At 23, I have moved half-way across the nation, survived my first year of teaching high school in a rural public school district, gone through two emotional breakups in the past 2 years, became the President of a nationally-recognized women’s rights organization (and admittedly still trying to figure that out), and have presented at a conference about teaching in a room full of veteran teachers and educational nonprofit professionals and felt like an imposter.
My early 20s have been chaotic, wonderfully busy and productive, and often just really confusing. And up until this point, I have been oddly okay with that. I have embraced the exciting pandemonium of my early 20s and the changes, uncertainty, and adventures that come along with it. But recently, I have felt challenged by my 20s, what these years mean, and how influential the life experiences I have now will be in my future.
I am 23 and for the past few weeks have felt like I’m on the verge of a quarter life crisis even though I have yet to reach the age of 25. I am 23 and every time I log onto Facebook I see people I graduated high school and college with getting engaged, married, and ‘planting their roots’. I am 23 and I studied a self-designed major combining theatre and social advocacy and have no idea what my career trajectory looks like because there’s too much I want to do (and what will employers think of my major?). I am 23 and I was recently broken up with by someone I deeply cared about because he couldn’t ‘see me in his future’ at 26 years old…apparently Dylan Manderlink is not ‘future material’.
Also, what the fuck is future material? I’ll tell you what it is, it’s a fable that I have bought into because I’m 23 and feeling insecure about my relationships or lack there of. I am 23 and have had six boyfriends in my life….none of those relationships have lasted longer than a year. I am 23 and am still learning how to cook my own meals, I owe way too much in student loans, sometimes I lesson plan and grade papers on a Friday night, and I listen to American Public Media’s Prairie Home Companion as much as a retired midwestern grandparent. I am 23 and yes, my life is uncertain, a little weird, and I’m a work in progress but no – I am not having a ‘quarter life crisis’.
First of all, a crisis insinuates utter and complete panic, fatality, and trauma. Unless you have experienced something that would fit in those three categories (and other levels of dire seriousness), calm down, relax, and take a deep breath – you are not having a crisis. I don’t mean that to be patronizing nor am I saying you don’t have permission to feel bad, throw a pity party, sulk, and become incredibly introspective but I am encouraging you to try and put your 20s-induced nervousness into perspective. The world is huge, the universe is enormous, you are very small comparatively and it’s going to be okay. This doesn’t mean whatever you are experiencing as you navigate through your quarter life is trivial or unimportant but think about what you are experiencing in the grand scheme of life. If it’s not completely life-changing or unfortunately devastating, it will pass and you will become a better person because of it. Or even if it is devastating, like the death of a loved one, although it seems hard to see now, the moments will pass and life will move on, despite how hard that moving forward may be.
So when I first started feeling anxious over what to do with this decade of my life and the mass of uncertainty lying before me, I immediately put my mind and body in crisis mode. I hardly ate, couldn’t sleep, felt sick often, tried writing as much as I could so I could gain clarity, and cried…in the car by myself, in the teacher’s lounge, the bathroom, my shower, you name it. Then I tried being more productive with my erratic emotions. I started ‘researching’ and by researching, I simply mean googling what a quarter life crisis is, how to handle it, and how to move forward. Although some of the advice was comforting and temporarily put my restless mind at ease, I realized how dramatic this ‘quarter life crisis’ seemed. Is it really a crisis? The attacks on Paris are a crisis, the refugees that are forced to flee their homeland in order to survive is a crisis, the extreme poverty in parts of North Korea is a crisis…not knowing where your life is headed in your 20s, experiencing road bumps along the way, facing immense uncertainty and insecurity, and navigating what it’s like to be an adult is not a crisis.
I honestly feel like the more we label this time in our lives as a ‘quarter life crisis’ the more we engender and dramatize it. The more our generation subscribes to this notion that at some point in your 20s, you will experience a ‘crisis’, the more we are instilling a feeling a fear, anxiety, and panic during a time when those feelings don’t have to control you. I would argue that some of us have even sensationalized the idea of a quarter life crisis and have worried more than we needed to just because we feel pressure from the accomplished, engaged, and seemingly stable people around us or on our Facebook newsfeed. They are not you. Their lives, no matter if they are social media-perfect or unhappy, don’t influence yours so don’t let that weigh on you. Instead of feeling insecure and nervous that you won’t find the person you will eventually marry, when you see a new engagement announcement on Facebook, stop yourself before you even play that infamous comparison game. Buying into the idea that a quarter life crisis will happen to you eventually or that because you are experiencing change, unsureness, new life events, and stress that you are currently in a quarter life crisis is unhealthy and will create more harm than good.
So, sure I got broken up with recently, my sixth boyfriend didn’t work out like I had wanted the relationship to, I don’t know where my life is headed after this year, my high school teaching job stresses me out more than I had expected it to, my regular sodium intake thanks to my Ramen habit is probably dangerous, and I’m lucky if my laundry gets done once a month, but I am not experiencing a quarter life crisis. I am simply experiencing life as a 23-year old and it will be okay. We all experience our 20s differently – we all have different life experiences, circumstances we were born into, identities that aren’t as accepted by society, different socioeconomic statuses, and so on. But no matter how different our lives are, let’s not navigate through this decade in our life believing a crisis is inevitable.
We don’t need to subscribe to the idea that whenever we hit uncertainty, unexpectedness, and something new that a quarter life crisis is looming over our heads. Instead, let’s embrace the unknown, dive into the unfamiliar, and accept that this decade can be beautiful, crazy, and chaotic and that’s okay. Your life doesn’t need to be lived in a crisis mode or on the defense, live your life the way you want to.