Despite the new, seemingly limitless “freedom” and optimism of full-fledged, post-bachelor degree adulthood that my 20s ushered in, oddly enough, as yet, it has been the decade that I enjoyed the least amount of happiness. And I owe this almost entirely to the huge gap that existed between what I wanted to be doing with my life and what I thought I should be doing. The quarter-life crisis I experienced (though I had no name for it then because in my mind, life crises weren’t supposed to arrive until you were at least approaching 40) was born out of intense confusion about how to bridge this gap. The reason I couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap was because I had not yet realized that happiness and success didn’t really have a lot to do with each other. I had bought into the larger society’s definition of success and because of that, I couldn’t seem to allow myself the freedom to discover the things that could actually make me happy. The fear of being wrong or perceived as a failure overshadowed that part of me that knew I should be doing something different, something better. I’m so glad that there are more resources specifically designed to help quarter-lifers these days.
But looking back from this point of mid-life, what I know now is this:
Until I could find a way to understand my fears and be honest about how they affected the decisions I made, I would never be able to get anywhere in life worth going. I know now that the best thing I could have done for myself during my quarter-life crisis would have been to learn how to let go of worrying about what my life looked like and learn how to cultivate strength and courage instead. If I had understood that my fears and my abilities were two vastly different things, I would have realized that just because I was afraid to do something, it didn’t mean I wasn’t good enough to do it. So that, despite my fears, I could have gone about the business of growing and stretching myself beyond what I thought I was capable of and successfully risen above those fears. And although that would have meant moving outside of my comfort zone and facing things that seemed scary as hell, once on the other side of those experiences, I would have felt such deep respect and love for myself, that many of those initial fears would have seemed small and frivolous in comparison. I didn’t know this during my quarter-life crisis, but I finally understand now that settling for the path of least resistance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, because if I found the going too hard with something as important as my dreams, I’d inevitably find the going too hard with many other significant things as well.
During those years of struggling through my twenties, it would have been invaluable for me to understand that achieving my dreams isn’t as much about an end result (the way everything in our culture tells us it is), as it is about the process. And yes this process often means a lot of wishing, hoping, and imagining, but it is in the doing that my dreams will actually be achieved. Knowing this would have been invaluable because then I would have understood that I would get where I wanted to go not just by sporadic or even inspired leaps and jumps (though at times that would certainly be appropriate), but mostly by tiny little steps taken diligently each day. And I could have taken pleasure in my progress, however small, instead of focusing only on how far I had yet to go.
Though I had not known all these things during my quarter-life crises, the amazingly wonderful thing about life is that it gave me the opportunity to learn them. My thirties became a happier time because it was the decade that I would begin to learn many of these lessons. And trust me, learning these lessons did not (and still don’t) always come easy, or in ways I can even recognize until the situation that delivered them has long passed. Still, I journey towards my dream one step at a time. Some of these steps have seemed easy at times, and some have felt extremely difficult, some have felt like backsliding, while others have felt like great leaps forward. But one thing I know now with certainty is that all of them, every single one of those steps, have always been necessary.