In the past several years, the idea of a quarter-life crisis has really risen in the American consciousness. Twenty-somethings freaking out because they haven’t reached certain benchmark points in their lives, or they aren’t sure what they want, or they aren’t where they thought they’d be by “x” age. And, because we live in a society that tells you that you should know EXACTLY what you want and be EXACTLY where the norm demands, we’re trained to panic when we feel uncertainty, rather than embrace it. In truth, those benchmarks and life goals are completely relative. One person might be ready for marriage and children at age 25, one person might not even want a long-term relationship until they’re well into their thirties. And both of those paths are right. It’s fantastic to have your dream job before you hit thirty, but it’s also completely okay to not know what you want or where your passions lie. Finding the right career is the adult version of picking a major – everyone tells you how important it is to pick right the first time, but in fact, it’s utterly irrelevant. Because guess what? You can change your mind. And you can be wrong.
I think that social media is at least in part to blame for the rise of the quarter-life crisis. It’s one thing to hear that so-and-so is doing well, it’s another to see their perfect spouse and expensive vacations played out in real time. And it can be hard not to compare the life you have to the life someone else has – it’s so easy to get caught up that you might not even realize you don’t want what they want. You might be jealous of someone’s perfect marriage (as told on Facebook) and forget that you actually don’t want to go anywhere near marriage for five years. You might be dying over someone’s amazing promotion and forget that you would absolutely hate doing what they do. We tend to treat social media like it’s real, but it’s just another marketing tool – a way to put forward the version of yourself that you decide. No one’s life is perfect, it’s just that most people would like others to think it is. And at the end of the day, what precisely does lusting after the quasi-fictional life of others achieve? It’s not as though there’s a finite amount of success and happiness in the world. One person’s joy does not take away from your own. One person’s success does not mean you’re failing. We just don’t market the tricky bits in our lives nearly as much as we market the good.
The most important thing to remember in the midst of a quarter-life crisis is that you have time on your side. Time to figure it out, decide what you want, make the changes you want. And frankly, if you hit a mid-life crisis, the same thing applies: You still have time. Maybe not as much as you did when you were 22, but time nonetheless. It’s just a matter of using it productively, instead of freezing and letting it pass you by while you drown in an ocean of your own fear and doubt.
If you can conceive of a change you want to see in your life, or a direction you want to go, then you are capable of taking steps toward that, small or large.
So, start with step one. And remember, don’t panic. Everything is going to be amazing.