Have you hit a crossroads in life? A huge 75% of us do at a certain age – and comparison anxiety could be to blame.
It goes without saying that we’re our friends’ biggest cheerleaders. We yell them on as they scoop work promotions, move countries, publish books and variously win at life.
But alongside the elation, an unsaid fear can sometimes linger. That queasy feeling that we’re falling behind, and not quite making the grade in comparison. It’s not particularly savoury, this emotion (some may say it’s a close companion of jealousy), but nevertheless, it is A Thing.
And now a new study from LinkedIn has thrown the issue into the spotlight, identifying the habit of comparing oneself to successful friends as one of the leading reasons for a quarter-life crisis.
The career networking website grilled over 6,000 people aged 25-33 in the States, Britain, India and Australia. The research aimed to dig deeper into the quarter-life crisis, something LinkedIn defines as “a period of insecurity and doubt that many people in their mid 20s to early 30s go through surrounding their career, relationships, and finances”.
LinkedIn found that a massive 75% of those aged 25-33 suffer a quarter-life crisis. Among these people, nearly half (48%) said comparing themselves to their (apparently) more successful friends triggered the dilemma. The effect was more pronounced among women than men (51% versus 41%).
It’s perhaps no surprise that in this age of chronic over-sharing, we’re feeling the pressure to match up to others’ achievements more than ever before. And it seems that – as the LinkedIn study indicates – women are especially prone to falling into the comparison trap.
“As women, we’re conditioned to measure ourselves against our peers because it’s a way to give ourselves validation and approval,” psychologist Dr Marissa Wolfe tells Stylist. “Men are socialised to be more accepting of themselves. The men I work with benchmark in measurable areas like salary and performance but don’t tend to compare themselves in the highly subjective areas my female clients use.”
It’s exhausting because no matter how much we achieve, it feels like it’s never enough. But the best way of overcoming comparison, according to Dr Wolfe, is to be aware of how fruitless it is. “I see it becoming stronger in clients who panic about […] not being where they feel they ‘should’ be,” she says. “It ebbs as people age and begin to inhabit themselves in a more comfortable way. My happiest clients are the ones who notice that pang of comparison and mindfully unpack it, asking, ‘Would this work for me? Does it make me feel good?’”
Unsurprisingly, career anxiety is another leading cause of quarter-life crises among young people. Sixty-one percent of respondents in the LinkedIn study said that the need to find a job or career they’re passionate about prompted a crossroads in life.
A number of worries play into both this and the friends comparison effect, as highlighted by the graph above. And these feelings will typically hit around the (surprisingly specific) age of 26 years and nine months.
“People in this age range feel a lot of uncertainty and frustration around their careers, even more so than pressure around their relationships and personal life goals,” say the study’s authors.
“Remember that everyone is at a different stage in their professional journey. Think about what makes you happy in your career and beyond, and establish goals that help you work towards your definition of success.”
The research revealed that 56% of people want advice to figure out what to do next after a quarter-life crisis, but they don’t know where to go for answers. In response, LinkedIn has launched a new Career Advice feature that matches young people with unbiased professionals in their field, providing what it describes as “lightweight mentorship opportunities”.
In the meantime, you could also take a peek at the ways in which people questioned by LinkedIn sought to solve their crises, below. Food for thought awaits…
Images: iStock / LinkedIn / Rex Features