Advice for millennials: What I learned from my quarter-life crisis. (Yes, I had one)

I had a quarter-life crisis at 25. I was racked with anxiety, filled with fear, and totally confused about what I was going to do with my life. I felt like everything I’d visualized for my early adulthood wasn’t coming true, even though I had an enviable career path, good friends, no debt and a supportive church group. Still I was lost. I didn’t tell anyone about my feelings, but I thought it made me sound fairly pathetic.

Around that time, I finally confided in a woman in her 40s at my church’s singles’ group who reminded me that God says “Fear not.” I needed to hear that and even wrote it down on a piece of paper and carried it with me in my purse. Eventually, after a couple of months, I started to pull through it. I still worried about my upcoming career choices, but i didn’t agonize.

I felt like everything I’d visualized for my early adulthood wasn’t coming true, even though I had an enviable career path, good friends, no debt and a supportive church group.

And then something totally unexpected happened. — I was assigned seats on an airplane next to a British man and fell in love. Two months later, I scrapped all my plans and moved to the U.K. That was 18 years ago. Having the courage not to fear such radical changes led me to the best decision of my life. Choosing to be loved was not a career limiting decision for me.

I realize that not everyone is going to meet the love of their lives during their quarter life crises (which I used to think were mostly experienced by young women, but having done a lot of mentoring in recent years I’ve realized that young men go through similar feelings of “what the heck am I doing with my life” moments), so here are some additional ways to manage that anxiety and make some positive changes:

1. To Keep Going to School or Not to Go to School?

That’s the tough question facing many young people today. As you weigh the decision to enter graduate school, ask yourself some of these questions:

– Is there something that you really want to study?

– Does your profession respect or even require an advanced degree?

– Will an advanced degree increase your chances of getting a job that you want?

– Do you have the flexibility in your life to leave work and study full-time?

– Are you able to pay for it? Can your employer help?

– Most important: Are you thinking about grad school because you don’t really know what to do? Or are you bored in your job and looking for an escape?

2. The White Board Incident

When I lived in San Diego, I wasn’t satisfied professionally and my husband Peter knew it. So one evening he had me sit in our living room with a white board and dry-erase marker. He told me to list everything I wanted to do in a job as well as everything I DID NOT want to do in a job. When I finished, I handed him my list and he tallied the results.

The final score? Anything in D.C. was better than what I would do anywhere else. “I think this is pretty clear. We need to move to Washington,” Peter said. And so that’s exactly what he did. You might try this practical approach to finding your own path to happiness.

3. It’s OK to Leave a Big Dog Employer, Too. It’s important to be willing to move and it also applies to leaving your employer to pursue a new opportunity. This is even true of companies or organizations considered the gold standard in their industry.

I know when you work for the best, it’s sometimes very difficult to leave it behind because you worry that nowhere else will measure up. That was certainly true at the White House. But I often advised young people to consider moving to a new place to take on more responsibility and gain more experience. Jumping to Capitol Hill or one of the federal agencies would allow them to get some valuable on the job training that was relevant to the White House and put them in a better position to return to the administration and climb the ladder.

Bottom line? A quarter life crisis is like a modern right of passage. Everyone gets through it. And don’t forget to keep your eyes and ears open for love.