“Is this it?”, I ask myself while looking around our apartment. I made it through college, got a job and moved in with my boyfriend. I’ve taken all necessary steps to enter “real life”. The world is at my feet! But it doesn’t feel that way. Instead, I feel lost and I know I’m not the only one.
When I look around my circle of 20-something friends I see people breaking up, changing jobs and leaving on trips to Asia in search of themselves. Even those high school sweethearts who just bought a house and have a beautiful baby are wondering whether they’re moving in the right direction.
“Quarter-life crisis”, they call it. That constant towering wave of doubt, changes and insecurity. But you know what? We can learn to ride the wave.
We can use our questions to find out what we really want in life. We can turn our insecurities into confidence. We can go out there and find a job that does more than simply pay the rent. But first we need to recognize the signs and admit we’re in a crisis.
Social media like Facebook and Instagram give you the impression that everyone you know is either on vacation, getting a promotion, pregnant or engaged. They push people to only show the best and hide the rest, but that doesn’t mean “the rest” isn’t there.
Instead of relying on what you see, take the time to listen. Don’t just ask your friends how they’re doing, but ask them about their relationships, their jobs and if they still like where they’re living. Show them that you care and you’ll be surprised of how they’ll open up to you. And of how many struggles you have in common.
You hit “snooze” ten times every morning because you don’t want to get to work. Maybe your job just pays the bills but doesn’t even resemble what you’d love to do. Maybe it’s exactly the job you’d planned to do, but turned out terribly disappointing. Maybe you have no idea of what you’d want to do and figure this lousy job at least pays the rent. Now what?
Take your time. Very few people get their dream job as their first job and even those who do might change their mind about it and want something else later. Ask yourself what you hate so much about this job to avoid applying for a similar one in the future, but also look at the skills you’re developing now that you could use to land something better. And keep looking. At job openings, but also around you. You wouldn’t be the first to meet someone new and think: “I’d love to do what he’s doing”.
When you’re in one, you question whether you should be. Is this the person you want to spend the rest of your life with? Would you marry him? Do you want to grow old with her? This isn’t a high school fling anymore. This is the real deal, shared fridge and all. So what? As long as you’re with someone, these questions will keep on popping up. What really matters now is if you’re happy together and if you’re making it work.
If you’re not in a relationship right now, it seems like everybody else is. Heck, they’re even getting married or having kids which mean the best ones are already taken. You’ll never find someone.
Just hold on. Your life is only starting to take shape and create room for new people, new opportunities and new experiences. Give it time and be open. Don’t ignore the rest of the world because you feel comfortable around the people you know. Someone will come along.
Don’t be. Now’s the time to try, to test, to fail. You’re young, resilient, strong and motivated. Don’t be afraid to try something you might otherwise regret not doing later. If you fail, you can get back up and try again or move on.
Friends, Sex and the City, That 70ies Show, we all love those series about a tight group of friends that stay friends forever. It seems so appealing, so comfortable to be able to call the same people whenever you want to hang out for the rest of your life. The reality is people change. Everybody follows their own path and sometimes that might take a direction very different from yours. Maybe so different that, at one point, you’ll disappear out of sight.
That’s okay. Some friendships really are forever, but some have a limited lifespan. They belong to a certain period of your life – school, college, vacation – and then fade out.
This sign of crisis is more pertinent to some of us than to other, but the fact is that sitting at a desk all day and having takeaway for dinner is not a healthy lifestyle. Get an active hobby, go to the gym, learn how to cook healthy and please don’t think pizza is okay because it has tomato sauce. Your body will thank you.
When homework giving teachers cleared the scene, others somehow stepped in to take over your agenda. Visiting family every weekend, organizing the office’s party, driving your niece to dance class, not taking that solo trip because your partner doesn’t want you to. Did you ever make these decisions? Because that’s what they are, your decisions. If you’re not comfortable with them, say no. At work, at home, with family and friends. Don’t let other people decide for you. Learn how to say no.
You’re supposed to be able to do this on your own now, right? Yes, on your own, but not alone. Nobody is able to do everything alone and you’ll often get better results if you put your pride aside and ask someone for help. However, that doesn’t mean you should ask them to do it for you. It means getting advice and some assistance.
Remember Facebook and Instagram? Add blogs and you have the perfect recipe for dream fabrication. Everywhere online you read about how you should travel when you’re young, how experiences are better than things, how it’s so cheap to live in Thailand and so rewarding to teach English in China. You feel enticed and inspired at first, but guilt follows shortly after.
Sure, you want to chase a dream, but does it have to be on the other side of the world? Are cubicles really pure evil? Does this mean you’re not adventurous or smart? Of course not. Someone else’s dream isn’t yours and shouldn’t be. A dream isn’t better because it sounds more daring, strange or impressive than another. And don’t forget that whatever you want to do might seem completely impossible to someone else.
It used to be so simple. You finished your meal, you got dessert. You studied hard, you got good grades. You did your chores, you got your allowance. But slowly you begin to realize that’s not always how the world works. There are just too many people on this planet who want the same thing. Which is why that smooth-talking colleague might get invited to a dinner with the boss and you don’t. Which is why that confident friend always decides where you go for lunch.
Which is why you need to speak up. Being kind, friendly, smart and hard-working doesn’t cut it anymore. If you want something, you’ll need to go for it and ask for it, maybe more than once.
Wasn’t this insecurity thing supposed to end together with teenagehood? Apparently not. You hesitate when people ask what you do, who/if you’re dating or why you still don’t have a car. Why? Your life is yours to lead and the more confident you are about your choices, the further they will take you.
It won’t. Yes, you’ve made some first important decisions, but that doesn’t mean they’re permanent. You can switch jobs, partners, houses, hobbies… And sometimes someone or something else will decide it’s time for your life to change. Whatever your life looks like now, it will keep on evolving.
It’s great to do a lot of things, meet a lot of people and be out the entire time, but not if you’re too stressed to enjoy any of it. Don’t just fill up your agenda because you feel like that’s what you need to do. Take the time to figure out what really matters and what puts a smile on your face.
Newsflash: you’re not sixteen anymore. You’re body actually needs to sleep at night and doesn’t handle a party as well as it used to. Caffeine might look like the perfect solution to get all of that work done, but it won’t make you feel as fresh as a walk outside or a power nap. Take breaks. Hit “pause” once in a while. Your body needs it.
Everybody has them. Friends or family who somehow got “stuck” or are full of negativity. They laugh at your dreams without ever trying to achieve anything for themselves. They tell you to be realistic and give advice that comes down to embracing the status quo. Don’t listen to them. You may love them, you may support them, but you can’t have them influence you. You can stay in touch, but don’t stay in the same place because of them.
“He has a better job than I do.” “She has a more stable relationship than I do.” “They travel more than I do.” Enough of it already. Instead of focusing on things that other people have that you don’t, ask yourself how they got them and learn from them. Don’t see their successes as your failures, but as a motivation to do better.
You’ve only made it through a quarter of your life and yet you feel like a failure for not having achieved anything grand yet. Really? So you weren’t the best in your class or you aren’t the top performer at the office. You have time. Three-quarters of a life, to be precise, to find out what it is that you’re really good at and excel. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.
Life is crazy. People are busy. “How are you” has become a way of saying hello instead of a question. That doesn’t mean nobody will pause when you really need it. You’re probably thinking of a few people who’d be there for you emotionally, financially or in another way right now. If you are, you’re luckier than a lot of others.
You have no idea what you want to do next year or in five years and you can’t even imagine what your life would look like ten years from now. You think of all the things that could happen and spend hours going over every possible scenario. It scares the hell out of you.
And that’s okay. Everyone’s afraid. Nobody knows what’s coming next. You can never be in total control and you have to accept that. All you can do is rely on the fact that you made it this far and along the way have gathered the skills and confidence you’ll need to deal with whatever is next. You’ll be just fine. Promise.
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com
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