A few months ago, I felt like I was on top of the world. After spending my spring semester photographing sheep (read: studying abroad in the English countryside) and my summer completing an internship in NYC, I had finally returned to Massachusetts for my last semester of college with some new life experiences under my belt and a greater sense of direction. To my dismay, this euphoric feeling lasted about as long as a baby’s attention span. By the end of October, I had plotted the trajectory of my life in twenty different ways, and discovered that each one ended with me living in a hollowed-out dumpster etching TV show ideas into the back of a metal tray and talking to my pet rat about all of my deepest regrets. It’s December now and while many of the emotions I’ve experienced over the past few weeks have started to subside, recognizing the light at the end of the tunnel has been a complicated process. For those of you envisioning similar dumpster-diving situations and questioning all of your life plans, here are a few tips for surviving your quarter-life crisis.
- First, stop comparing your life to everyone else’s. Or, at the very least, stop comparing your life to Taylor Swift’s. Not many people can score seven Grammy awards and accrue a net worth of 200 million before the age of 25, so put that guitar away, get off Facebook and start drafting a reasonable timeline for your goals. Or, better yet, trash your ambitious timeline and start living your life in the moment. If you don’t plan on having your life together by the time you’re 25, you won’t be disappointed when you’re halfway to 30 and still scraping together pennies for rent and eating Top Ramen out of a paper cup. Having goals is great, as long as you don’t construct your entire life around them. (And remember, there are plenty of people out there who didn’t find success until their late 30s or 40s. Sometimes, time really is the best solution.)
- Second, come up with a motto that motivates you and plaster it everywhere. Pin it to your front door, your alarm clock, your cat. Hang it from your rear-view mirror like a car-scented air-freshener. Turn it into a meme and set it as your phone background. Your unconscious won’t know what hit it. A simple sticky note can go a long way and if you see “just do it” or “live without regrets” or “always accept the free pizza” enough, your brain will eventually follow your advice. I haven’t tested this theory but I’m almost positive it’s true. My sticky note told me so.
- While persuasive one-liners (“you only live once”) can provide the long-term motivation that will get you through the crippling anxiety that comes with such a period, the best remedy for short-term slumps is much simpler: dance parties. No matter how perky you are or how many energy drinks you consume, one of these days, you’re going to feel sad. The desire to curl up into a ball and listen to emo-Avril Lavigne until someone offers you a job strikes everyone at some point and when it does, the best thing you can do is put in headphones, lock the door, and flail like a crazy person until the smell of your sweat causes you to faint.
- When dancing alone in your room doesn’t cure the disappointment you feel in realizing your dreams are still a speck on the distant horizon, the next step is to seek companionship. When the world seems like it’s crashing down all around me, “mulling over big life questions in solitude” is my default reaction. Though it may be the easiest one, it’s certainly not the healthiest, especially if you want to get over that quarter-life crisis hump. Sometimes, you need the presence of other people who are in the same situation as you to remind you that this emotional turbulence you’re experiencing is one hundred percent normal. Landing a job or a boyfriend or a decent apartment might take longer than you thought is not something to panic about. When your loan statements start coming in, it might be, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.
- Most importantly, remember that you always have a back-up plan. If you’re thinking about moving across the country to pursue your hopes and dreams but you’re afraid of not making friends or failing, just close your eyes and do it. At the end of the day, if your dream job turns out to be a dud and your plans to become the next great screenwriter turn into writing taglines for a second-rate greeting card company, you can always move back home and start over.
A quarter-life crisis can last a few hours, a few days, or even a few months. It’s a troublesome beast that is often underestimated by those who have never experienced it (or, more likely, those who have and who try to pretend they haven’t). If you can help it, try not to throw your hands up in the air and give up. You’ll need to conserve some of that emotional energy to get over your mid-life crisis when it comes around.