I’m the queen of quarter life crises. In the last four years, I’ve had more than I can count on one hand (okay, maybe even two). A year ago, I would have never admitted that. But as the years pass, I’m learning to embrace the mess that I am. Nothing is ‘wrong’ with being a mess, and nothing is ‘wrong’ with a quarter life crisis (if anything, there is a lot right with it).
The dictionary has defined a ‘quarter life crisis’ as “a crisis that may be experienced in one’s twenties, involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life.” Some will say it happens after leaving college, but believe me, I have already had plenty and am sure to have some more internal dilemmas in my post grad life.
Uncertainty can be fun; it can be exciting. It can also make your head race so fast with fear that you won’t know which way is up anymore. But those are all just feelings, and they will push you in the right direction one way or another; you just have to let them. Quarter life crises can be great teachers and there are certain helpful things to remember when you are in the midst of one. Here are some things I’ve been told and also learned along the way:
1. No one has their shit together.
I later find it funny how when I’m freaking out over the direction of my life, my internal monologue goes something like this: “Oh my god how can I do this?! All these people are so good at this and so experienced and have it SO together. Just all around; look how sane they are while still doing ALL OF THIS?!” Yeah; shut up internal monologue. No one really has their shit together. We have all just become really good at making it look that way. A lot of the time, even the people who seem to have it ‘the most together’ are struggling every day fighting battles we may know nothing about. Don’t compare every one else’s ‘put together’ to what you’re currently feeling in your head, because in the end, that’s just not fair to you.
2. If you never felt this way, your life would suck.
Imagine feeling good and comfortable all the time. Sounds like it would be a blast, right? Wrong. For one, it’s damn near impossible. And two, you would never grow as a person. You need to get a little anxious and uncomfortable to start making changes in your life. It’s through this process that we, as a result, adapt and create balance in our internal and external environment. For example, if you were to put your hand on a hot stove and never realized it was hurting, well, you would get burned pretty bad. It’s our feelings and our interpretation of our environment that keep us moving forward. So, next time you are freaking out over where you are going next, remember that it’s good to feel this way. It may feel bad, but know what you really are making progress, whether it seems like it or not.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone.
Admitting that you feel this way can sometimes be scarier than the actual feelings themselves. Saying “I have no idea what to do with my life and it scares me” is hard for anyone to say. We think that others will interpret it as a weakness or flaw, but admitting that to someone is really a sign of strength. Opening up to someone will make you feel less alone, and hey, maybe the person you open up to has been feeling the same way and hoping that they weren’t alone too.
4. Get more help when you need it.
When talking to someone isn’t enough or you feel like you still can’t get your feelings heard, don’t be afraid to reach out for more help, such as a healthcare professional or counselor. Or when your feelings seem to be a result of being overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for more help or even take on less work. You cannot do everything, and taking on more and more will not give you a more clear picture of what you should be doing. Sometimes we need help finding balance (and that is okay!).
5. Everyone has thoughts of quitting.
Growing up is hard. Graduating from college is hard. Getting and keeping a job is hard. If life were easy, we would all be bored; sitting around doing and achieving nothing. The hard part is what makes it worth it. The hard part is what makes us stronger. Yes, sometimes the hard part feels overwhelming and you feel that you can’t take even one more step forward (and if that’s the case, refer to 3 and 4), but looking back you will be proud.
You did it when you thought you couldn’t. See, I believe in you, because I believe that the inner voice that believes in you is always there, even when you think you have lost it. It’s like an old memory or childhood friend you have just become disconnected with for awhile. They will come back. So don’t give up, you will find that voice again.
6. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want.
And be gentle with yourself when you don’t always know what that is. Sometimes in life we can feel ‘stuck’, which I think is the cause of a lot of anxiety we feel as 20 somethings. Am I really meant to be in this career? Am I really meant to be in this relationship? Am I really meant to be on this path, this one, right here? And if not, where the hell am I supposed to be? As much as we want to know the answers, we simply cannot see the future. But we can start to be more honest with ourselves about what it is that we do want.
For example, I thought I wanted to be a strictly career oriented woman, but I believe it’s my fears getting in the way of what I really want; to have a family. I was letting my fear of not being a good enough wife or mother to sabotage that dream. Don’t let your fears get in the way of what you really want, whatever that is. In the end, we just need to focus on what feels good: the kind of good that gets inside your soul and makes you remember why this is all worth it. Whatever that is for you, find it and follow it. And if you haven’t found it yet, that is more than okay. It sometimes finds you when you least expect it.