For the last several months, I lived my life looking forward to one thing: going to Qatar. I found out I would have the opportunity to venture to the Middle East in late April, and ever since then that was the focal point of my calendar. Sure, I had other things planned – a trip to Amsterdam, a trip to Key West, another trip to Chicago, a marathon to run, a half-marathon before that, a dissertation to propose, several friends’ weddings, and friend reunions. But Qatar was the thing I was desperate to see and do and enthrall myself in.
And then I went. And it was awesome (and it has taken me over five weeks since returning to sit down and write about the experience, but I promise, it’s coming). But I got back, thought about my wonderful time there, and then continued lying in bed.
I think it is natural, if not always healthy, to live life living milestone to milestone. We anticipate upcoming big events like the ones listed above. But eventually, you realize you can’t sustain yourself that way. Or at least you probably shouldn’t.
When I returned from Qatar, my next four weeks were filled to the brim: two friends’ weddings, a marathon to run, and a dissertation to propose—which, you know, sorta decides my future. But I could not muster that much excitement. I kept thinking, “Sure, I’ll do all those things, but what’s next? What am I living toward?”
It’s a very meta question, and I am certainly not the first human, let alone first twenty-something, to ask, “What’s next?” In the last month, I’ve found my friends asking the same question.
The question is not diluted by friends marrying, friends buying houses, friends moving across the country (or globe), and then other friends (and myself) asking if we want those same things. Are we stagnating? Would we say yes if our significant other proposed tomorrow? Would we buy a house if we could? Should we go back to school? Where do we want to end up? Should I start dating? Like, seriously dating? Like, join eHarmony dating?
It hit me, my friends and I have reached the edge of 25. Yes, I’m stealing this phrase from the recent release, “The Edge of Seventeen.” I’ve yet to see the movie as of this writing, but radio ads keep telling me the film “captures exactly what it feels to be 17.” And what does it feel to be 17? I don’t remember any qualms that parallel being 25. All I remember is fretting over the answer to a biology homework question and, sure, what college I’m going to attend. Definitely, college choice affects your future a bit – like the next four years – but it is not the rest of your life.
At 25, you are (melodramatically) facing the rest of your life. Suddenly, Facebook memories remind you that four years ago you were enjoying senior year. You remember the frivolousness, the hilarity, the adventure, the romance – and then you stare at the life around you.
In college, you had four years to figure out your career (sorta), or at least next steps, and also figure out yourself in general – your personality, your likes, your friend groups, what sort of person you want to be. For the most part, I have sustained a path toward those things I identified in undergrad. By no means do I feel I am actually stagnating. I still have another year in grad school. I know I want to join the Peace Corps. But then what?
Likewise, my friends ask if they should apply for a master’s program. Should they buy or continue renting? Is it okay to have never been in a serious relationship? (Yes, it is – says me who’s in the same boat.) Is it okay to not know exactly what you want?
The fear is not that we are stagnating now. (Well, it sorta is.) No, the more nuanced fear is that we are setting ourselves up to stagnate in five or ten years. Or, if we achieve the traditional milestones – marriage, career, kids, mortgage – still what then?
If we can’t figure it out now, will we have it figured out later? Or will we be unhappy and regret the decisions we made now? Today sets us up for tomorrow, after all.
Lately, I’ve recognized life is finite. Even while I think I am embracing life now, I wonder what else can I do to seize memories and enjoy myself and make sure I’m still enjoying myself at 35. This is what they call a quarter-life crisis, I imagine (though is it more like a tertiary-life crisis, because how many of us are really living to 100?).
I have friends quitting their jobs because it’s not their dream job and they *have* to find their dream job (even though they’re 25 and conceivably have 30 more years of work to find that dream job, but who am I question a millennial in crisis?). I have other friends proposing to their significant others even though they might not be in love. I have this thing where I ask people if they love the people who they’re with (I know; I’m very inappropriate), and I am frightened by the number of times (three times) someone has told me, “I think I love her” or “She was wife material.” Then why the heck are you proposing? Don’t you know for sure? And then I have other friends (aka myself) who keep buying tickets to countries because they realized they need to fulfill travel dreams and they can no longer wait and please stop judging, Mom. (Yes, that is my quarter life crisis, I realized.)
But then I am heartened by (responsible) friends who are applying for grad programs because that’s what they want. Friends who are getting new jobs because they weren’t happy where they were, but want to try something new. Friends who are marrying the loves of their (young) lives. Friends who are buying houses because they know that’s where they want to be for five years, but also are considering they can sell and move away.
And the best thing is, I don’t think any of these friends know what’s next. That’s because none of us really do. The best-laid plans are destroyed by bosses, lovers, children, hurricanes, and, if not those terrors, then by ourselves. But while plans may be destroyed, progress won’t be.
The key to 26 is to jump off the edge of 25 and just keep swimming forward.