What I Wish I Knew When I Had My Quarter-Life Crisis
You can’t overcome what you don’t confront
One’s early 20s is, admittedly, an exhilarating period of careless abandon, adventure and self-centeredness—and at some point, mustering up some sense of accountability. Once you reach your mid-20s, it’s a different story altogether.
A quarter-life crisis is one of the most isolating seasons you will experience. Day in and day out, you’re riddled with anxieties—and the occasional angst—concerning your life choices, mostly regarding your career path. You’re filled with existential dread, a dull ache, which you feel no one has ever felt in the history of time. You allow yourself to finally confront questions you spent years running away from. It’s time to look for answers, and it’s paralyzing. What do you do when you don’t meet your own expectations?
In a brief essay during this period of my life, I wrote, “Every day [is] a spiritual, mental and emotional battle. I finally [have] to face these personal demons and in-between moments—as Rami Malek-as-Freddie Mercury would call it—which for years I’ve drowned with a whirlwind of activity. I [am] losing the desire to do anything, and I am fighting my hardest to dream again.”
Some may consider this sentiment melodramatic, but what happens when you start to question everything you’ve known in your (short) life? Well, you show up and move forward.
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Don’t despise small beginnings
For a time, I believed my best work was behind me and that I was incapable of greater things. I was crippled by fear and insecurity, and I was stuck in the same place. As difficult as it was, I’d like to believe that it wasn’t a waste of time; I did what I could with the information I had at the time. And truth be told, there are many things you learn about yourself when you hit what appears to be “rock bottom.”
Take it one day at a time and be honest with yourself. Set out a goal and take tangible steps towards it. More importantly, don’t plead for a future you haven’t rightfully earned. Plant yourself somewhere small, and let the seeds of your hard work grow—even if you don’t see it instantly.
Handle your finances, before it’s too late
I only started to pay attention to my finances in my late 20s, and I deeply regret it. Here I was, this beauty enthusiast, this product obsessed junkie who, in many instances, hid another thoughtless purchase because of shame. I constantly made excuses—that I had a “bad day” or that I deserved to treat myself—until I quit my full-time job, and I had nothing to fall back on. Sure, I had my back pay for being in the same dead-end job for years, but how long would that tide me over?
I am still paying the price for this mistake now that I’m 28 and wanting more and more independence and stability, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Don’t let it be too late; start handling your finances as early as now.
Don’t shrink yourself to fit places you’ve outgrown
It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge that what’s comfortable doesn’t necessarily grow you. For years, I pursued a path that had no tangible future, yet I stayed in the same place—no questions asked—because I was terrified of trying something new, and I was even more afraid to be wrong. You eventually discover that some places, some people are only meant for a period of your life and there’s nothing wrong with outgrowing them. Through time, I learned that the farther I stray from the certain, the safe, the more of this miraculous world I find waiting for me.
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I leave you with words to etch in your heart for difficult days. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Alice Walker, said it best. In Living the Word, she writes, “Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before.”
She adds, “Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
Art Mathew Fetalver