I’m starting to realize something about my quarter-life crisis. It’s not actually a crisis.
The past year or so has seen no shortage of me blogging about various and assorted states of “what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life” that are so common among millennials (and, I would argue, humanity in general). But the more I think about it, and the more I talk to friends experiencing various levels of the same crisis mode, the more I realize that the only reason we all think we’re in crisis is because the world is telling us that we should have it all figured out by now. We’re panicking because we think we’re behind in life, when the truth is that up until now there hasn’t been any time or freedom to figure out anything.
Of course we don’t know what we’re doing. We spent the first 22 years of our lives in school, and for 18 of those years we had very little, if any, control over what we chose to do with our time. After the first 18 years of tests, regurgitation and specifically-chosen extracurriculars that would look good on college applications, we were asked what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. So we all picked a general category, and proceeded to spend the next 4 years studying that category. Because, you know, we had the life experience and self-awareness to make those choices to the best of our ability, and not based on what our parents, friends or other social counterparts were doing.
But I digress.
I lucked out, because I was able to major in something I loved to do (writing), and I continue to love that thing. But as to what I want to do with it …. I don’t know. As to what I want out of my life … I don’t know. Because it isn’t until proper adulthood that we have the autonomy and financial ability to choose. And ironically, it’s at that very moment of adulthood that all of the free time of student life slips away. And the trend that I’m noticing among myselves and my fellow professional twenty-somethings is that somehow, without ever really figuring out how we wanted to live our lives, we became locked into an apartment and a town and a career path that already, even in our mid-to-late twenties, feels impossible to ever change. And that’s the terrifying thing. The idea that the momentum of our lives can and will simply carry us forward into marriage and kids and a house and a mortgage without any of us ever even stopping to really think about it.
But still, I argue that we are not in crisis. We are in process. Because we still have the most powerful ally on our side – time. It might feel like it’s already running out, but it isn’t. It isn’t too late to change your mind about your career or go back to school or go travel the world. In fact, now is the time to figure it all out. If you feel like you’ve wandered down the wrong path, turn around. If you suddenly discover a new passion and you realize it’s what you’ve really wanted to do all along, do it. If what you want out of life changes by the day or by the hour, let it. You have time to sort it out.
There is no deadline on figuring out your life. There is no set schedule of milestones that, if missed, will cause the end of the world. You have time. You just have to use it.