At 11:22 p.m., my best friend texted me, "I think I just had a quarter-life crisis."
She had come to the realization that she's turning twenty next year. We both are. We still have to turn nineteen this year, but the number twenty has a certain terrifying ring to it.
"I've been questioning the last year of my life all night tonight," she continued.
So, naturally, I started questioning my own. I started thinking about all of the things that I haven't done yet. I haven't traveled the world. I haven't gotten engaged. I haven't landed my dream job or sculpted my ideal body or built my fantasy lifestyle. I'm still tired, I'm still unhappy, I'm still lonely. I'm eighteen years old -- I'm turning twenty next year -- and I have no idea where I'm going. So, I understood how my friend was feeling.
I tried to validate the last year of my life, thinking of all of the good things that happened, practicing gratitude. I dug out my bright yellow bucket list from the bottom of my desk. I counted the checkboxes I've filled.
Move to college. Check.
Sell my art. Check.
Get a new job. Check.
Write for a publication. Check.
Fall in love. Scratched out. (You can't put love on a to-do list.)
Choose a college major. Check.
Why doesn't it feel like enough? I'm writing this article from my college dorm, six stories above the Florida State University campus, watching my coffee swirl and my string lights sparkle. From where I'm sitting, I can see so many happy little things -- a letter from my family, the sketchbook I've been filling, and a ticket to the concert I'm going to next month. Someday, these things will all be gone. I should appreciate this life now. But why doesn't it feel like enough?
Though overwhelming, this feeling is not unusual. Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, in a video for PragerU, described experiencing her own quarter-life crisis as a young professional. "A lot was going my way -- at least, on the surface," she said. "So, why didn't I feel great about my life? I was working as a press secretary for a congressman. I should have been happy about that. But, instead, I just felt trapped, anxious, and uncertain about my future."
"On the personal side, things weren't much better," she continued. "I hadn't had a boyfriend in years, and there were no prospects on the horizon. Marriage seemed like an impossible dream. I loved my friends, but I still felt lonely."
Perino described strategies that she used to work through her own quarter-life crisis. She recommended moving -- whether to a new city or a new school or a new job. Rather than confining yourself to one place, move and explore and chase opportunities while you still can.
Then, she recommended taking inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Determine how you can use them to build the life that you desire, set goals, and, finally, take steps towards achieving them. "When you set goals and work toward them, positive things happen," Perino said. It might not be the things that you expect. It might not be the life that you envisioned. And that's okay. "You gain skills," she continued, "and those skills will create opportunities that never would've existed if you weren't working toward something."
Before I turned eighteen, I set big, bold, daunting goals -- they're the best kind -- determined to shatter my comfort zone and grow into an entirely new person. And, to an extent, I did. I grew in many ways and accomplished many of my goals. But it wasn't enough. It didn't magically fix everything. Turning eighteen, I had visions of becoming happy. I thought that checking off my goals one by one would increase my happiness step by step, and it didn't. My own expectations of my life held me back from appreciating the good things that were actually happening as I worked towards my goals. My quarter-life crisis came from examining the contrast between my real life and the idealized life that I envisioned.
"All These Things That I Have Done" by The Killers is one of my all-time favorite songs because of one main line, "You're gonna bring yourself down."
It's true. I am going to bring myself down. My eighteen-year-old uncertainty is going to bring me down. My life is unfolding right in front of me, and my idealized vision of it will stop me from running full-force in the real direction that it's taking.
Maybe you're having your own quarter-life crisis. Maybe you don't know where you're going anymore, or maybe your life doesn't look the way you envisioned. These feelings will try to hold you back. They will try to consume you, and they will try to stop you from pursuing the opportunities right in front of you. Don't let them.
Keep working hard with pure intentions and patience, and life will eventually align. After all, there seems to be only one true cure for a quarter-life crisis: time.