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Ask HN: Tips on coping with my quarter-life crisis
33 points by MyAnonymousAcc 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
I believe I am going through a quarter-life crisis and although this is not directly related to technology I feel that a lot of people on hacker news will be able to relate.

First let me present my situation (which might be a bit gloomy). I just graduated with a masters in electrical engineering and have been depressed for the last 5 years (almost as long as it took me to get my masters). Although I dislike offices and love being outside the offers I have right now are for 9 to 5 jobs in offices abroad. Despite these jobs are highly paid I am afraid that my depression will get worse since I will feel that I am not leading a meaningful life. Although what I feel I need right now is a job which will allow me to communicate with others I am heading towards a coding job which will likely involve many hours of being alone. I keep having thoughts telling me that I don't want to be a programmer and ask me why I keep on doing this. The only sincere answer I can think of is that I am afraid of breaking out of this role play I am putting up for the last years of my life. I believe I would enjoy being a ski instructor since it combines both communication and being outside. I am thinking of accepting a coding job and when I earn enough money to become a ski instructor, change careers. Does this sound logical to you or am I just wasting time?

Did you have similar thoughts when you were 25? Did you make a decision in a similar situation that you regret? What would your advice be?

Try to adapt your lifestyle so that you can tolerate the 9 to 5 office job without getting depressed.

That could mean consciously making the best use of your time outside of 9 to 5 (take vacations, exercise, healthy diet, good sleep, relax after work, enjoy the weekends, etc).

Then slowly and over the longer term improve the situation to your liking strategically (for example by strategically changing jobs).

Taking extreme steps is very unlikely to lead to a good outcome.

You will probably not enjoy being a Ski instructor as much as you may be tempted to think.

For example instead you can aim for getting a remote job then go skiing for 1 month somewhere and ski and work.

In summary try to find a way to peacefully co-exist with a 9 to 5 office job while you progress in your career and strategically and steadily shape it to be more to your liking.

This way you can set things up on the right track so that in 5-10 years you have a well paying and comfortable job that you can quite happily live with.

If you take a more extreme step today like becoming a Ski instructor you may enjoy it in the short term but in the longer term you trade one set of problems for a whole another set and in a few years you may be painfully forced to go back to "step 1".

It is probably better to start somewhere uncomfortable and work towards comfort and balance over time than jumping straight to something dreamy.

Consider that there are probably 35 year old ski instructors who would kill to be electrical engineers with 10 years of experience sitting behind desks in offices, earning good money and taking yearly skiing vacations.

And yes it's all a lot easier said than done.

Along the lines of "step 1", don't try to gamble/invest/go-all-in on stacks of chips, stocks, or start-ups. That will amplify and prolong your misery, as you fall behind more on your mental ledger.

I've done it before and lost 10 years of time (well, assuming I'd have used the time better). And, only in the last year did I get a second chance by basically making everything back.

And now, I'm left with the same question: what do I do now?

In retrospect the cause was definitely the rest of life being unbalanced and unfulfilled. The job is only part of it in that it takes up time and doesn't fit your desired persona.*

Unfortunately I don't have the answer except, as above, try to improve your life step by step. If it means changing careers, great. Just know that it's not a cure all and you should take the long view rather than expecting instant relief.

* Maybe crude but at the base level I think we're unhappy in our 20's when we don't feel successful enough to bang women on the regular. Then everything else gets lumped in.

For me now past my 20's, and as a parent, it's still bothersome but maybe not with the same urgency. I'm now thinking what I can do that's meaningful or interesting and has a better quality of life.

So don't create your own startup? Doesn't creating your own startup give you a more invaluable skill set? People say you learn faster when you start a startup. What do you think of that statement? How is doing a corporate job a smarter move than going all-in on startups?

The point is that emotional need should not be a factor in deciding whether to take a bet. If everything else makes sense, go for it. Otherwise likely your judgment is clouded.

This is another reason why scratching your own itch is important.

IMO everything borpik says hits the mark.

But if I were you I'd save up for a few years, throw away my career and work as a Ski instructor for a year or two anyways just to see how bad it turns out.

It's one thing to hear from others how extreme steps are unlikely to lead to a good outcome, and how we are trading one set of problems for another, but it's quite another to never have taken extreme steps in life and wonder "what if"?

Then once you're through with skiing, come back to programming. :)

Take the job, work a couple of years, then go Ski to your heart's discontent.

Yes I agree with this especially if you are at the beginning you can just "delay" your normal career stuff a bit and go screw around for a year or two.

It's good to try things out and either it will work or you will just "get it out of your system" and go back to whatever you were doing with more appreciation. Just keep it "cheap" and don't sacrifice too much just for an experiment.

Best advice ever.

I'm just coming out of my twenties, and have also suffered from some bad depression throughout, so I guess I might be able to offer some perspective.

First, mid-twenties are hard for lots of people. I kinda hated the last five years or so of my life. It's chaos, and most of the choices of post-Uni adulthood are shit.

However, there are some upsides. First, you have some time. Nobody is going to grudge you teaching people how to ski. You wouldn't be throwing anything away by doing that. It's actually a better idea than going into a job you're gonna hate, and not going to engage in.

That said, the 9-to-5 is also pretty nice. My feeling is a lot of what makes the mid-twenties horrible is a combination of stress, signifigant choices, and chaotic living situations. Sometimes when you have a 9-to-5, it's just the kind of steady, boring bread that you can build a fulfilling life around. You know, get kids and a wife, take up making model planes as a hobby. Go skiing. Read some good books.

I'll add two things that help me. I have this same issue. I feel depressed about the authoritarian nature of the 9-5 society we've set up.

1. Read about FIRE. Live frugally and save 50% or more of what you make. At that rate, you can retire in your thirties. This is especially possible for us tech folks who make abnormally high salaries. A great first resource is Mr. Money Mustache. Read the entire blog from post 1 through to today. Take from him what makes sense for you and leave the rest. It will change your life and your goals. Or at least it did for me.

2. In the interim, be selective about your employers. Maybe you want to do software engineering for a non-profit that you care about? You probably won't make as much, but your day to day life will have more purpose if you know you are doing good in the world. Alternatively, if your goal is to stack up money as quickly as possible so you can retire as soon as possible, go for a more typical corporate job. But still be choosey. If you think advertising is a net negative in the world, don't go work for an advertising company. Find a team of people you enjoy working with so that at the very least, you have people around you who you like.

Overall, I don't think what you're going through is abnormal. We probably all go through something like this along our journey, so don't think it's something wrong with you. Surround yourself with good people. Think about what is most important to you and do that.

A good step in addressing depression is to talk with a licensed clinical mental health professional. Clinical depression is not caused by vocational choice. It is a medical condition. Good luck.

No it was not caused by vocational choice but I believe it contributes in its perpetuation. Since you mentioned it I have done psychotherapy for 2,5 years and have been on antidepressants after two episodes in the past. My question is rather of philosophical nature..

That seems like a healthy perspective on the situation, then. My comment was based on the 'minimum viable advice'. I have no idea about the costs and qualifications required to become a ski instructor, your economic prospects as a programmer, your skill at skiing, and the workforce demands of the ski instructor industry. Those would all play into any logical analysis of the decision.

I quit my corporate software job in 2014 to travel (I was 26).

I don't regret the choice, but the thing I didn't expect was how hard it would be to make friends without a school or work environment.

Isn't that how it is in real life in general? If your work colleagues are duds, you're kind of on your own. At least traveling you can fall back on hostel friends, Couchsurfing or Meetup, or going out for a beer and meeting people who might be interested in a foreigner.

the main difference is length of interaction. With work/school the people in your social circle will be there for years, for better or worse. Friends made while travelling tend to be more ephemeral.

I can kind of relate to this. Actually I have a tendency of being depressed since I can think straight but I managed pretty well. But as well I know since I'm aware of the concept of 9-5 - I guess with the age of 12 or so - I am pretty sure I cannot stand this monotony.

Fast forward 8 years: I'm happy to be out of school. Studying is very tough but Physics in University is actually more interesting than anything in school. 5 years later I'm finished with my studies, there was some tragedy in the family and I'm heavily depressed and little confused.

Actually I wished I had taken a year off, taking some random job that barely pays me and enjoy myself the rest of the time.

Stupid as I was I still continued to work part-time and the other half of my time I co-found a startup. Afterwards I take on a 9-5 job in another city where I know nobody, all my colleagues being significantly older than me and slowly but surely life got more and more dull.

Another 8 years later and I find myself in a fundamental tone of being depressed, although I have truly enjoyable times at least once a week. Luckily I also work part time since a year, that definitely helped.

Let me repeat myself: if you feel 9-5 isn't for you and you feel overwhelmed, take some time off and enjoy yourself. You'll never gonna be that young again. (Also it is indeed possible to work part-time as an Enginner but expect job search being at least 10 times tougher and longer.)

I had a similar experience through grad school, and have felt perpetual burnout for the last 10 years. There's no right answer, but I recommend looking at the writing of Mr. Money Mustache and other FIRE (Financially Independent/Retire Early) literature (e.g., JL Collins, etc...) and pushing to save and invest as much as you can. I take great pleasure knowing that now, after about 10 years of work, I won't have to work another day in an office again.

Also, be sure to exercise :).

So what are you doing these days.

I'm 30 now. In my 20s I was all over the place. I studied maths, did my masters, was on the path to acadamia, jacked it all in and went snowboarding for a year. Almost stayed on working as a DJ in the Alps. Then I felt I should go to get a real job, but real job offers scared me because the work seemed to lack any substance (I basically thought the work sounded pointless). I tried a few things and then eventually landed working in mobile tech in Africa and Asia and loved it. Then I moved to Kenya and started a tech startup. I have no idea what will happen next. The key lesson I've learned from all of this is that I could have never predicted what would have happened over this last decade. There have been some ups and downs, but one thing I'm clear on is that I have no regrets about doing what I felt was truly important at the time. If you think it's truly important to go and be a skiing instructor right now then why not just do it. It's hard to be too logical about the these things... try not to leave yourself destitute of course, but it doesn't sound like that's a big risk!

You're excited about working as a ski instructor. You should absolutely do it.

Now is the time. You have your health and personal freedom. You may have less of these things in the future.

You don't need to sacrifice your 20s to an unpleasant corporate job be happy. You don't need to retire in your 30s to be happy.

Many people take several years for themselves before settling down into a corporate job.

It'll be scary to take the first few steps. That's normal. You'll be amazed at the opportunities that will present themselves to you if you self-actualize, plan for the future ($), and invest in friendships.

I left my job at 25 to through hike the Continental Divide Trail and couldn't be happier with the decision. Many of my friends are ski instructors, outdoor educators, climbing guides, etc and they couldn't be happier with their decisions. Many of us have found enjoyable, meaningful, and well-paying jobs in the outdoor rec industry as we've established ourselves.

PS Seriously, invest in your friendships.

I'm 24 and quit my tech job in November to become a ski instructor. It was the season of a lifetime for sure, not just hedonistically, but holistically. Stepping out of the "working world" gives you perspective on what really matters to you and how you want to organize your life. When you are skiing everyday, you realize that you really don't need a whole lot to live on the day to day. You make friends because you share an intense common interest with everyone in town. You see the lifestyles of people outside the tech bubble and that inevitably causes self-reflection.

It won't hurt your career and I've had no problem in a few interviews explain why I went and what I learned.

Feel free to AMA but if you have the money to last 6 months in a cheap apartment drinking cheap beer and eating half-off specials, send it.

Be a ski instructor.

You can take a coding job later when you need to support your family that you started during your ski job. Your degree is not going to expire.

You can't take your SWE money to the grave. You have real passion for something -- many people would be jealous of that. Don't waste it.

What he/she said, plus it doesnt hurt to tinker with a toy software idea to have fun and keep you in your toes. I had a similare quarter life crisis and ended up leaving the service for a very different world and can say lot of the advice in this thread is so very true.

First step is knowing yourself, and you know you love skiing, ao as they say, 'party on wayne'

I'm only 23 but I think about leaving the tech field every day. I have also been depressed (not sure if I would say clinically depressed, but depressed) for a while now.

The only advice I have to give is that most bad things aren't as bad as we think they will be and most good things aren't as good as we think they will be.

You'll find plenty of reasons to become a ski instructor and plenty of reasons to take a 9-5 job, along with even more reasons not to do both. If you can find a way to relieve the pressure of making the "right" choice, it will be easier to make a good choice. Which, realistically, is probably either!

I'm not sure if that will help but I really hope that you enjoy your life, regardless of what you decide.

There's no right answer. Having a nice steady pay check isn't horrible. If you have job offers probably a good idea to take the job get some experience. If you like to ski try to stay close to a place to ski(even if it's for less money). There are collaborative parts to being a developer. Look into becoming a project manager or business analyst. get a certification as a scrum master.

maybe look at getting a trade job as an electrician. More hands on. Or apply to power companies. maybe if you like traveling find a company that will force, make you, I mean, let you travel...your still young. Nothings set in stone. Maybe take some time to decompress. you can do what ever you want.

I strongly recommend reading "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport. It's full of good ideas but one of the key insights is about spending time building up career capital and then leveraging that to get what you really want.

I don't think anyone else has said this but it's worth noting that most coding jobs don't involve many hours of being alone. I've been in the industry full time since I graduated (a little over ten years ago) and it's been non-stop meetings and people asking for help and spending time with customers and mentoring and demo days and offsites and brainstorming...

Go be a ski instructor/bum for a few years and see how you like it. You can try to pick up a few small coding gigs on the side. Or maybe the ski resort will have some programming projects or whatever you want. You can always use your Masters later. No need to get on the treadmill now if you don't want to. A friend of mine worked on yachts for rich people and is now running investments for them. The point is, the sky is the limit man. Or in your case, chase the endless winter!

I use to glorify traveling around the world. I would dream about it from my corporate job. Then an opportunity arose to travel while working for two months. I did that and had a great time. But then I realized I don’t really care about traveling the world, two months was enough. And so I was lucky I didn’t quit my job and do that. Most likely you need to fix how you currently live, not in a drastic move to another country way, but get a new job, new apartment and new friends.

I’m in my 30s and finding it harder to leave my tech job. My sanity comes from golf, playing outside with my dog, and working outdoors on my property. If you were to ask me what I would do if I could retire tomorrow comfortably, I could immediately write an essay of my goals and what I would start doing tomorrow. If you are in a similar mindset regarding that question of retirement, maybe ski instruction is the right move. If not, perhaps take the safe route for now.

I'm 48, but I remember my quarter-life crisis pretty well. Long story short, I sort of realized I was getting tired of the 8 - 10 hr a day coding job and felt the need to do other things, specifically go to film school. But I did not have a definitive sense of that - it was a bit of a tug of war feeling.

After dithering a bit, I decided to stick around at my job as a new project had started - I ended up being architect for a satellite link control system for the DoD. It was a hellacious project, a bit stressful, but it actually got into the field (unlike a lot of DoD projects) and was of some use to the troops [the bureaucrats did not want it because it put them out of a job, aka less paperwork]. So in terms of life achievements, I actually did something...

After that, I went to grad school (again, asked myself: film school?), got my MSc, then after really getting tired of the BS in IT after another couple of years (right before the 1st Internet bubble popped), I finally ran off to film school. It only ended up being a bit of a vacation, however; if I'd gone when I was 26, I'd probably be in the film industry. Or maybe not...

Anyways, the therapist I was seeing when I was 30 (before I went to film school, trying to figure out the depression, dissatisfaction with life etc) told me something quite useful - part of the unconscious reasons for choosing a particular career path are tied to your emotional needs at that particular point in your life. I wish I'd stuck it out with the trying to do film related stuff after going to school, but for a lot of reasons, life got in the way (got too used to the easy money...) The BS in the film industry is much like and worse than the BS in IT...

What you say in your writeup struck me - the need to communicate with others. So I suspect you are in the same general place as me when I was 26. That I took as a sign something emotional and unconscious is going on. You are young enough to try something different, if only for a few years, and it won't affect your life path as much compared to being over 30 and still having the same fundamental difficulties (which you do not want, believe me)

If the reality of being a ski instructor turns out to not be exactly what you need, you will still have gotten useful information about what you actually might need, even if it turns out you just needed a break from IT for a bit. So my advice is to go for it, assuming you don't have any other pressing responsibilities that insist you ought to stay in IT.

Step 1. Balance. (Like a lot of other people have said here)

And I mean Balance on all dimensions of how you are as a person. Mental and Physical being the primary ones. There are other dimensions but that's outside the scope of this context.

Once this is set (and its a lot of work, mind you) then it doesn't matter if you do software engineering or skiing or X.

On the bright side, you know what you want to do (be a ski instructor), so you should use whatever means necessary to make that happen—even accept a short term coding job to save money.

Many people have no idea what they want to be and put no thought into it, so kudos to you. That’s huge!

What is the worst case scenario when becoming a ski instructor? Is it that you have fewer regrets, enjoy yourself, make less money, and delay taking an office job for a few years?

I mean, more young people probably die skiing than sitting in an office.

Death is the worst case scenario in both situations; it has no bearing on making a decision here. It's also exceedingly unlikely.

The worst case scenario that is likely is, as said, making less money, possibly being unable to re-enter the tech field (though I consider that too unlikely to consider as well).

There's no obvious major downside to trying the ski instructor gig. I'd go for it if I thought I wanted it.

I don't see why death should have no bearing on the decision if the risk of death in each situation is different.

So I don't have any specific advice, per se, but I want to offer my experience as perspective. I am 26 and have had similar thoughts and bouts with depression.

I have a pretty diverse work background. I come from a degree in fine arts, have worked multiple minimum wage jobs, outdoor jobs, and desk jockey jobs since graduation in 2014. My current position is in an office in a tech hub city, and I am in the process of finalizing an offer to transition into a coding career.

Throughout all the jobs I've held, the different work environments, and the grind - my depression hasn't actually eased up or gone away. It just shifts its focus to other areas of my life that I get anxious/worried/feelings of depression about.

It's easy to romanticize an outdoor lifestyle and active job, but just like anything, there are pros and cons.

I would suggest focusing first and foremost on getting your depression under control. It's easy to cast blame on your current work/housing/love/social situation as the cause, but it's just your depressed brain projecting and deflecting. Changing careers drastically now may feel liberating at first, but I guarantee that the feelings of crisis will creep back in over time.

Once you have some tools to better manage your depression and outlook, things will become clear.

As for your career - you are in a good position right now. You have a masters degree and offers on the table. My guy reaction is to tell you to accept one, go and work for a year or two, and re-evaluate. Maybe the feelings of disliking offices and not leading a meaningful life will dissipate if you are busy working on interesting problems, or have fun/smart co workers to be around. Worst case you get a year or two experience and know for sure that you don't want to be in an office.

I don't know what your work history is like, but I can tell you from my own experience that making very little money contributed much more to my feelings of depression and angst than working a boring/un-filling job that paid well. As a fellow lover of skiing (started when I was 2 years old) who taught weekends throughout highschool and college - the money is crap and the weather gets to you quickly. If you already know all this, then best of luck. I still day dream of quitting to do the same thing.

Tbh - there is a very good chance that you could do both things (assuming you actually like coding and aren't just fed up with it right now). Why not work an office job for a few years and try to pivot that into a remote/part time/consulting gig that allows you to work a few hours a day and ski/instruct the rest?

My point is - there are a lot of paths to take. Don't get tricked into thinking that it is an all or nothing choice right now. We are conditioned to plan our lives from A to B and follow the playbook, but you can throw that playbook right out the window.

To reiterate, your first step is getting your brain balanced out. However you accomplish that is very personal and not something I am qualified to guide you on. If you really think that switching career paths will do that, then go for it! But if I were in your position I would pursue coding for now and re-evaluate in a year or two. The mountains aren't going anywhere.

Good luck.

This is great advice. I'm also 26 and have come to the same basic realization (although only have worked one mundane IT job these past 3 years). The key is to develop a stoic mindset that can adapt to any phase of life you're in. Enjoying the present, doing your best, etc. Remind yourself when you forget. One thing I like to do is to imagine my current surroundings are in a foreign country, and for some reason it makes things more interesting and less mundane.

But I do think that some of this depression can come from not "letting it rip" and going after some goals. The fear of time passing you by and you never took a shot. So for me, I want to go do a slower type of travel where I can get fluent in a language or two. And sometimes, the thought that I'm not doing that and sitting in a desk job that is boring during my best years, makes me depressed.

The biggest task is: how do you link up the things you'd have the courage to "take the shot" for with things that can sustain you and your eventual future family? Still trying to figure that one out.

>One thing I like to do is to imagine my current surroundings are in a foreign country, and for some reason it makes things more interesting and less mundane.

This is brilliant! Just tried it on my pizza run and it definitely works for me too. Been in the same place for 8 years and it's starting to get grating despite all the rich culture (one of the oldest living cities in Europe)

Gotta love the internet for the tiny little things said by random anons that can improve your life.

Maybe it's a disease like bipolar disorder. I say that because of "5 years".

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