I’m 25-years-old and, until this morning, I was having a quarter-life crisis.
I suppose “crisis” is a bit strong in a world with ISIS and 72-degree Christmases in New York. Nevertheless, for the past few months, Dido was in heavy rotation and my morning coffee was often served with a dollop of existential angst. I hope I’m not the only one…
The cause of my concern is an issue that I assume plagues many of my highly educated, highly privileged peers around this time in our young-adult lives. (I only say “assume” because my peers are too busy adjusting their man-buns and binge watching Broad City to reply to my DMs.) We’re a few years into this so-called “real world,” and starting to question whether our 8:30 to 5:30 is the best use of our precious time.
Coming out of college, it was easy to be grateful for employment of any kind. We’d show up to a building with free snacks, work on projects that we believed “made a difference,” and numbers just magically appeared in our bank accounts every two weeks — whoa! But now, being gainfully employed is no longer enough. We want purpose. We want a company that aligns with our values, respects our opinions, and has a ping-pong table.
I think the venerable Tim Urban sums it up pretty well. Gen Y yuppies are wildly ambitious, delusionally optimistic about our future success, and constantly comparing ourselves to those around us. Social media would have us believe that everyone else has found their passion, their partner, or at least their perfect Instagram filter.
Thankfully, it’s June and there are more commencement speeches than cat GIFs on the Internet right now.
So, in an attempt to reset my compass, I started watching the first half of a lot of YouTube videos and skimming the last paragraph of a lot of essays addressed to college seniors. Every so often, I’d come across a tweet-worthy gem like this from the Times.
Rather than ask “What do I want to be when I grow up?” ask, “In what way do I wish the world were different?
To be fair, I’m a sucker for platitudes, motivational quotes, and posters on the inside of middle school lockers. (I wonder if middle schoolers still have lockers? Probably, but my little cousin recently told me that Facebook is for old people, so who knows? IT’S THE WILD WEST OUT HERE!)
So, I changed the frame of my existential questioning:
What problem can I help solve?
Global hunger? Too trite. World peace? Too abstract. The Donald’s hair? Too complicated.
I’ve been out of college for four years, and while my med school friends inch closer to their white coats and my finance friends inch closer to their white board meetings, I feel about as lost as ever. I’m in my third industry in as many years, my love life fluctuates between The Matterhorn and It’s A Small World, and the only time I really feel at peace is when I have 10 minutes to poop and for some reason forgot my phone in the other room.
But I have found something I do care about—choosing how to orient my attention. It’s the common thread with most of the things I unconditionally love. Poetry, meditation, cooking—they’re are all about entrenching yourself in the moment. A single word, a single breath, a single bite. Even with the constant flow of push notifications infiltrating my days, I still have the ability to give my eyes and mind to one activity at a time.
Not only is uni-tasking incredibly empowering, but it also might just be the answer to my quarter life crisis.
A quick aside. I once had the chance to write a profile on my favorite writer, Anis Mojgani. The dude is arguably the best at what he does in the entire world, yet because he’s a spoken word poet, he still barely makes ends meet and has to tour constantly. When I asked him whether he believes in the whole “love what you do and never work a day in your life” cliché, he dropped a truth bomb:
Work will always be work. Some people work doing what they love. Some people work so that they can do what they love when they’re not working. Neither is more noble.
I realize that the dissonance I feel often stems from my search for greener grass. Once I get this, once I meet them, once I live here, I will be happy. My “quarter-life crisis” was never actually a function of my job title or the nobility of my company’s mission. I was tripping because my head was constantly on a swivel looking for something better. It was my expectations, not my reality, that had me feeling unsettled.
Ok, maybe that seems obvious? To tell the truth, it seems pretty obvious in retrospect to me too. But I wanted to turn this fortune cookie realization into 900 words because it’s also so easy to forget. I doubt I’m ever going to be fully satisfied with what I have and that’s okay. If I can choose to channel some of the worrying into gratitude, I’ll at least be moving in the right direction. The uncertainty is the only reason this game is any fun.