Somewhere around our mid-20s, we begin to freak out. We compare our lives to the vision we had for them when the present was the future; we measure our successes against those of our peers.
Our futures seem like a vast ocean of abstruseness, and we stand on the shoreline contemplating all the ways to make it across.
Even those of you out there who are shouting at your screens, “Not me! I’ve got it all figured out!” will wake up one day with the nagging feeling that maybe there are other options to explore. That maybe everything you thought you knew is wrong. That if you don’t veer off-course now, you never will.
The quarter-life crisis is more than a cliché. For most of us, this is the first time we’re making Big Life Decisions by ourselves. We felt like we had choices in school, and to some degree, we did. We chose where to study, what to study, which activities to get involved in, and who to surround ourselves with. But in truth, our course was mostly charted for us with one clear goal in mind: graduation. We worked towards our objective knowing that with it would come the promise of a fresh start once again.
Now, there are no set goals and no predetermined fresh starts. We must choose them for ourselves. Every decision we make threatens to send our journey in a new direction, and we wonder if we’re choosing the right one.
This is where the self-doubt creeps in. This is where the endless questions pester our minds until we can’t even think clearly.
You know the ones I’m talking about:
“Am I working the right job?” “Am I living in the right place?” “How can I make this life meaningful?” “Should I be traveling more?” “Am I working hard enough?” “Am I working too hard?” “What am I running from?” “What am I running towards?” “Is my relationship going to last?” “Am I ever going to find a relationship?” “Did I make the right decision?” “Am I selfish?” “How can I give back to others?” “Am I happy?” “What is happy?” “Am I good enough?” “Am I fulfilled?” “Does anybody understand me?” “Do I understand me?” “Will I ever stop feeling lonely?” “Am I a good friend/daughter/son/sibling/significant other?” “Are my dreams big enough?” “Are my dreams too big?” “Will I be disappointed?” “How can I live with the least amount of regrets?” “Am I setting myself up for failure?” “What does my ideal life look like?” “How do I get there?”
It sounds exhausting, right? It sounds unreasonable, right? It sounds…
…like a gift.
Embrace the questions. Embrace the self-doubt. Embrace the challenge.
Without it, you would never grow.
It’s true that the decisions we make now could affect the rest of our lives, but perhaps the most important decision we could make is the one to ask ourselves the tough questions.
To ignore the inner voice that nags at us is to accept the status quo, and nobody ever got anywhere new that way. Don’t blindly follow a life that has been designed for you by others, or by a former version of yourself that could not foresee the reality of your future, simply because you don’t want to face your apprehension.
I have news for you: the questions are never going to stop. Sure, they might calm down for awhile, but uncertainty and confusion will follow us beyond our quarter-life crises and into each and every stage of life thereafter. Get used to it. Get used to discovering answers and uncomfortable truths. Get used to self-interrogation as a means to propel you forward.
The questions aren’t going anywhere. But you are.