How to deal with a quarter-life career crisis

eFC logo

A new job is cheaper than a convertible and toupee

One day I woke up with the realisation that my dream job wasn’t all that I had hoped for. Not only that, I came to the conclusion that to get into the industry I wanted, I needed to make some changes. I needed a convertible, a toupee and a leather jacket.

But I’m an economist and I feared that a quarter-life crisis could be costly, so I carefully hatched a plan. This is my advice based on that experience:

1) Save some ”screw-you” money

This step is first, not necessarily because it’s the most important, but because it’s the simplest to implement. Open up a savings account and start putting away a little money each week. It sounds trite, but if you do this, eventually it’ll be a lot. This is also something people neglect to do when they first start their career, forcing them to live from one payday to the next and limiting their flexibility.

I did this by having all my pay transferred into a high-interest savings account and paying myself a salary into a transactions account. Because spending was that little bit harder to do, I started saving much faster. Eventually you will have enough cash put aside to provide yourself with a financial buffer should you want to move jobs. The money is what will give you the power to say ”screw you” if you need to.

2) Take the plunge with your eyes wide open

Don’t assume that you know what you’re doing. Do some soul searching about what you want, but test these ideas with your friends and mentors. Track down people in your industry of choice, buy them lunch, and get their insights. As infallible as you might think you are, those with more experience will probably have valuable advice. If you listen, you may make fewer mistakes. It will also give you a clearer picture of where your skills might fit in your dream industry, allowing you to more effectively target your job search and applications.

3) Be persistent but not stubborn

A friend of mine, who finally secured his dream job, told me that the recruiter commented that he was perfectly suited to the role and asked why he hadn’t applied before. In fact he had applied to the same division six times. His persistence eventually paid off. Don’t assume that a rejection means that a company has written you off. For all you know, the job may have been withdrawn or the application you submitted failed to pique the interest of a specific recruiter. Hiring is a subjective process, so don’t take what is often a game of chance personally. Finally, don’t let your ego get the better of you: always ask for feedback. If you don’t make the cut, ask for advice, it may prevent your next application from getting rejected.

4) Don’t burn your bridges

If you’ve managed to get the persistence step right, and you are targeting positions where you skills really bring something to the table, an opportunity will eventually come up. When it does, take a deep breath, think carefully about your next step and refrain from sending an abusive email to Ron from accounting. Check your contract with your existing employer. Can you take unpaid leave? Do they offer sabbaticals? Have others been able to return to the company after trekking around Europe for six months? Check to see if there is a way to leave the door open to return if things don’t go as planned.

You’re always better not to burn your bridges. If you’re not sure how your boss will take your departure, talk to somebody you can trust and see what they think. A good employer will realise that the best they can do is be supportive: if they’re not, you’ll probably leave anyway; but if they are, you might return one day with your new skills.

5) Develop a ‘networking belly’

Don’t think it ends once you have secured that new job; you need to hit the ground running. When I changed my career trajectory, I started on short-term contracts. This meant that I knew at the outset that my position was temporary, and I had to make the most of the time I had. So I set up a lot of lunches; I soon developed a ‘networking belly’ and made a lot of contacts who gave me great advice. Now, besides having a lot of friends in the industry scattered around the world, I have an inside edge. When new roles come up, they’re the first to let me know.

6) Stellar careers don’t have to be linear

If five years ago you’d have tried to predict where (and who) you are now, do you think you’d have got it right? One thing I learnt from the most successful people I met, was that careers aren’t necessarily linear. In fact, some  senior people I know have had career paths which were far from a two-dimensional rise to the top. Many of them had worked hard and were open to opportunities, whether this meant living in a developing country for two years or learning the subtle intricacies of asphalt.

I’m not trying to convince you that going out and engaging in a quarter-life crisis is a good idea, but if you’re miserable, then quietly accepting your current circumstances isn’t either. There is also a lot to be said about learning to be satisfied with what you’ve got. But this article isn’t about that – maybe the next one will be.

Giles is an economist and blogger. You can read more of his articles at

The views expressed are his own and not those of eFinancialCareers.

Fancy yourself as a blogger for eFinancialCareers? Complete this online form and tell us what you’d like to write about.

Popular job sectors


Search jobs

Search articles