The quarter-life crisis is the new midlife crisis. For many people, what looks like a fulfilled and charmed life from the outside can be anything but. In fact, more than 85 percent of young adults between 25 and 35 struggle with feelings of alienation, loneliness, insecurity and depression. It’s so common, in fact, that one writer says it’s less a matter of if you’ll hit a quarter-life crisis, but rather when it will happen to you. Yet, says Oliver Robinson, a researcher at the University of Greenwich in London, navigating the quarter-life crisis successfully can compel you to make positive changes that result in building and cementing a new, more fulfilling life. Here’s how Dream Tending can help you navigate the challenges of a quarter-life crisis and emerge successfully with new purpose and meaning in your life.
Discovering Your Career
First, let’s go on a little tangent to understand one of the core issues that affect many people in their twenties and early thirties—the equating of self with career. The book What Color Is Your Parachute? is recognized as the best-selling career book of all time. It launched in the 1970s as a handbook for people facing midlife crisis and seeking second careers. Its base premise is simple: you can lead a fulfilling life by aligning your career with your skills and interests.
The book spawned an entire industry dedicated to helping people find jobs, but somewhere along the way, it lost the central message that a vocation is more than a job—and you are more than the job you do. The end result is an entire generation of young adults suddenly waking up to realize that they’re unhappy in their jobs, dissatisfied with their lives and uncertain how to find the things that will make them happy.
Filling the Emptiness Through Dreams
In Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams, Dr. Stephen Aizenstat talks about dream analysis in a way that can help you understand why it doesn’t work to use questionnaires that identify your abilities to determine where you want to go. The problem lies in analyzing—using your intellect to try to understand something that you already feel in your bones and soul. Instead of analyzing your dreams, you should be interacting with them as if they are alive, because, he says, everything in your dreams is alive, from the landscape to the creatures to your dream self.
Aizenstat gives multiple examples from his own experience of people who learned important core knowledge about themselves by interacting with their dreams, including his own dreams of his great-grandfather, which led him to unlock a passion for helping people navigate dream worlds and use them to better their lives. His book also includes an entire subsection on the importance of finding your true vocation by answering the call of your authentic self in your dreams. According to Aizenstat:
Dreams tell us what is happening. They depict the difference between vocation and obligatory employment. They offer ideas about unrealized aptitude and point to inherent gifts. They point the way forward to the authentic impulse at the root of our true vocation.
The important thing to remember is that Dream Tending is more than analyzing your dreams. It’s an entire process of recognizing, naming, interacting with and—most importantly—taking care of your dreams through consistent practice of new behaviors. Here’s how that can look in real life, through an active exercise in imagination and dreaming, proposed in Dream Tending.
Discover Your Vocation Through Your Dreams
Start by creating yourself as a new business: the business of you. Aizenstat suggests giving your new business your own name — in his case, a new corporation named Steve Aizenstat, Inc.
Next, create a personal mission statement, i.e., a short statement that defines who you are, what you want to do and how you want to do it. This isn’t as simple as it seems—there’s a reason that multinational corporations spend months and tens of thousands of dollars in crafting their mission statements. Leanne Wong of MC Partners suggests writing your obituary as an exercise to help you visualize the legacy you want to leave in this world. If that seems too morbid, this article at Forbes offers another dozen tips to help you create your personal mission statement.
Now, start observing and interacting with your dreams. Call up images and creatures from your dreams and talk to them. Ask them “what is being asked of me now?” and “what is my true calling?,” then listen deeply to the hints being offered. Remember that your dreams come from a deep source. Each aspect in your dreams offers hints that offer insight and direction.
Don’t stop there—or start there, even. Let your intuition guide you in the questions and conversations you hold with your living dream images.
Look for recurring dream images from your childhood and try to find one that is as relevant to your parent(s) as it is for you. Stay with this image and get to know it. What does it tell you? What are its unmet needs? How can you help meet them?
As you tend to this dream image, pay attention to the emotions that arise within you. Where do you find clarity and certainty? What is the world around you in this dream? How does it help ground the figure—and you? Make note of these things and carry them with you as you start considering the changes you can make in your own life to honor the needs and desires your Dream Tending has helped you uncover.
Your dreams can help you uncover your unmet needs and seek out actions and attitudes that will help you move forward into a more fulfilled life. It takes time and a shift in vision, but the results are more than worth the effort.
By Deb Powers
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working on Massachusetts. She writes frequently about health, wellness and lifestyle topics.
Dr. Stephen Aizenstat
Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the Founder of Dream Tending, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and The Academy of Imaginal Arts and Sciences. He is a world renowned Professor of Depth Psychology, an imagination specialist and innovator. He has served as an organizational consultant to major companies, institutions, Hollywood films, and has lectured extensively in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
He is affiliated with the Earth Charter International project through the United Nations where he has spoken. Professor Aizenstat is the Chancellor Emeritus and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has collaborated with many notable masters in the field including Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and Robert Johnson.