The quarter-life crisis is real — although, not everyone will experience it. The lucky ones will maintain their carefully crafted identity until they reach some other stage of life that challenges this image and forces a re-examination. Others will shed their identity – the one that was once beneficial but is now greatly ineffective – in a long, frustrating, lonely, exhilarating process. Either way, life presents a number of challenges that force us to look at who we are and what we want — regardless of age, be it quarter-life, mid-life, or end-life, we all have to make the choice to either continue with what has been or make changes to what isn’t working.
Films tell the story very neatly. Generally, our lovable, clumsy, twenty-something protagonist is stuck in an unsatisfying job, barely making ends meet since finishing college, and unable to maintain a healthy and happy relationship with a partner. Through trials — perhaps, a road trip, likely a makeover sequence, and definitely a successful romantic encounter (always the result of a meet-cute) — our delightful hero has an epiphany, she (because I’m writing this and I choose to use female pronouns) has not been happy for a long time and now it’s time to make a change — she is not the person she once was and the new her has different expectations.
We watch as our lead character musters up her newfound confidence and, while still shaky in her new heels, asserts herself for the first time — quitting that horrible job, kicking out the loser boyfriend, and returning home to her new boyfriend. A new job seems to appear out-of-nowhere due to a conveniently connected friend and her financial troubles are now a thing of the past. While sitting down at a coffee shop in beautiful, autumn New York, the camera pans out and an appropriately optimistic indie song swells in the background. The credits roll and we leave knowing our protagonist has finally found her happiness.
It is likely that, at some point, at least one person in the theater has shed a tear (probably me).
If only life off-screen cared to be so neatly crafted.
Life has a funny way of not caring about your plans. Stories have a funny way of leaving out all of the depressing, frustrating details that accompany a switch in priorities, a re-examination of one’s identity, and the courage it takes to muster up that courage to actually enact the desired change. Life doesn’t even seem to care about the makeover montage — or the optimistic indie song.
From my own experience, the process involves a lot of something (courage, stress, change) and then even more nothing. There’s a surprising amount of waiting that goes into looking for a new job — not to mention the influx of rejection emails that all include the detested phrase, “unfortunately.”
Meet-cutes don’t happen and online dating results in weird, misspelled messages received way too late at night to mean anything good. Of course, there is one guy who seems nice but you’re not interested in dating him because clearly there is something very wrong with you (or you’re hung up on someone else, whatever).
Your financial situation is not magically fixed because of your newfound confidence. In fact, it might be worse without that job.
One decision does not change every other detail in your life. Another person certainly won’t change every detail of your life. Your happiness is your responsibility. Your confidence is not based on the height of your heels or the skirt you’re wearing. Because unless it comes from within you, then it won’t stick.
So, why do anything?
Because…even though there are long, frustrating, tear-filled, lonely nights in the process of finding out what you want, there are also amazing moments along the way. The process is not quick and the self-doubt can be brutal but you’re doing exactly what you need to do.
The thing with these stories…they’re leaving out some of the most interesting parts. Okay, maybe not the depression that can settle in if you’re not careful, but more so your ability to pick yourself up and continue on — that drive to figure out your happiness and then make the conscious choice to embrace it again and again. You’re still going to make mistakes — you’re human — but they’re going to feel different because you are different. And you are awesome.
Go have an awesome quarter-life crisis…it’s going to suck sometimes and you’re going to want to quit and go back to what is safe (that mysterious place in the past), but it’s also kind of amazing.