Happiness Project: How did I get here? Part One (oh yes, there are layers to this)
It occurred to me while elbow-deep in a pint of Halo Top, scrolling through my phone and half-watching Friends for the 25th night in a row, promising myself I would FOR. REAL. THIS. TIME. drop the mindless bad habits starting… tomorrow!
Or perhaps, the realization dawned on me after I spent days building then swiftly deleting this blog for the 4th time in a row.
It may have clicked the 10th time I got excited about a potential career path, spent a week researching master’s programs and leading companies in the field then promptly dropping the idea altogether.
Maybe it finally became clear the day I spent three hours printing out calendar pages representing each month leading up to my wedding, mapping out on exactly which day I should do each of my planning “to-do’s” instead of, uh, I don’t know, actually PLANNING THE WEDDING.
I don’t know the exact moment it hit me. Maybe it was a combination of a hundred little, tiny moments sprinkled throughout the last year. But right now I am certain: I am right smack dab in the middle of a quarter-life crisis.
These patterns- of depressive moods, of starting and scrapping, of getting excited then talking myself down, of having no clue what actually feels “right”- are just some examples of the proof in my pudding.
A quick Google search tells me that I am not alone in the strange behaviors I’ve been exhibiting. I was happy to discover they’ve been coined by psychologists, a “Quarter-Life Crisis,” (it’s real!) or a period of time “involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life.” (Thank you, scientists, for phrasing it less dramatically than I)
That same quick Google search lets me know there are many, many people out there with Internet access who feel they’re experiencing a Quarter-Life Crisis, too. The typical sufferer is “highly driven and smart, but struggling because they feel they’re not achieving their potential or feeling they’re falling behind,” Nathan Gehlert, Ph.D., a Washington D.C. psychologist, told The Muse.
I will not lump myself into that “highly driven and smart” category, but you are more than welcome to do it for me.
All jokes aside, I was MADE for the quarter-life crisis. I’m a future-oriented person. A planner, you could say (HA) I’m extremely hard on myself. I’m ambitious to a fault, with more goals than any person could accomplish in one lifetime (let me know if you ever meet someone with an HGTV renovation show and a published book on the New York Times best-seller list who has competed on Dancing With the Stars and is currently starring in a successful network television series… this person should also have a Ph.D. and be raising a perfect family in an ocean-front home, spending their spare time saving the whales)
These aspects of my personality meshed with the social-media-perfect-life-highlight-reel times that we live in can get messy. Throw some mild depression and anxiety into the mix, and I often find myself feeling unfulfilled, craving whatever is next but never being absolutely sure what that next is (because I’m still 24 after all and haven’t yet gained the wisdom of my 74 year-old counterparts) One thing is certain: Whatever is now never feels like enough.
I didn’t even fill out the Quarter-Life Crisis application. They read my qualifications then threw the job at me. Someone’s gotta do it.
Quarter-Life Crisis impact 86% of millennials, yet, somehow, knowing that thousands of my peers are also lying awake at night second-guessing every choice they’ve made thus far doesn’t help me drift into a nice, deep sleep.
There’s no clear answer. No standardized test, 7 point plan or structured class we can take to work our way out of this phase.
And there is nothing wrong with my life (I am cringing at myself at this point, too, don’t worry) I graduated college in 2017 and have done the things I set out to do post-grad. I’m an unsettling amount of settled. I’m suffering from being hit by the brick wall that comes slamming into many early 20-somethings: The realization that we’ve been following a clearly defined path for our entire lives, only to be thrust into the world, handed a seemingly endless list of possible paths to embark on and an even more endless list of limitations.
The “clearly defined path” part is key: We’re in Kindergarten. We’re learning how to read and musing with the idea of taking the training wheels off of our bikes. We’re starting middle school next year. We’re freshmen in high school. We’re trying out for the Varsity (insert sport) team this fall. We’re high school seniors. We’re sophomores in college. We’re starting our first internship next summer. We’re graduating college. We’re looking to begin our career.
And then we’re… there. Working that job. Yes, other milestones will come, of course! But the feeling of being 32 isn’t as clear as the feeling of being 16. Almost all of us can commiserate over the nostalgia of getting our driver’s license, starting our first minimum wage job, crushing on someone, thinking about the far-off destination that is college… what is the collective 32-year-old memory?
The beauty and the curse is that it can be anything you want it to be. It can be the age you got an exciting promotion, had your first child, traveled the country in an RV, started a podcast, got married, got divorced, made a daring career change and so much more.
It can be any of these things. But, these things require action. These things require that you start. An object in motion stays in motion.
So, I guess my fear is of 32 feeling the same as 42, and 42 feeling similar to 52 (insert joke here about increased back pain- except as a former cheerleader for 12 years, I’m already experiencing that, suckers!)
I refuse to let myself wallow in worry, remaining stagnant, letting life slip away. I’m starting. I’m throwing the bottomless collection of Halo Top behind (just kidding I love you Halo Top!!!) and starting a Happiness Project for my 25th birthday. I don’t expect this to solve all of my self-induced problems, but taking a pause from ruminating over the obsessive “WHAT IS MY PURPOSE IN LIFE?!?!” thought streams certainly can’t hurt.
In the words of Emma Watson, “I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to be who I really am. I’m going to figure out what that is.”