I, like so many other millennials, spent my entire childhood and young adult life achieving the things and following “The Path” to success without ever questioning what success meant.
You see, growing up in a middle-class suburban family, there were no questions. I would go to school and partake in clubs, where I would please my teachers and coaches so I could go to college, where I would then please my professors so I could intern in a fancy office and get a job in a high-paying, prominent company in a big city. This was ‘The Path’.
So whenever I’d wake up and feel unsettled or a bit off, there was always a new perfect thing to set my sights on in order to fix the feeling. It was my grades, my appearance, my job, my position—the list goes on. Something was always at fault for why I felt off, and therefore there was something I always just needed to work a bit harder at in order to fix that feeling. I full-heartedly believed that the feeling was a result of not following The Path close enough. I’d work harder and harder, achieving and achieving more, all the while distracting myself from the root of the problem.
Once I learned that this feeling that left me so unsettled wasn’t going to be subsided through achievement, I quite simply had an existential, quarter-life crisis. We throw this term around as a joke, referring to too many nights out drinking, hating our job, and not knowing what we want to do with our lives. We sit with our roommates and joke about how “We are FINE. It is FINE. It is all FINE,” as we sigh, laugh, then plop on the couch, acting as if the habitual mini-vent session that just occurred is going to fix all the feelings inside of us.
This normalization of pushing through “fine” and keeping your eye on The Path is exactly what ended me in a multi-year downward spiral where my entire being came into question. The harder I fought, the worse it got. And every time I got close to acceptance, there was another person or societal message telling me that this was all normal, nothing to be worried about, just keep following The Path.
This message was the most dangerous of all. What I learned through this is that no matter how many people experience the “fine” dilemma, we cannot keep normalizing it just to keep people confined to The Path.
Why? Because behind every “fine” there is a dark, fiery pit full of unfelt feelings and disregarded desires that we’ve buried so far below the surface we don’t even know they are there. We’ve been conditioned to be so narrow minded about The Path that our awareness for something as simple as our likes and dislikes has been hidden away. We’ve become the robotic, cookie-cutter, dulled-down versions of the people we were truly meant to be.
So every time we say we are “fine” and that our job is “tolerable” and “stable” and we should be “grateful” for the life we live, we are not wrong. Our lives are all those things. But our lives can also be more than those things if we can accept the scary truth that we don’t know who we are or what we want outside of what society has conditioned us into.
We can be grateful for what we have, knowing it could always be worse, and at the same time know that we are each valuable and worthy of living a life in alignment with who we really are no matter how far off The Path that is. And in order to step into that life, we need to learn to sit with ourselves, our feelings, and our thoughts. We need to learn to separate ourselves from the identity we’ve already created, and be honest with ourselves about what is going on.
But this kind of work is hard. It takes more honesty and perseverance than anything else because no one will understand it except for yourself. And the more judgements and opinions are passed from those around you, the harder it becomes to continue to pave your own path.
This is why the quarter-life crisis needs to be taken more seriously. We need people to now “normalize” trying to find themselves when their so-called Path has already been chosen. Because the more we normalize learning about ourselves, our dreams, and our desires a quarter-way into our life, the more we can release a generation who has been conditioned to believe that this is all there is, and start building a world full of passionate, loving souls.