Turning 25, Let the Crisis Begin
August 7, 2018 4:37 AM   Subscribe

My kid is turning 25 and is having a hard time figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She's beginning to have anxiety attacks, she's come to me for advice, and I'm really not sure what to tell her.

I don't want to get bogged down with the details, but she recently decided she does not want to continue with a career in the arts. She's not at all into the self-promotion aspect of the industry, the endless auditions and rejections, and wants to do something else. The problem is she has no idea what else she wants to do, her anxiety is spiraling, she's coming to me for advice and I'm not sure how to best help her.

She has a service industry job that pays the bills although the job itself fills her with anxiety, and other than running and going to yoga, she has little else to fill her time. She was beginning to feel like the anxiety would never end so recently began seeing a therapist. I want to give her genuinely helpful advice, but I'm not sure what to tell her. I know this is a really hard time, but I also know that it should blow over. I've offered to have her come back home for a few days or weeks or whatever she needs. What's the best help I can give her?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes to Human Relations (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First off your anxiety about saying the right thing and supporting her with the right advice isn't exactly helping... You need to be confident that she'll figure it out. She WILL. Your confidence in her when she's so unsure is super valuable. Also doting emotional support. So YES to offering to let her come home if she wants and care packages and love. It sucks to think you know what you want to do with your life and find out you were wrong. But it is a part of life and she will find something else.

She's 25, she could drop everything and decide to go to med school OR thousands of other careers that require intense training if she wants. None of that is out of possibility.

Are there ways you can support her exploring options? Like paying for her to see a career coach or something similar? She can change her mind. Nothing is set in stone.

Insight into what she's is good at or might enjoy may provide insight.

She'll get through. Good luck to both of you!
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:02 AM on August 7, 2018 [14 favorites]

I remember getting overwhelmed at the range of possibilities of things I *could* do in theory. What helped me was looking at jobs in my area that I thought I could do and that seemed to go in a direction I liked, and applying for them and seeing what opportunities came up, rather than trying to decide on a single passion out of several.

It's perfectly okay if she picks career #2 and after 10 years of that wants to do something else. The hard thing at that age - and still - is having faith in yourself that you'll figure something out and it will be okay.
posted by bunderful at 5:06 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

It sounds as if she’s getting help with the anxiety. That’s a great start. Encourage her to persevere with that, including options that go beyond talk therapy, if that’s not enough.

I am a lot older than your daughter so I am with you that this will blow over and with hindsight, she may well wonder what she was worrying about. At the same time I would have found that assertion unhelpful when I was in my early to mid twenties. But I also find myself at a crossroad in my professional life where I only know what I no longer want, not what I want to pursue instead. So perhaps it also helps to realise that life is full of phases like that. Finding yourself at crossroads is not a bad thing. It is just that we are programmed to want safety and certainty and well, crossroads are the opposite of certainty. But that’s ok. You can take time to explore things and change your mind. She doesn’t have to figure it all out right now and can explore a range of options. She is really in a great time of life without personal commitments like children that limit her choices.

I get the impression that one thing that makes this extra hard is the idea that ‚there has to be more to life than this‘ where ‚this’ is the anxiety inducing service job and yoga class? If that is part of it, perhaps she could volunteer for a cause that she finds worthwhile? That would help with meaning in the here and now while she figures out her next moves.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:12 AM on August 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Have her apply to a couple temp agencies in her area. She'll be able to try on different types of (almost certainly boring, but most jobs are!) work, and maybe she'll find something she can be happy in.

For me, at least, temping made me realize I actually like having a boring office job. I go in in the morning, it's pretty low stress, I leave in the evening and have all that other time and brain space to do whatever else I want to do. There's no hustle, there's no annoying customers to deal with all day, I just come and go and get paid for it. It's very good for my personal stress levels.
posted by phunniemee at 5:29 AM on August 7, 2018 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Some useful advice I received in a similar state was to think about what she wants her day to look like, and what she wants the "mechanisms" of her job to be, and not to think about the actual field her job is in. For example, does she want to work 9 to 5 every day, or would she rather have a more flexible schedule? Does she want to interact with many people or few? Does she want to do repetitive tasks, or be faced with unique problems every day? Once she has an idea of that (and keep in mind, it doesn't have to be the one and final idea, just an idea) she can start identifying careers and jobs that fit that mold.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:35 AM on August 7, 2018 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure if this would be her taste at all, but I wish I would have read the book Designing Your Life in my early 20s! If you don't think she'd like it, it might be interesting for you to read with her in mind. It's based on a popular course for Stanford undergraduates and it's a really fun approach to figuring out what you want to do with your life. It has exercises and is very actionable. Maybe you can even go through it together!

My favorite thing about their approach is that there is not one "perfect career" or life for each person - there are a lot of possibilities and there are ways for you to explore them all. I would've found this perspective helpful when I felt like I should have gone in a different direction and had already missed my chance to live my one perfect life.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:42 AM on August 7, 2018 [12 favorites]

Alright, if she isn't interested in self promotion with an arts degree... then there's always applying those skills with some soul-crushing corporate schlock.
If she paints or draws or what have you: Digital art, copy, layout, product photography, ux design...
If she is a writer: tech writing, slogans what have you...
If she dances: ... I've got nothing, maybe getting a NASM certification and doing personal training, or nursing school, or PT school...

Those things can be more than hobbies - and she probably has a great portfolio.

*Coda* : By the time I was 25, I had worked a genetics internship in highschool, done a computer engineering degree, worked as a research engineer for the aerospace industry as well as industrial robotics, climbed a whole host of mountains, quit everything, gone to culinary school, and was cooking across Boston... I hadn't even said - Data? What's that all about... which is where I've spent the past 15 years... She is at the beginning of everything... nothing is ruined, even if she moves on from this.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:01 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I absolutely agree with RockSteady. I think the problem with most career searches is people ask: what job do I want to do? When people really should be thinking: what do I want my day to look like? How much money do I need? If she loves art, does she want to be in front of a computer most of the day? Out in the community? With kids? At home? With other people? Start there and then work backwards.

I have a friend who is a lawyer who loves art. She thought that working as a lawyer for an art museum would be the ideal job -- good pay and close to art. But it actually turns out that a lawyer for an art museum actually has little contact with actual art -- more contracts about art, HR stuff, liability. It sounded perfect, but in practice her whole day is spent on the computer and the phone.

Volunteering is also great. Another friend was unsure what to do and started volunteering with autistic kids -- she loved it so much she ended up going into occupational therapy, a field she now loves, is well-compensated for, and she never even knew existed beforehand. (She had actually been an actress before, but decided it wasn't for her for the same reasons as your daughter.)

But in general it sounds like you're doing great! I think I would offer to pay for a mindfulness class, or give her some of Pema Chodron's books, particularly ones about uncertainty. I also really like the book "The Happiness Trap" about mindfulness, acceptance, and figuring out what your values are. This has really helped me when times were hard and anxiety was spiralling.
posted by heavenknows at 8:26 AM on August 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This was me when I was 22 (I'm now 27 and have an engaging, stable job with great career prospects) and here is what I needed to hear from my parents:

1. "I'm so glad you're in therapy! That is SUCH an important step when you're dealing with tough life stuff. You are making the right choice and you should be so proud of yourself for creating a strong support network."
2. "You'll get a great job. Of course, these things are hard and I'm always happy to provide hugs/distractions/ice cream while you go through the grueling process of applying and interviewing, but I believe in you and I know you can do it."
3. "Internships and temporary positions are a GREAT way to explore different fields. I think you should definitely try them out. I know it might feel like a step down, but I like to think of it as a bridge to something longer-term." [If this is true:] "and I can support you financially while you do, but I also expect you to be independent again soon."
4. "When I was your age, I had some tough career times too..." [Insert story about living off of ramen noodles, worst first job, devastating layoff, grad school, etc. here.]

I didn't actually want real career advice from my parents at all. I wish I'd known about Ask A Manager for that.
posted by capricorn at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2018 [16 favorites]

Also seconding the Stanford Design Your Life stuff.
posted by capricorn at 8:31 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was at this sort of crisis in my life, a woman in my 20s with an arts degree and cooking in restaurant kitchens full of sizzling summer temperatures and misogynistic fellow cooks, I expressed frustration and doubt to my mom. And my job really didn't pay the bills completely - my parents paid for health insurance since I was hourly and no insurance was offered.

My mom thought for a bit and suggested nursing, something I had never had even an oblique thought about. She thought it might appeal to me because the lifestyle was that of an insider, almost cliqueish group of mostly women who worked shifts, a lot like cooking minus the terrible heat. (the men in healthcare were still largely misogynistic). It worked out well for me, and I thought it was very perceptive of her to suggest something based on what seemed to appeal to me about the lifestyle of restaurant life.

Perhaps if you and your daughter think about what appeals to her about her original choice in the arts, perhaps creativity, solitude (or collaboration - whatever), the audience (customer, casting director, etc.) and the kind of lifestyle she is most comfortable with, you might come up with some surprise candidates that you would never think of if you tried to go straight from "arts" to "arts without self-promotion".

She could also consider arts behind the scenes. I have a friend who started with a love of theatre. She didn't have the stomach for auditions and rejection, but she sidetracked into stage managing. She ended up in New York and stagemanaged shows off and on Broadway. After a decade she burned out and married an actor she'd met on one of those shows. He still acts. She opened a daycare center, where she still manages herds of people and juggles a thousand pressing needs, but it's her show and she's happy.
posted by citygirl at 8:35 AM on August 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

What you have as a caring, loving parent is the power of unconditional love.

There is so much (too much) societal pressure to define one's self-worth as what we do to get paid... capitalism is a sucker's game, most people do not find their fulfillment through work, nor should we feel obligated to do so.

Be there for her, remind her of what a wonderful person she is, talk to her about her values, her passions, make her a meal, encourage her as you are doing and let her know its okay that she doesn't pursue the arts. DON'T give her specific advice about job seeking, interviewing, networking or whatever crap articles from Harvard Business Review come from well-meaning friends.*

*I am watching my beloved aunt and uncle do this to their wonderful 28 year old son and it is crushing him... they love him more than anything - but its not helping.
posted by RajahKing at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Ten years ago, I was your daughter. I found it helpful to think less about what my future career was going to be, and more about where I wanted to be in the country (I'm UK-based) and what I wanted my life outside work to look like. I ultimately decided to return to university for a while, and even graduating at 28 didn't really set me back too much. So I definitely agree with other Mefites who have suggested thinking differently about the next step - it might not be career-driven, but life-driven.
posted by churlishmeg at 9:41 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The best gift you can give her is self-confidence and self-worth.

It's up to her to figure out her path in life, so she can confidently do that in the future. She *will* have to make decisions about her life path again some day. Encourage her to make her own decision, in the way she sees fit - gut instinct, pro/con list, etc. Let her know that it's not a test - there are no right or wrong answers. Sometimes ya just gotta pick something and do it.

Self confidence should help her anxiety, too.
posted by hydra77 at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2018

Best answer: Another thought - it’s okay to need time to figure it out. To tread water for a bit - get a temp job at an insurance co, take some classes at night and volunteer for non-profits she’s interested in working for.

Giving myself permission to take time to tread water has helped me with those anxious transitions.
posted by bunderful at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was going through my quarter life crisis, I found this book helpful: Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived. It's now almost 15 years old so it may be too dated to be helpful, but it looks like there are somewhat recent reviews from people who still found it valuable.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:01 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One helpful thing I read in my twenties at a similar crossroads was Grumblebee's amazing comment years ago about figuring out your passion, and the benefits of not trying to make that passion your source of income.
posted by veery at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The most important advice I can give you is to reframe the issue. This is not a crisis. This is normal mid-20s life. Everybody goes through this. Almost all of them come out the other side unscathed.

The other thing I'll add is that "artist" and "person working a normal job" are not mutually exclusive categories. There's no reason your daughter can't continue to pursue her art as a hobby on the side while she works a day job to pay bills. If she's a musician, she can still play coffeeshops and open mics. If she's an actress, she can do community theatre. One of my co-workers is on the board of a community theatre group, and between that and various other organizations, she acts in four or five shows a year. It's still a huge part of her life, even though she's successful as a 9-to-5er. There's a book called The Artist in the Office that I recommend a lot, and one of the sections is about Charles Bukowski's career at the Post Office. The line is like "when someone asked Charles Bukowski what he did, do you think he answered 'postal clerk'?" It sounds like part of why your daughter is upset is because she feels like she's giving up a big part of her life, when that doesn't have to be the case at all.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:34 AM on August 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Hi there! When I was 22, I was in an internship program and graduating college. At a dinner with all of the interns, we were talking about what we were going to do next and when it was my turn, I gave the answer no one likes to give: "I don't know." What happened next? I worked on a campaign, then a Barnes and Noble, then a boring admin job that I got fired from, then I interviewed for and got hired by the best boss I've had and worked with him for five years. Then I got a job with a better title and higher salary where I stayed for four years and I traded that in for a job with an even better title and higher salary. In that time, I dealt with depression and anxiety (and still do). I also traveled, started grad school, got engaged and married, stopped grad school, bought a place, had a kid, started a different grad school and here we are.

I thought my 20s were tough and they weren't that bad. I think there's a lot of pressure in general to find your forever-career path. People change careers. At my last job, I met someone who had been working as a veterinarian who moved to DC because he wanted to work in science policy. I know a young woman who was an actor for several years and is currently a 4th-year medical student. Careers are rarely forever.

I realize the question is what should you say as a mother. You love her like crazy and believe in her and know it will work out. And encourage her to try different things like traveling, pursuing different hobbies and interests, etc. If she likes running, what about trying a marathon? I did my first when I was 23. If she can swim or bike, she could train for a triathlon. If she likes yoga, what about trying a yoga teacher training?

Also, I'd encourage her to check out the latest album by Andrew WK. In particular, he has a monologue called The Feeling of Being Alive that I really like:

"If you ever feel like something is very, very wrong, wrong with life, wrong with yourself, I understand. I have that feeling too. But in actuality, that feeling isn't wrong. That feeling is just being human. That intense feeling inside is the feeling of existing, of being alive, of being a person. It's a mountain to climb. It's a test to pass. It's a challenge we're ultimately worthy of. And rather than dread or resent this challenge, we can embrace it. Life is very intense but that doesn't mean it's bad. Understanding this is what partying is all about."
posted by kat518 at 1:08 PM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

What's the best help I can give her?

So when I was 25, the best help my mom could have given me was to accept my choices, even when it meant moving to another country that she hated. I didn't want her to be hands on. I was figuring it out.

When my brother was 25, on the other hand, my mom talked to a friend of hers into getting my brother an interview and very strongly convinced my brother to a) interview, b) take the job, and c) move home from another city. For this particular (anxious, slightly stuck) kid, that was the right move - he is still at the job five years later, moved out when he was ready, and is much happier for that intervention.

You know your daughter best.

A middle ground might be to offer to connect her with your friends or colleagues to talk to her about their careers. It might help her figure out what she wants, and then the advice would not be coming from you.
posted by oryelle at 7:04 AM on August 8, 2018

It's good that she has figured out what she doesn't like about the arts world, and I agree with the recommendations to figure out what parts she likes and is good at to help her find a new path.

My sister was a theatre major and spent several years after college doing various internships and residencies. Even though she was not an actor, I think she got tired of always having to try and find the next gig, and then on top of that nothing paid well enough to be sustainable. She also saw that to continue on her path, she would really need to go to grad school, but then would be back on the gig hunt again competing for fewer and fewer jobs.

In college, she had also minored in business-- an agreement brokered with our parents when she wanted to major in theatre. The thought for them was "Oh good, a business minor in case theatre doesn't work out." For her, the thinking was that all theatres also have to pay attention to business, so it would make her more well-rounded beyond her focus on directing. This was actually a really good mix for her! During those internships and residencies, she found that her particular strength was that she could operate in the sweet spot between the art and the business. On the art side, she worked well with directors, actors, and crew. On the business side, she worked well with the development and front office people. Directors loved that they could focus on the art because she helped keep them organized, and development people loved that she understood the importance of making time for member/donor relations and could speak knowledgeably about the art those people wanted to support.

After she decided to stop doing theatre as her primary full-time work, she found a great match in human resources. You know how it is with HR-- some of them are great with people but can't seem to file your benefits paperwork correctly, while others are all about paperwork processes and actually terrible with people. My sister occupies that same sweet spot in HR that she did in theatre.

I never pursued theatre full-time, but it was still a big part of my life. I included my regular volunteer gig on my resume. It always got questions, and I've had several times where I know my discussion of my theatre experience got me the job. When I interviewed for my first teaching job (was about to start a licensure program but didn't have the license yet), the administrator looked at me skeptically and asked if I could manage a load of 125 students. I told him, "Last summer I was the stage managed The Wizard of Oz. I kept track of over 100 high school cast members, about 20 elementary-aged Munchkins, 40 crew members, an orchestra, and a dog. I had to know where every single person needed to be when, what they should be wearing and carrying, what they should be saying and singing. I had to know the timing for all the lights, sound, and music. I had to have everything organized so well, that if I were hit by a bus on my way to the theatre, anyone else in that production could pick up my binder and run the show. I was also the primary point of contact for all those kids' parents. So yes, I think I can keep track of 125 students taking a history class." I got the job.
posted by scarnato at 7:55 AM on August 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

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