For the most part, my 20s have felt like I’ve been stuck on a treadmill. Running forward, but stationary. Going nowhere fast. It sounds paradoxical, yet I can’t think of a better way to describe what it is I’m feeling, what we’re all feeling or will feel at some point in our lives. This feeling like we’re done, stagnant, as if the best years of our lives are behind us. I’m 24 years old. I can’t possibly be done yet.
That doesn’t stop me from feeling like I am. The thought is so paralyzing that I hardly get out of bed. I scroll and keep scrolling on my phone because what’s the point? I took my shot at life and wound up here. I wallow in my own self-pity, in the sinking and suffocating realization that my life did not turn out the way I had hoped.
I thought I’d be writing for a newspaper, a magazine, or gotten a novel published. I thought I’d have my own place, my own car. I thought I’d be traveling the world because I assumed my career would take me places.
Where am I now? I’m working odd jobs to make ends meet, freelancing in between if only to make it seem like I’m making sufficient use of my education. To top it all off, I live with my parents. I shouldn’t complain because I am fortunate to have the things that I have: a job, a car to drive, a roof over my head courtesy of parents kind enough to shelter their Liberal Arts shithead of a son. I just don’t know if I dreamed too big or didn’t dream big enough.
I went to college because I didn’t quite know what to do after high school. All I knew was school, so I pressed on. Surely I’d find my way. Post-college and I still have no fucking clue. In many ways, I’m in worse shape than when I started (crippling debt, little to no job experience, residual panic attacks that haven’t subsided since finals). I did what everyone else did because everybody was doing it. Small wonder that so many of us have ended up back with our parents. We follow the breadcrumbs of academia and higher education and suddenly find ourselves staring at the deep end and asking, “What now?”
I’m 24, but I feel twice that age. My back hurts. Why does my back hurt all the time? I struggle to get out of bed. I have a limp that comes and goes. Where are all these people with a spring in their step? Adulting is hard. Netflix is right there.
We have OCD – Obsessive Comparison Disorder. Some of us have just gotten a promotion. Some of us moved to New York or LA, while others have gotten engaged and are boasting about their upcoming wedding to which you are cordially invited to and are you bringing a plus one? Some of us haven’t even gotten our foot in the door. The rest of us are looking up ways to survive a quarter-life crisis.
Previous generations have their own presumptions about where we should be, saying things like, “When I was your age…” When these expectations don’t align, we feel inadequate. We feel incapable, which makes us feel stuck. We’re going nowhere with our lives so we, in turn, say things like, “This is not how my 20s were supposed to be.”
If life is a painting, then we paint in painfully broad strokes. We assume that if we reach a certain age and don’t have it figured out by then that we are nothing but a failure. That we are too late, too old to do certain things. Like go to college. Move to a new city. Or take any kind of risk because that ship sailed in our 20s so we should have done it then but oh well. We put so much pressure on ourselves to cram so much life experience that we can’t possibly measure up to anyone’s expectations let alone our own. It’s no wonder I have back problems.
The sobering reality is that most people in their 20s experience a quarter-life crisis, a period of profound insecurity attributed to a loss of both direction and purpose compounded by fears of rejection and isolation. Psychologists call it a necessary period of soul-searching. A universal rite of passage.
So it’s not a question of if, but a matter of when. Everyone will eventually go through this (we may even go through it again later in life, but that’s an article for another time). You may find that disheartening to hear, but a small part of me finds it comforting to know that so many others are winging it just like me. It reminds me that I am not alone in this.
We’re not supposed to have it all figured out. When did we forget that that’s what makes us human?
We think in moments. Facebook and Twitter moments. Times in our lives that stand out above all else and we need to seize it before it’s gone. Maybe we’ve been looking at it backwards. Life is our moment.
The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Our lives are a brief flash. A blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. We are never too old or too late to try something. We’re young. At least we got that going for us. We are not done. Not by a long shot.
Even when we think we are, life offers us a cosmos of second chances. We can apply for school. Enroll next semester. Book your flight today. Quit your soul-sucking job and find a new one. Learn a new language. Or write a novel. We cannot lose this sense of possibility, of promise, and chance. It’s all we have. We have to keep trying. We must. I’m not saying this will be easy. I’m saying it’s okay to be lost for a while, just ease up on the binge-watching. I’m saying you’re okay, you’ll always be okay, and we’ll get through this.
In my most dire moment of need, I reached out to a friend. She, too, is a fellow struggling writer. We did a rundown of all the literary publications we’ve submitted to thus far. All dead ends. It sounded like we were right back where we started, but with more rejection letters. I realized we weren’t. I asked if she thought about quitting. “I think about it all the time,” she said. “That’s why I keep going.”