Letters to Graduate Students 4 | Beware of the Quarter Life Crisis

Dear Dr. You

Dear Dr. You,

Quite frankly, I never heard of the quarter-life crisis until today. Gee thanks “Dominique” for sharing this insightful article with me today!

After reading this article, I realize that I am on the tail end of my quarter-life crisis. According to the article:

Phase 1 – A feeling of being trapped by your life choices. Feeling as though you are living your life on autopilot.

Ohmigoodness, yes! I admit after grad school I could not figure out what was next for me. In retrospect, I gravitated to my startup because I would essentially be commercializing my thesis project. It was a field that I knew and loved and believed in – proteomics. I knew I was good at it; I had awards to prove it. I loved my team, after all one of them was my PhD advisor. I couldn’t say no to him. He believed in me so much, imparted his knowledge on me, and mentored me for almost 5 years. But, I realized in this phase that being an adult means setting my own goals, pursuing my own dreams – not the dreams of my advisor nor my parents. But, my own. Up until the end of my PhD, I didn’t really have to think about what was next. What was next was always written in a course catalog. Now, with a world of opportunities available to me, I felt trapped in the startup. Long hours doing experiments, writing grants, writing business plans, training technicians, answering phones. My life was on autopilot.

Phase 2 – A rising sense of “I’ve got to get out” and the feeling that you can change your life.

I think the trigger to get out was staring at my dwindling bank account, and realizing that after receiving an advanced degree, I was  still not able to help my mother financially. Realizing that I couldn’t afford to travel as much as I wanted to. Realizing that my friends in the industry did not have 12+ hour days.

Phase 3 – Quitting the job or relationship or whatever else is making you feel trapped and embarking on a “time out” period where you try out new experiences to find out who you want to be.

So, I resigned. I don’t like the word “quit”. I most definitely didn’t quit. I resigned amicably. And, those weights lifted off my shoulder.

Phase 4 – Rebuilding your life.

I moved states. I got to use my interior decorating skills to “adultify” (i.e. beautify my place in a non-college student way) my new apartment. I feel free. I have time to explore my other passions now. Mind you, I do miss living in a college town. I miss having intellectual conversations with my peers and my “superstar”. I miss my “superstar”. I miss being at the forefront of new technologies and innovations. But, I finally have the time to take care of me, and I am loving it. I am loving this state and being close to my “Dominique.” I am loving dabbling in the medical device industry.

Phase 5 – Developing new commitments more attuned to your interests and aspirations.

I still don’t think I am where I want to be yet. But it’s a start. I just learned that I can paint :D. I’m serious about staying fit and now I have time to go to the gym. I know that I will start a start-up again one day; working in industry allows me to learn how I can do it right the next time. I’m still going to write that children’s book; I gave myself my own deadline. And, I love that it is a self-imposed deadline, and not a school deadline or work deadline, but my own. That simple deadline makes my heart smile.

So quarter-life crisis, I am proud to survive you!! And, Dr. You, if you are going through this, I wish you the best of luck. There is a light at the end of your tunnel! I see it!!! I do, I do. Do you? Look closely. You are almost there ;). Be blessed!

~ Bella A.

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