Annual Coaching Research Conference: Presentation Notes


As you may be aware, in January I presented the findings of my research on the quarter-life crisis at the 8th Annual Coaching and Mentoring Research Conference. You can view the Prezi presentation that I used here and this blog post accompanies this presentation as it might not make much sense on its own. Use the arrows underneath the presentation to guide your way through it, whilst reading the below.

The first couple of Prezi views simply give you an idea of what the presentation covers: the quarter-life crisis itself; the methodology used; data analysis; the research findings; and the implications of the results.

The first section of the presentation on the quarter-life crisis offers two definitions before moving on to summarise the challenges and issues that previous researchers have found to be associated with the quarter-life crisis.

I felt that research on the quarter-life crisis was needed to provide an evidence base for effective coaching practice but to also investigate further the experiences of those in their 20s and 30s, a generation frustrated by the current economic climate and the high expectations of society and the Baby Boomers.

The presentation moves on to outline the Research Objectives and how the methodology used reflected my critical realist approach to life - that reality is objective and concrete but the way each individual interprets it is truly unique and subjective, resulting in a variety of experiences, thoughts and feelings. As a result, I wanted to interview those in their 20s and 30s to see how they were experiencing the quarter-life crisis and how coaching was helping them.

It was quite a small sample that was interviewed - 6 coaches and 6 of their clients between the ages of 18 and 30. It was quite hard to find coaches working with individuals in this age group, which tells me that more people should be accessing this type of support as research clearly shows that many in that age group find it difficult to cope on their own.

The limitations of the study are that it was a small study. Of course I wasn’t able to interview everyone and therefore the results aren’t representative of the whole population. The findings are unique to the six UK-based clients that I interviewed, but from my experience and reading around the subject, there are many others out there feeling the same as the individuals that were interviewed.

So, the findings. The main findings were that a quarter-life crisis may occur between the ages of 14 through to 35; a much wider age spectrum than I first expected to find. This is likely to be because, in fact, the quarter-life crisis may be less to do with age and more related to the life events that the individual experiences and when. For example, with more and more students doing PGCerts, Masters, and PhDs, you could be 30 or over before even contemplating settling down.

In a nutshell, because of an increase in educational opportunities but also a challenging job and property market, we are becoming ‘adults’ much later in life and remaining ‘adolescents’ for longer than previously. Yet, society and the previous generation haven’t adapted their standards or expectations, resulting in quarter-lifers feeling intense pressure to achieve everything by the age of 30. It is harder, for example, to become independent of one’s parents as many can’t afford to leave home, rent or buy their own property till much later than expected.

The presentation moves on to clarify such challenges, outlining these issues with independence but also the struggles that those interviewed expressed around identity (constantly asking themselves ‘who I am?’, ‘what do I want from life?’, ‘what do I like doing?’); constantly comparing themselves to others (friends and those in the media); and feeling frustrated about their uncertain futures, leaving them feeling quite depressed.

The next part of the presentation looks at the effective tools that coaches use with their clients, analysing what it was about them that the clients found useful. In summary, coaching itself was effective in that it provided clients with direction and focus at a time when they seriously wanted to address the uncertainty and confusion in their minds. The Wheel of Life tool was good for this as it highlighted the current issues and provided a specific focus for change.

For similar reasons, coaching exercises that gave the opportunity to set goals and formulate actions plans were also found to be helpful and effective. It was interesting to hear however that individuals in their 20s and 30s struggled to set goals further than five years ahead. It was therefore important that the coach only focused on what the client wished to achieve in the next 5 years or so to be entirely effective.

Clients didn’t appear to value narrative approaches to coaching in that they didn’t find general conversation and story-telling that productive. They found practical action-planning tools based on how to exactly go about resolving their situation more useful. Clients also appreciated exercises and tools that taught them a new skill, such as how to prioritise, and also those that developed communication skills such as assertiveness; learning how to say no being the prominent issue.

Sessions and tools which allowed the individual to reflect objectively, see situations from an alternative perspective and ultimately raise their self-awareness were also found to be incredibly effective. To know their selves better helped increase their confidence levels, in turn developing their sense of identity. Reflective journalling was praised in this respect, as were CBT approaches that analysed and challenged their negative thinking patterns.

The final part of the presentation briefly highlights the implications of the study. It mentions that perhaps managers may benefit from an increased awareness of the different expectations and needs that those in their 20s and 30s currently hold. Such an awareness and a responsive approach may result in a more satisfied and motivated workforce and thus better staff retention.

The presentation also points out that, with findings suggesting that many of the individuals interviewed felt depressed during their quarter-life crisis and that counselling they had in the past was not overly effective, the NHS may, in appropriate cases, wish to offer quarter-lifers coaching as an effective form of intervention during this crisis. It would also mean that coaches not trained to work with depression ought to ensure that necessary referrals are discussed with the client should they feel that medical intervention is required. However, with the sample is this study being a small one, these implications and suggestions would require further research on a representative sample in order to be of any real value or to carry any particular weight. PhD in the future then? Maybe not.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.