x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Conquering the quarter-life crisis

If a life coach seems like a thing for middle-aged folks, think again. We talk to professionals about the quarter-life crisis - the period in life after a structured education but before landing your dream job.

Leap! life coaching life and wellness coach Rawan Albina. Amy Leang / The National
Leap! life coaching life and wellness coach Rawan Albina. Amy Leang / The National

If the wide open road of adulthood is making you feel slightly nauseous, Jordana Jaffe has an offer.

The 29-year-old founder of Quarter Life Clarity will help you figure out your ideal career, and create a plan to get there, in the next 90 days. You can start with a free teleconference call.

"I believe that you've been put here on this earth to contribute to the world in a big way that feels good to you," she tells a dozen young listeners. "Achieving your ideal career is a very, very real possibility."

Jaffe, who lives in New York City, is among the growing number of young people coaching their cohorts through the so-called quarter-life crisis, that awkward period between a structured school schedule and a functional adult life. In a testimonial, one client calls her "my Sensei".

"You feel overwhelmed, you feel alone, kind of lost and directionless," Jaffe says, recalling her own periods of feeling stuck. "Everything just seems to be up in the air, from relationships to career to just the general direction of what you want."

Rawan Albina, a Lebanese life coach from Dubai, says that although she doesn't use the term "quarter-life crisis" herself, many of her clients fall into this age bracket.

"A lot of people of this age are despondent and depressed as it's the kind of period in their life when they realise that the big expectations and dreams of their early 20s may not materialise," she said.

The university years - and a more idealistic age - have passed and "many feel cheated, feel they've made compromises and they start to realise that their dreams may not come true", she says.

The sentiments are particularly common among young expatriates in the UAE.

"Many expats move here believing they were going to get rich and save lots of money, but quite often this isn't the case," says Albina. "So a lot of people get very despondent about this as the reality sets in."

In North America, however, an entire industry is growing around this call for help - dramatised in North America on Lena Dunham's HBO comedy Girls - with more life coaches tailoring their practices to young people, and more universities rushing to offer coaching as a programme. The idea seems to have gained favour since 2001, when Alexandra Robbins popularised the term in her book Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties.

But more than a decade later, the profession is far from standardised.

Anybody can legally call themselves a coach, observes Kirk Akahoshi, 37, who describes himself as a quarter-life crisis expert. He went through his own crises in 1998, before it was a well-known concept.

"Nobody knew what I was talking about," he recalls. "It took me about eight years to figure out what to do with my life."

Akahoshi pursued training in counselling and communication, and now coaches the young and the restless in the San Francisco area. He thinks finding the right career path is becoming increasingly important to young people because of the amount of time they expect to invest in their jobs, which is a direct result of the higher cost of living, and more demanding work hours.

Akahoshi and Jaffe represent two ends of the fledgling coaching industry's spectrum. While his credentials include a Master's degree in counselling psychology, Jaffe's degree is in English and her former business was as a professional home organiser in New York City. She cites her own quarter-life crisis as her selling point to clients.

"I think a good coach is someone you can connect with, and someone you can connect to," she says. "The best life-coaches for people are those that are in the same kind of place, or just a little ahead."

Janet Harvey has been a life coach since 1996 and is also the president of the International Coaching Federation, which is attempting to standardise accreditation of the field. "There's no question, we are seeing a younger interest in the training and education process to become a professional coach," she says. "What they're bringing is that quality of optimism and possibility."

However, she frowns on people who call themselves life coaches without proper training - at any age. "If I were hiring a coach, I wouldn't hire somebody that hasn't been trained, period. Otherwise we're going to have a good conversation. I'm not going to get empowered to do what's true for me."

Life coaching emphasises discovering passions and executing potential, taking clients from crisis to confidence. These themes run through Jaffe's conference call, as she urges the young women to close their eyes and try to visualise what will make them happy.

"When you go to the bookstore, which part of the bookstore do you gravitate towards?" she asks. "When you're speaking with people, what do you like speaking about the most?"

Though her business is only a year old, Jaffe has 15 regular clients and says she has openings for three more.

"I want to make sure you have all the support you need," she says. "I'm so invested in you and your success, and ensuring that your goals become a reality."

Back in the UAE, Albina has some sage advice for young people struggling to find their niche.

"My advice to people who are feeling like this is to be patient and realise that every phase in life brings its own lessons," she said. "So whatever the crisis is, try to look for lessons from it."