On my 20th birthday this past October, my mom gave me what she thought to be an inspirational speech, telling me all about how this would be the busiest decade of my life: during these ten years friends would start to become engaged, have babies, start their careers, buy houses—all of which absolutely terrified my inner-neurotic self. So began my self-dubbed “quarter life crisis” a period which has spanned the past six months and at times left me looking like a member of the cast from Girl, Interrupted. Assuming that I make it to the age of 80, I’ve already lived a quarter of my life so far. As morbid as it may seem for me to be reflecting on such a thought while I am currently in my youthful prime, time seems to be slipping through my hands at an ever-increasing rate. I’m already almost half way through college, have declared my major and my minor, and still have no idea what I want to do in two years when I have to leave U.Va. Growing up, I kind of always assumed that I would have it together by now, envisioning myself studying serenely in a collegiate library wearing crisp button downs and drinking black coffee, the picture of the mature, refined young intellectual, self-assured and composed. However, I feel as clueless and as confused today as I was when I was a gangly, unsure junior in high school, taking the SATs for the first time and dreaming of my life at college.
I always felt as if time seemed unlimited, my life stretching forward in an endless stream in which I could do anything and go anywhere I wanted whenever I wanted. Now, the grim realizations of adulthood have descended upon me and are causing me to realize how short my time is—I only have so long to do all the traveling and learning I’ve always wanted to do before I have to devote myself to the responsibilities of being grown up, finding a stable job and supporting myself. Things I’ve always pictured myself doing such as visiting the Taj Mahal or standing amongst the ruins of Machu Pichu are seeming more and more distant, fading into the category of far-off dreams as I start thinking about applying to graduate schools and job-hunting.
Don’t even get me started on the topic of relationships. The first time I saw on Facebook that someone I had gone to high school with had gotten engaged I almost threw my head against the keyboard in disbelief. Speaking as someone who still sleeps with the stuffed animal she received on her first birthday, the thought of doing something as mature as deciding to marry someone within the next ten years almost makes me go into cardiac arrest. But it happens—my own parents met in the dining hall their first year of college and were married by the time they were 26. The only boys I have met in the dining hall that have even made a vague impression on me are Double Swipe Dean and the townie behind the sandwich counter who asked me if I wanted to “party” with him—not exactly the kind of material I could see myself settling down with in the next six years.
However, in the middle of this flurry of anxiety, I had a brief moment of epiphany, recollecting the cliché saying found on the tops of note pads in therapists’ offices or emblazoned on the bright posters of high school guidance counselors: “If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.” As trite as this may be, it still hold s a magnitude of truth to it—I am a firm believer in the idea that everything has a way of working itself out, of all your worrying and stress stumbling into a discovery that can bring you true happiness. Maybe we don’t have to have everything figured out right now, maybe it’s okay that I might switch my minor a couple dozen more times or that I still am not entirely sure how to work my dishwasher—we don’t have to know everything at this instant. And we probably never will. When I finally emerge from my quarter life crisis I will most likely be surprised at the things I have accomplished and learned about myself, of the self-reliance and confidence I have garnered along the way. As for now, I don’t have to be grown up yet. I can still go out on Tuesday nights when I probably shouldn’t and do things like taking classes about Etruscan Art simply because I want to, reveling in being unsure and deciding on the course of my future. And you know what? It will all be okay.