Surviving The Post-Graduation Quarter-Life Crisis
When I graduated college, I had a plan. It was this: no plan. I basically decided to put off looking for a job until my sister’s wedding was over in the first week of August. It was a good plan that helped preserve my sanity that last semester of college when I was trying desperately just to hand things in on time and actually attend my classes. I was never the type that really cared about extracurriculars, nor did I bother doing a thesis just for an honors degree. I did my stuff, did it on time, and waited for my freedom to arrive.
It did, but it didn’t feel like freedom.
After graduation, I felt like a huge elephant came up and decided to squat on my chest. And my shoulders. I felt constantly weighed down by everything I had to figure out, and I realized that I was putting it off, waiting for the moment when I absolutely had to face it. The wedding deadline was an excuse. (Although as maid of honor, I did spend more than sixteen hours dealing with multiple cans of gold spray paint.)
I putzed around my town, lived at home, hung out with my sisters and high school friends, applied to something like 37 jobs that first month, and waited. And waited. And waited.
And so maybe I should have done a little more work looking for a job that last semester of college. I had scoffed at all my friends who were so anxious and scared. I thought, “I have time. I got this. No biggie.” BIGGIE. HUGE.
A quarter-life crisis occurs when suddenly, you’re so much older than you ever thought you’d be. You think, “How did I get here? What’s happening to me? Who AM I?” You don’t know what your future looks like because up until now, everything was sort of planned out. Once you hit that goal, your single-mindedness ceases to exist. There’s a whole world out there and you don’t know your place in it, for the first time ever.
For me, that moment came when I was packing for my sister’s bachelorette party in Vegas. I was knee-deep in dresses and skirts, trying on outfits that didn’t make me feel like a complete and utter failure at life, and finding everything made me look and feel like exactly that: a failure. How a miniskirt does this, I have never been able to find out. But all of a sudden, all of that elephant weight came crashing down on me, and I just burst into anxious tears.
My sister came in the room and laughed at me. I didn’t even know why, exactly, I was crying. I tried to tell her what I felt and then she said, “You’re having, like, a quarter-life crisis. Don’t worry.”
So that helped, but not worrying is easier said than done, is it not? All those feelings of stress, inadequacy, and failure crashed over me like an elephant-sized wave. It was not fun.
Admittedly, a weekend in Vegas did help.
My quarter-life crisis lasted a long time. It may still be going on. But here’s what I learned.
Often your crisis doesn’t have anything to do with what’s actually going on in your life.
What I discovered is that my friends and some of my family all went through this period of intense fear and anxiety, and that this uncertainty didn’t lessen if they had met goals. Even if a friend had a job right out of college or if another had a steady boyfriend and was looking forward to an engagement, they went through a quarter-life crisis. It doesn’t have much to do with your status in life, or if you’ve met goals or milestones “on time.” I learned that no one is immune.
It’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
There’s a fallacy in our culture that everyone has to have everything figured out all the time. It took me a while to get used to the idea that trying was sometimes enough. No one has everything figured out—even people like my parents, who have built a happy life together and have had successful careers and like, a retirement account and all that. Everyone sort of feels like they’re barely holding it together. It’s important to recognize that and stop putting so much pressure on yourself to have your life line up neatly and be perfect. Because it never will be perfect.
It’s good to have bad days.
Sometimes, what we truly need to lessen that feeling of existential angst, or what Holly Golightley once called “the mean reds,” is to let yourself have bad days. Indulge your inner self-pity, eat all of the food, wonder what went on, watch The Notebook and finish a pint of ice cream. But then stop. Let yourself have one bad day every once in a while, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. But then turn it off and examine how you can fix things if they’re not getting better. Self-pity doesn’t help, but pampering kind of does. Indulge your crazy, and then move on.
Don’t take it so seriously.
It’s just life. What are you all so worried about? Even if you fail, you’ll live. You’ll survive. This too shall pass.