What I'm learning about adulthood from my quarter-life crisis
There’s nothing quite like an existential crisis to make you examine what matters, what doesn’t, and, “Why do I still care?! I thought I decided that thing doesn’t matter?!?” My mid-twenties have been comprised of feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing while simultaneously being sure that what I’m doing is completely wrong. It’s a weird mixture of insecurities I thought I had left behind many years ago and new insecurities that have sprung from the old. My so-called “quarter-life crisis” has been a time of challenges, self-acceptance, tears, joy, change (lots of change!), and learning how to activate and assert my needs.
This moment may be fleeting, but in the midst of it all, I feel as though I might finally be getting the hang of this whole adulthood thing (or, at least, I’m learning along the way). Here are just a few shortcuts that have made my quarter-life crisis more manageable, and can hopefully make yours more manageable, too!
Ask yourself, “Why wait?”
What are you waiting for? That mythical right time? I hate to break it to you, but the right time doesn’t exist beyond its firmly established place as an excellent excuse and safety net against fear. I have spent far too much of my life waiting for the right time to execute a choice or follow a dream, and I’ve spent even more time (embarrassingly) waiting to see if — maybe — things might just happen on their own, without a nudge from my end. Neither work and both keep you stuck.
Stop waiting for tomorrow and do it today, if you are able to. If you make a mistake — which you will do more than you’d like — you can correct your course and make it work, just like you always have. Don’t put off or wait for the right things to come: search them out. Worst case scenario? You end up with a funny story to tell later. Best case scenario? You get one step closer to the life you want. So, why wait?!
Manage your expectations
Most times, life stays predictable (to an extent), and so we let ourselves dream; but daydreams and a yearning for change can cause expectations to fall out of balance without reality. For example, the love of my life isn’t going to magically appear outside of my apartment door on a rainy night, declaring his love for me. I’m going to have to go on bad date after bad date for a while, dealing with those frogs while I search for my favorite one (I’ll call this hypothetical man a “penguin,” because penguins bow to each other and give each other pebbles and it’s all much sweeter and more civilized than what I’ve encountered in my life thus far. Plus, a “prince” sounds a bit too high maintenance for me.). But that doesn’t mean I have to tolerate my situation as-is either.
I made the decision to disengage with online dating sites because they were too disappointing. It felt like a constant series of rejections and let-downs from men who didn’t know me and/or felt they had the right to make comments about my appearance that were less than kind. This tool that has been successful for others just wasn’t for me. Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but I do not expect of deserve to be treated in the way that I was, and I think I’m just asserting my boundaries and what I’ll accept from others.
I have adjusted my expectations when it comes to relationships. I have accepted that I might be limiting my options by stepping away from the Internet. I have accepted that my childhood daydreams are unrealistic. I have accepted that rejection is just going to suck. I have accepted that I deserve more than what I have found so far (well, mostly accepted: sometimes those pesky insecurities find their way back in). But I have also adjusted my expectations when it comes to life in general. Nothing is going to happen unless I work on making it happen. Life is going to be hard sometimes. I’m going to struggle sometimes, but not forever and always. I’m going to make it out OK.
That’s my guiding light: I’m going to be OK.
Always save a little more than you think you need.
Everything costs more than you think it will. Your credit cards will thank you later!
Enjoy the company you have
Learn how to be alone. Learn how to sit in silence with your own thoughts. Learn how to entertain yourself. Learn how to be. You’re the constant in your life: get to know yourself and find ways to accept and enjoy this person.
Be present when you’re with others. Put your cellphone down and make eye contact. Don’t forget to say “thank you” and “please.” Laugh too loud and embarrass yourself too often because you feel too comfortable and safe with who you’re with for it to concern you. Spend time with the people you like and let go of the people who don’t add to your life.
Everything changes quickly, so enjoy the time you have with the people you want to share it with.
Be honest (but pick your battles)
Tell people that matter to you that they matter to you. I always end phone calls making sure the last thing I say would be something I’d be comfortable with as the last words I ever say to them. I don’t always succeed in this, and sometimes it’s too scary, but I always try.
Be honest when someone hurts you. Your feelings are valid and they matter, even if the other person thinks you’re being ridiculous. Speak up for yourself and set your boundaries. Be your own advocate and use your words wisely. Decide what matters and what doesn’t. Pursue the battles that will truly be worth your time.
Be you: anything else is too hard to maintain and unfair for both you and everything and everyone else in your life.
Make people laugh
I learned in elementary school that I could make people (outside of my family) laugh. It’s a simple thing but it creates one of the best feelings in the world. Plus, there’s a special connection created when you make someone laugh in a way that is completely non-self-conscious, so don’t ever do it in a mean-spirited way. Laugh often at yourself, as well. Don’t forget there’s almost always something to laugh about!
Engage with whatever adds something positive to your life
Stay connected to those people who are supportive and kind and make you happy. Let go of those who don’t — you’ll be grateful in the end. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude or defensive toward them, this just means that you should manage your boundaries accordingly.
Find a drink you like
You’ll be comfortable in new situations when you’re not also concerned about what you’re going to drink. Bartenders also appreciate this. If you’re not into alcoholic drinks, have a drink you like in mind anyway (even if it’s just a soda). This is also handy when you’re running late to after-work drinks, so your friends know to order you something with whiskey (I’m a whiskey girl, obviously) and you won’t miss happy hour by the time you do get there. Plus, it feels very adult to have a drink.
Put yourself out there.
I’m still working on this one, but there’s something very freeing about it. It complements the notion of being honest but takes it one step further: stick your neck out a bit and take the risk. Maybe you’ll find out you love some new activity, maybe you’ll meet a new friend, maybe you’ll fall in love. Don’t let the bad experiences and rejections stop you. Each experience in your life is something to learn from and only speaks to that particular situation.
There might be legitimate places where singing should not be done, but there are also many times and places when it definitely can’t hurt. I harbor a secret affection for karaoke and, I don’t want to brag but I might be Beyoncé while I’m alone in my car. Singing changes your mood and requires you to manage your breaths differently as well, which is a natural anxiety reducer. Sometimes you just need to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at work. Even if you have to do it quietly, why not?! Go to concerts and sing every word because you’ve been a fan for more than half your life and can’t help yourself. Sing your heart out.
. . . Oh, you can’t sing? Well, neither can I, but it hasn’t stopped me yet! And it shouldn’t stop you, either.
Live the kind of life you want without waiting or making excuses. Right now is as good a time as any! Don’t forget that you deserve people and things that actively add something positive to your life. Let go of everything else. Enjoy your todays before they’re your yesterdays. Fight for your happiness and fight for yourself. Find your voice, your honest voice. Sing “Blank Space” too loudly in your car.
Try to make the most out of your quarter-life crisis, because it’s a little funny, after all, and you might as well enjoy it.
Catherine Aleman recently moved to Seattle, WA, after leaving a grad program that didn’t make her happy. She spends a lot of time worrying if she texts too much, but she already knows she does. Check out her blog and you find her on Twitter @mental_arts.