Coping with the mid-20s slump

Coping with the mid-20s slump

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 19/11/13

Some call it a quarter life crisis. Others call it the death of innocence. I call it the mid-20s slump. Whatever you call it, it’s basically about as fun as a baseball bat to the back of the knees...

If you’re staring down a stagnant log flume of fading hopes and slipping potential, with the dawning realisation that you may never actually “make it” then don’t worry – you are far from alone.

Your mid-20s is a tricky time, all told. If, like many of us, you started being creative in earnest during your teens then you’ve already been plugging away at this shit for 10 years. You may realise that you’re actually not terribly well qualified in anything else. You may be feeling frustrated, undervalued, poor and confused. You may have had the sinking realisation that, by your age, your parents were already parents. You may be struggling to pay the rent or accepting jobs you hate just to do so.

This, my friends, is what bakers, builders and bossy editors call “all part of the process”. Forget what you read about Alexander the Great conquering an empire at 22. Forget all those precocious sociopaths you graduated with who are now splashed across the arts section of national newspapers. Forget Zadie Smith’s £250,000 two-book deal at the age of 20. Forget Wes Anderson making Bottle Rocket at 27. In fact, drive any comparison with other people, other eras or other disciplines from your mind. 

I very nearly gave up on the whole idea of writing at about 25 to become a teacher. Hundreds of better writers than me certainly have done. I was stuck at a library, working on reception, playing Solitaire all day, talking to the caretaker about television programmes I’d never seen and spending my lunchbreak writing for blogs that couldn’t pay me. I was miserable and frustrated and wondering where it all went wrong. But here’s the thing. Simply by dint of not giving up, you increase your chances of success each and every day you just hang on. 

Thousands of creative graduates give up every year. Many of them have good reason to – they’re shit. And, if you also suspect that you’re shit, then it might be worth seriously considering retraining. But if you’re good – I mean really good – then the longer you hold on, the more likely you are to break through. That’s just maths.

Talking of maths, here are five points that might just drag you through the mid-20s slump


1. Frustration is actually a pretty good motivational force, if you can harness it. Let your frustration overwhelm your self-doubt and shyness. Use it to develop a thick skin and then start to hawk yourself like a vulture.

2. Specialise. The creative field is more crowded than a hen house. But if you can find something, however niche it may appear, that you do really well – possibly better than others around you – then you are much more likely to break ahead of the pack.

3. Change tack. You don’t have to throw all of your creative ambitions out the window, but you might want to redress the way you’re going about achieving them. Collaborate, switch to a new form, move city if you fancy it. Change is very good for a creative mind.

4. Accept that you’re getting older. There is nothing wrong with being 30. In fact, in everyway I can think of it’s significantly better than being 20. Sure, you might not be a young artist any more. But you’re still an artist.

5. Broaden your horizons. I don’t mean move to Iowa – nobody needs to do that. Rather, if you have too definite, too specific or too defined an ambition then you may be blinding yourself to all the other opportunities that are sliding around. It’s the difference between looking at a landscape and looking at a landscape through a loo roll.



Have you survived the mid-20s slump? Let us know your tips below!


Image by rowie k via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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