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Your Quarterlife Crisis Survival Guide (Part III)

I've been training...and I think I'm ready for the advanced skills of quarterlife!

I know you’ve been holding your breath in anticipation and here it is…the third and final part of your Quarterlife Crisis Survival Guide. This guide is based on my work with folks in early adulthood, as well as my training as an ACT therapist and my understanding of nervous system and attachment adaptations. 

If you haven’t read parts one and two, check them out. In part one, we talked about acknowledging the past and taking steps towards defining a future you want. In part two we explored the beginner skills of quarterlife: learning to feel your feels, separating emotion from behavior, working with your busy mind, and skills to help you start living in the here and now.

Today we’re moving on to the advanced skills of surviving and thriving in quarterlife. At this point I’ve outlined so many parts and steps I’ve confused even myself, but I think we’re on the advanced skills of step three...

Step 3: Rethink Your Landmarks (Advanced Skills)

The advanced skills of quarterlife are ways to deepen your understanding of yourself and how you show up in the world. The goal of the advanced skills is to further a more nuanced and healthy relationship with yourself, others, and your life. The advanced skills involve a more in-depth understanding of your internal systems, the ever-challenging skill of self-compassion, and building your perspective taking, or zoom out skills:

  • Build your zoom out skills
    I’m sure you’ve played around with Google Maps—you can zoom in super close, or zoom way out until you're looking at the entire earth. Zoom out or perspective taking skills are super helpful to cultivate in quarterlife. Zooming out is the ability to see yourself and your life in context when needed; the ol’ “see the whole forest instead the trees” vibe. 

    Zooming out can help you realize that while the current moment may feel tough, life is made up of hundreds of thousands of moments. Some will feel good and some will feel hard, because that’s the nature of being human. 

    There are lots of ways to zoom out. Getting out in nature and taking in big views is part of my own zoom out practice.1 The bigness and timelessness of everything can shift me out of my habitual stuck places. Taking walks along the same route throughout different seasons is another way I zoom out; I’m able to note the passing of time and check in around where I've been and where I want to go. 

    For some people, mindfulness, meditation, and/or journaling are perspective-taking tools. Mindfulness and meditation teach you to observe your experience with curiosity and compassion. Journaling, especially if you keep old journals and look back on them, can help you observe the arc of your own life and recognize patterns. Even a simple emotion tracking app can support zooming out, as consistently tracking our inner world reminds us our emotional and mental states are ever-changing, not finite.

  • Understand your attachment system
    Attachment is complicated. Even as a therapist, it took me a long time to understand the depths of how attachment works and to notice attachment patterns in myself and others...and I still have so much to learn! 

    My theory—and probably the theory of other, much smarter people than I—of why attachment can be difficult to understand is that our attachment system is such an integral part of who we are, there with us from our inception. Since attachment is pre-verbal it is hard to adequately describe with language and has to be first understood, then felt deeply to be healed.2

    There are tons of pop-culture quizzes and such to help you name your attachment “style.” Introductory books like Attachedcan be a super helpful first step to understanding attachment in general. A word of warning, however: it can be easy to latch on to and over-identify with a certain attachment style and that’s not super healthy for you or anyone else in your life. 

    Laurel Parnell, an expert in (and probably the founder of?) attachment-focused EMDR, says she doesn’t worry so much about someone’s “attachment style” and instead focuses her work on what a person needs to be healthy in their relationships.4 So as you’re exploring attachment, try to hold the information you are learning lightly. Once you have the basics down you can really start to do some deep healing in your attachment system. 

    Many therapies have an attachment focus: EMDR, IFS, Hakomi, EFT, SE, Jungian depth work, and psychedelic-assisted therapies to name a few. Exploration via therapy can build your understanding of what your system needs for healthy relationships. Therapy in and of itself can be healing for attachment wounds, especially if you have an honest, trusting relationship with your therapist. 

    For some additional self-exploration I really like the "Go Heart Yourself" section of the book Polysecure (and the book itself is one of my favorites on attachment.) The author, Jessica Fern, uses the acronym HEART to explore practices related to building secure attachment within yourself.Building secure attachment with yourself independent of your relationships is another way to begin healing old attachment wounds. 

  • Learn your nervous system
    What activates you? What calms you? How do you know when you’re calm, grounded, and regulatedHow do you know when you’re in “fight or flight” or “shut down and freeze”? These questions are all connected to our nervous system and the way we experience threat and safety in the world. 

    In my mind, the attachment system and the nervous system are intertwined and often react in similar ways. Our world can be an overwhelming place full of real and imagined threats, and we’re often responding to those threats in unconscious ways based on our old wiring. 

    In the same way learning present-moment awareness skills gives us more choice and flexibility, learning about your nervous system patterns allows you to be more responsive to your environment instead of blindly reacting based on old stuff. You’re also able to better take care of yourself when you know how your internal world operates on a nervous system level.

  • Work towards self-compassion
    I’m sure you already know this…and quarterlife is a couple of decades long. While you won’t be in a quarterlife crisis every moment of that time, you will hit the inevitable bumps. Since it’s a long road, take the time to work on self-compassion. 

    Self-compassion is the ability to talk to yourself kindly and gently like you would to a dear friend or a cherished pet. It’s reminding yourself that humans, including you, are messy and imperfect…and that’s ok. 

    Self-compassion doesn’t come naturally to most people and takes a ton of practice. Building self-compassion sometimes takes digging deep and working through old wounds contributing to your harsh inner narrative. The hard work is worth it though—if you can work towards self-compassion in early adulthood, it will serve the s**t out of you throughout life. 

Finally, it’s time for what we ACT folks call committed action, or…

  • Taking steps towards what’s important
    Committed action is relatively simple in concept: make moves towards the life you want to live and the person you want to be. This gets complicated because of all the stuff we already talked about—the tendency to avoid our emotions, our proclivity for believing too much of what our mind tells us, our difficulty in separating our emotions from our behaviors, and our tendency to get tunnel vision when we're stressed.

    Here’s an example: I love camping, biking, and solo adventuring...and when pursuing these passions my mind often tells me I’m going to get murdered in the woods (or at least that something bad is going to happen.) I often feel feelings of fear and anxiety when planning a solo adventure. If I listened to the scary stories my mind tells me and avoided the feeling of fear by staying home, I would never take the committed action step of going adventuring, an activity that is also in line with my values of play, fun, and connection to nature. 

    In order to get out there, I have to notice my thoughts about being unsafe and feel the emotion of fear. I essentially have to take those uncomfortable experiences with me on my adventure; to "do it scared" in order to live a life that is meaningful to me.

    I’m sure you have your own committed action steps you’re not taking because of avoidance and getting hooked by your thoughts. I also bet you have taken some committed action steps already this weekyou’ve gotten this far in this post, so something here is important to you. Identifying the steps we’re already taking in line with our values is a great way practice self-compassion and explore further committed action moves. 

Why do we do all this stuff? In ACT, we work on increasing what’s called psychological flexibility, an important marker of mental and emotional wellbeing. But we don’t do this just for funsies…it’s in service of something. A classic ACT phrase is “to live a rich, full, meaningful life.” This phrase is all about being able to look back on our short time on this earth with a sense of completion; the ability to say at the end of our lives “my life was at times beautiful and at times painful, and I showed up in a way that was meaningful to me.” 

Phew, that was a lot! Maybe one day I’ll condense all this blabbering into something a little more streamlined. (Look, a thought about my own imperfection! There goes my mind again, telling me an old story.) I hope you’ve found some helpful nuggets in these guides to surviving a quarterlife crisis.

Still feeling lost, confused, overwhelmed, and stuck? That’s completely understandable…and therapy can help. I offer a complimentary 15 minute consultation call to all interested clients. Schedule yours today. 


1. I think the idea of the settling effect of looking at horizons comes from Dr. Rick Hanson’s research; he’s the author of Hardwiring Happiness and has many talks online. 

2. The idea of understanding your attachment system, and having to feel it to heal it, is something Dan Siegel talks about in his interpersonal neurobiology work.

3. Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2010). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find-And Keep-Love. TarcherPerigee.

4. Laurel Parnell is an attachment-focused therapist, EMDR trainer, and author, as well as the founder of the Parnell institute. 

5. Fern, J. (2020). Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma, and Consensual Nonmonogamy. Thorntree Press.