://www.sabaqonline.com Numan

    I am a computer systems engineer and still i not got any job.Now i am hesitating of such situation.I don’t know what to do!

    • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

      It sounds like you have technical skills that are marketable so it may be time to take a look at how you are going about your job search. If you have not already, download my free ebook “5 Essential Steps to Landing Your Dream Job” on my blog. You’ll find some tips to get you started in the right direction. Also check out Dan Miller’s book “48 Days to the Work You Love”.

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  • Buttercup Bus

    It is likely that you will have picked up a lot of transferable skills from previous employment – and it is suprisinig what you can apply to your new career. I quit working for a Business Consultancy firm, to hire vintage campervans. It turned out that all the customer communication skills, IT and accounting proved to be a good grounding to get things started.

  • Aktorra

    WOW. this totally hits home for me. Ive read so many books i am overwhelming myself and blowing this all out of proportion. My Last was “Refuse to Choose: How to use all you Passions, Interests & Hobbies to Create the perfect career”. Once so incredibly motivated I am a little lost to say the least. I just scheduled an appt with a career counselor after reading this but I hope it goes better than the academic counselors i’ve been meeting with. They seem to not understand my vision nor can they even advise me on graduate programs that will help me achieve that vision. They are so focused on the programs themselves they are so out of touch with the “real world” and what goes on AFTER graduation. I believe more & more we are educating students for traditional jobs that frankly dont exist anymore. (Atleast this student) A year after searching for a job I have come to the realization I might just have to create my own job. Cant let this talent go to waste. thanks again for the article. I thought I was starting to lose my marbles….

  • http://twitter.com/postcollegiate PostCollegiate Blog

    Lots of great advice here! Thanks so much!

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  • Lauren

    I don’t know if anyone will see this, but I need help. I’m 23 years ol and have absolutely no idea what to do with my life. When I was graduating Highschool and all my friends were going off to University, I didn’t know what to do or what to study. So I took a year off to work thinking I would get some life experience and figure it all out. It’s been five years since I graduated and I have worked as a hairdresser, carer for children with disabilities, a highschool tutor, childcare assistant, photographer, gardener and retail assistant. While I enjoyed almost all of them, nothing seemed to fit just right. I feel like I’m going to be career hopping forever, never finding what’s right for me!

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