It was 2 months before my 25th birthday. Everything in my life seemed upside down. My business was no longer exciting me, working out seemed mundane, and hanging out with friends felt like a chore.
I started asking myself, do I really have the success that I thought I would have? Am I actually creating an impact on the world? Am I happy? What’s the point of all this anyway?
I had found myself in a quarter-life crisis, or as The Muse puts it, “a period of intense soul-searching and stress occurring in your mid 20s to early 30s,” typically because you feel you’re not achieving your full potential or are falling behind.
According to The Guardian, the quarter-life crisis affects 86% of millennials, who report being bogged down by insecurities, disappointments, loneliness, and depression. Millennials, it’s less of a question of if you will experience a quarter-life crisis than it is a question of when.
Fortunately, the quarter-life crisis doesn’t have to be something to fear. One young person shows us that it can actually be the thing you need to experience to take your life to the next level.
Meet Robert MacNaughton, the cofounder and CEO of the Integral Center in Boulder, CO, an organization that is at cutting edge of personal and relational development. Through MacNaughton’s work he has helped tens of thousands create a massive impact in their lives and relationships. However, this would never have been possible for MacNaughton if he hadn’t rerouted his life at the crucible of a quarter-life crisis.
I caught up with MacNaughton on the latest episode of Unconventional Life, “How to Beat the Quarter-Life Crisis and Uncover Your Life Purpose.”
MacNaughton grew up in the deep south of Atlanta, Georgia. He was raised Catholic and attended a preparatory school, where “good Southern values” were instilled into him. Unlike most kids, MacNaughton was reluctant to accept what he was told as fact. He challenged the status quo, doubted his religious teachings, and refused to participate in the mainstream culture.
MacNaughton recalls asking grand questions like, “What are these things that our family and culture is enrolling us into and saying we should care about? Why should we care about them and why should we just go through the motions?”
He calls these things ‘Postmodern Integral Theory,’ which reflect a healthy skepticism towards traditional world views in order to transcend limited thinking and achieve greater mindfulness.
It wasn’t until after graduating from college with a degree in music that MacNaughton’s questioning was truly put to the test. He had completed the socially-sanctioned path to education, yet he still felt lost, empty, and absent of purpose.
Like all millennials in a quarter-life crisis, he had a choice to make: to succumb deeper to the depression, or to leverage the pressure as a force for change.
Choosing the latter, MacNaughton applied for a job fixing computers at the Integral Institute, and was hired. Immersed in an environment of personal growth and accountability, he was able to take charge of his life and gain the expertise to ultimately found his own branch of the Integral Institute in Boulder, CO.
Years later, the Integral Center at Boulder has evolved into an in-demand educational center through hosting events like the Relational Leadership Summit for business leaders and executives, or through providing a platform for thousands to experience personal and relational transformation. Below, MacNaughton shares how you can hone into a quarter-life crisis and reroute yourself on the path to fulfillment and service.
1. Step up and create the things you want to see in the world. MacNaughton created the Integral Center because he saw a tremendous need for it in his community. Rather than waiting around for someone else to build it, he stepped up and did it on his own. Drop the excuses about why you’re not the right one for the job: if you really want to see something get done in the world, who better than to do it than you?
2. Stop trying to please others. “When I started thinking, what do other people want? What is the market hungry for? Those endeavors were the greatest failures,” MacNaughton says. Many of us create from a place of anticipating what others will want and trying to fulfill their needs. But when we create solely for others, it leaves us feeling empty, and oftentimes we’re unable to satisfy them afterall. Instead, focus on yourself and create things for the sake of your own enjoyment.
3. Listen to your inner voice. “Your life purpose doesn’t yell at you, it whispers,” MacNaughton says. “You need to be listening for what’s whispering to you and what tingles the heart.” It can be tricky to recognize your own voice after you’ve spent most of your life listening to others, so listen carefully. Tune into what excites you and head in the direction of your joy.
4. Uncover your identity by trying new things. You might not know yourself as well as you think you do. “The war of our identity and figuring out who we are and what we care about is our opportunity. This is the reason to get out of bed in the morning. Start a business, post something on Facebook and see what happens,” MacNaughton says.
5. Tap into your resistance. Notice where you are feeling resistant to taking action or having trouble being with something. These wells of resistance are the greatest source for us to discover where our edge is and where we have room to grow. “Your angst is your liberation. Where your resistance and angst is highest is your greatest dividend for your own development and where you find why you’re here and what’s gonna be your greatest service for the world’s needs,” MacNaughton says.
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