I can’t say I’m having a quarter-life crisis, that new phase millennials are experiencing as they reach a certain age at the crossroads of the rest of their lives. Leaving behind what is familiar, a structured educational setting, into the vast unknown. How do we know if we’re “living life right”?
While I’ve always been indecisive and all over the place when it comes to making long-term career and life goals, as I think about graduating college and what path to take, that threat is impending. Unavoidable.
Part of the dilemma is not just our own hearts trying to direct our paths, but also all of the outside factors and influences blurring our vision. Many of us think about our families and loved ones, wanting to pursue a life that makes them proud and can support them in the future. I cannot think of any worse feeling than disappointing those who matter so much to you.
For me, despite my work ethic in academics, I never gravitated toward the scientific fields or anything that would result in a hefty salary. Money, although somewhat naive in saying so, has never been a driving factor for my goals. However, I become anxious about pursuing an nontraditional path of life wondering if that choice is letting my high GPA and studious habits go to waste. That I have the potential to do much more. Fancier titles to tote to others, a signal that I took advantage of my skills and made a life for myself.
Rationally, I know my parents will always support me and want me to be happy. But from an anxious perspective, that puts a lot of pressure on myself. I have to consciously evaluate if I’m living my life for my genuine enjoyment, or I’m going through the motions of what is expected of me. And trust me, it’s not easy.
Young adults, especially college graduates, feel stuck inside a box, a single tunnel to follow without looking outside of what is the norm. We get into office cubicles for 9-5 positions, we climb up the corporate ladder, we get married, settle down and start a family. It certainly makes everything very straightforward as to how to lead a life.
But that’s not for everyone. I think the many thorns that have pricked my feet as I’ve walked through life have all been there to redirect me to the place I’m truly meant to be. I just have to trust the trials and tribulations, that they’re all teaching me lessons required to walk toward my true purpose.
Except that isn’t exactly something to say if somebody asks, “What are you doing after college?” Following the normal path of working offers stability, it’s easy to distinguish, and people know how to applaud those types of achievements. Trying to forge your own journey is unknown terrain. People get suspicious of that, weary that you’re not thinking logically, that your ideal lifestyle won’t be sustainable.
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Am I doing this for my own fulfillment, or for others’ acknowledgement?” I’d be the first to tell you, I thrive on encouragement from people I admire, reminders that I’m doing my best. But it’s hard to respond to somebody who seems very clueless. No matter how often people say that the uncertainty will pass, that everything will work out, it still freaks me out. That future possibility of a discernible goals doesn’t help much in the present moment as I’m floundering around, still dancing through different activities and possible paths without anything set in stone.
I admire those who have always had a clear plan in mind, a passion that guides them every step of the way. And I admire those who have no idea whatsoever, that aren’t afraid to try new things and learn everything they can about themselves and the world, perhaps without even truly “settling down” in the traditional sense. Both options are okay. We shouldn’t champion one over the other. We shouldn’t compare our unique lives to one another and expect all the answers for ourselves. We also cannot rely upon others’ personal perceptions of life for you or themselves as the end-all factor of your decisions. Ultimately, you are the one living your life.
It’s very difficult to isolate your own soul’s calling from the outside noise, but we need that time for quiet introspection to at least get a sense of what life might look for us. And even then, there’s no point in setting every goal you have in stone because while we’re living our own lives, we’re also at the mercy of spiritual power (in my case, God) throwing curve balls into the mix. We must be willing to both see a vision for ourselves and a trust in what might come.
Although I’m just into this new phase of life, that doesn’t invalidate my anxieties of what comes next. When it feels like the opportunities you expected don’t work out, what then? How will I know what to do? Will it also not work out, or will everything come together as it should? They call it an existential crisis for a reason. We’re all here on this planet and in this life to fulfill a purpose. Our individual impacts matter. It’s not easy trying to justify and understand that impact, but for now, holding onto that one ultimate truth will be the inflatable lifesaver keeping us afloat in the tumultuous, vast ocean. Waters just waiting to be explored.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie