People in their fifties experience a mid-life crisis, which is characterized, usually, as trying to reclaim their youth.
People in their twenties experience a quarter-life crisis, plagued by the same feelings of insecurity, doubt, apprehension and anxiety. Some could call it a prelude to the mid-life crisis. I consider it to be a nice parallel.
While people in their fifties are trying, perhaps subconsciously, to reclaim their youth, I think that twenty-somethings are trying to bypass it, to grow up too quickly and become the adults that we’re told we should be or maybe we’ve always wanted to be.
For me, I’ve always wanted to grow up way too fast. I call it wanting to be settled; others may call it full-blown adulthood. I want to be working hard doing something I love; I want to be married and have kids and plan birthday parties and vacations and help them with their homework; I want to own my own house and plant a garden and host dinner parties. I want to do all of that, but maybe the point of this whole thing is to teach patience, which, when it comes to getting on with my life, I’ve never really had.
These have certainly been the hardest two years I’ve ever experienced — ever since graduation, it’s been a major emotional upheaval for me. Suddenly, all of my plans, everything I’ve believed, have been questioned. I’ve had to find out how to completely rediscover and redefine myself. And I don’t mean the self-discovery of high school or college – there it’s ok, you’re still learning, you’re still in your safety zone. But once you graduate, you’re fair game.
Because suddenly, After Graduation, you’re expected to be an adult, without being really prepared. You’re supposed to follow a life course that’s been ingrained in you since you were a kid: go to school and get an education, graduate and get a degree, get a job, have a family, get a house and a dog, retire, write a book. Or something to that degree. But things never pan out the way they are supposed to, and so you are stuck kind of wandering around with a vacant look and your shoulders shrugged as you ask: Now what?
Now what do I do once I’ve graduated?
Now what do I do if I can’t get that high-paying, prestigious job?
Now where do I go?
Now what path am I supposed to take to get to where I (supposedly) want to be?
It’s a period of stagnation, likened to holding a map in your hands and pointing and saying “there, there is where I want to go” but not knowing which road is the easiest/fastest/safest/best. And you never really know until you get in the car and start the trip.
For all intents and purposes, I am an adult: I have a job, I have an apartment, I have a car, and I pay bills for the apartment and the car by having a job; I have an awesome, if not misbehaved, dog and a cat for whom I am entirely responsible (as evidenced by the vet bills); and I have friends with whom I regularly get together and go out to dinner or, yes, even host dinner parties.
And still, I feel like a little girl playing make believe.
I’m trying to rectify this by doing the things I’ve always wanted to do now instead of waiting until later. Sometimes I wonder if I was maybe putting these things off because I figured I could always do them later. For example, tomorrow I’ll be going to the gym for my first martial arts class (which I’ve wanted to do ever since I first saw the Karate Kid). The instructor of one of my fitness classes (please, I know it’s blasphemy, we’ve gotten past that) told me that she has her black belt because she took those classes with her kids. And immediately the self-conscious part of me thought, “that’s a great thing to do with kids…if only I had kids I could do this stuff with.” Which, hiding behind the idea of children is totally WRONG, I know, but I’ll admit the thought passed through my mind.
Because what is holding me back from doing these things now, on my own? It’s the perfect time for me; I’m not attached to anything, so I have nothing to prevent me from making these changes and taking those chances.
When I was a teenager, I was in such a rush to be a twenty-something — to go to college and get a job. Now that I actually am a twenty-something, I’m in such a rush to be a thirty-something — to have a family and be settled.
It’s almost ironic: I always thought I was growing up too fast, which is maybe why I’ve always clung to my childhood so tightly; but now I feel like things are happening too slowly. So how do you create that balance? What I really need to learn, and what is such a painful process, is to take this time for myself, to learn patience, to live day by day and appreciate the time I have now.
I need to get in the car, pick a direction, and step on the gas. Very lightly, though. There’s no point in speeding if I want to enjoy the ride.