The quarter life crisis approaches - how can I live more meaningfully?
July 17, 2016 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I will be 25 in a few months. I am sensing a shift in the direction I need to go - but I'm just not sure which path I should take. Can you help me figure it out?

To give you a brief overview: I am a writer with a degree in literature and journalism. When I was 18, one of my best friends died. I struggled hugely at this time in my life but managed to attain a good degree regardless. It took time for me to find myself on an even keel emotionally through counselling, yoga & being more mindful.

Two years ago I moved to a European country to teach English and spent a year there making great friends, absorbing myself into the culture & the language. But as the year came to a close, I felt I had to make a choice: do I stay here and realise I need to dedicate a significant amount of time learning the language OR choose to dedicate myself more wholly to the writing? Ultimately I chose writing and moved home.

Lately, I have been feeling unhappy & anxious about my future. Considering everything from doing a further year of teaching English someplace to spending 3 months living in a retreat in Canada…I am based in Scotland now FWIW.

1) Work – I am self-employed with a couple of great clients & one I have become disenchanted with. After 8 years of sedentary work producing online content & marketing/social media development I am SICK of working on a computer all day long. I hate it. I want to delete every social media channel I own and never look at it again (ok extreme, but you catch the gist).

I think in a couple of years I would like to go back to Uni and study to become a fully qualified teacher. The reason I have not chosen this YET is because I understand the dedication required to teaching. Because I still want to focus on writing, I am not ready to do this yet.

I am passionate about women’s issues and could see myself getting involved with woman’s aid or a similar organisation. I would like to do something that makes me feel as though I’m usefully contributing towards society in some way. Should I teach abroad for another year OR stay here, find a high paying job that will help me raise the money I need to do my American road trip?*

2) Love – 2 years ago my last long-term relationship ended. Before that I had been in constant relationships since I was 13. PHEW! But I have struggled with the short-term only relationships I’ve been in since then. The last guy I dated disappeared without a word & would not acknowledge my need for closure. This made me feel as though what felt like on-going authentic moments of connection between us never meant anything to him. And that I never meant anything to him. And yes, I miss the intimacy & the sensation that something warm and comforting was ripped away suddenly.

I see people getting engaged & buying their first home together & feel disconnected from their joy. Partially because I am so far away from it but also because the domesticated life is not something that appeals to me right now. I would like to have a stable partner & kids eventually though. Should I be putting MORE effort into actively finding this now? At my age there are so many ‘men’ that are reliant on casual arrangements. On some level it is as though I think my luck has romantically run out, which I know is probably ridiculous.

3) Writing – Been writing since I was about 5. Have had 3 short stories published & this year set myself a goal of writing a short story collection. This was going quite well until about 3 months ago, when my dating life went wrong. My energy dropped & this came to a grinding halt. There are 4 books inside me & I always wanted to have a book published before I was 30. But in the world we live in now, how do I approach this….the traditional route or self-publishing? I also write features & conduct interviews for ezines - not found a way to get paid for this yet though!

4) Travel – I love travelling. Recently I met a 65 year old woman who had spent the last Summer walking part of the Camino de Santiago (now that her children are grown up) - I like to think this could be future me! *I would LOVE to spend a 1-3 months travelling across America. But how much would this feasibly cost? I am going to Portugal for a month soon to gain my PADI qualification. I would love to be able to go to some of the coral reefs around the US and even help with coral restoration projects at some point if it is at all possible.

5) Overall wellbeing – my family & many of my close friends are here. I get so much out of being able to meet with them regularly. But I also found close friends when I lived abroad. And some of the friends I regularly spend time with are also considering travelling abroad for a period.

Secondly, I live in a generally cold, dull climate. I miss the sunshine and sometimes find myself wondering if I can really spend the rest of my life living here having experienced the optimism of a warm, positive place.

I just would like some thoughts and help on how to figure out what I should do next. I cannot myself still being in the same city a year from now. IF I decide to settle here & to go back to uni here, will it really make me happy? I feel like I have no answers and I don't know how to begin finding the right ones.
posted by Ariel432 to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Not all of these are either/ors. You can write and have a day job - in fact you'll probably have to, unless you're extraordinarily lucky. If really you want to write, just do it, at the same time as working, travelling, and/or falling in love. But don't get tangled up in the question "shall I have an office job, or shall I write?" Do both.

I always wanted to have a book published before I was 30

Drop this idea straight away. Arbitrary age-related deadlines like this are completely meaningless and only serve to pile on the stress for absolutely no reason. When you thought this up, you probably thought 30 was really old, but it's actually incredibly young. It doesn't matter when you write a book. Just sit down today and start, and see what happens. Sounds like you're making some good progress if you're getting short stories published. Tap up the Scottish Book Trust for guidance and resources on making the next step if you haven't already and start to plan the gradual stepping up of this career alongside your day job.

But if you're only 24, and still yearning to travel, go do it. It's not impossible later in life, but it's less likely to be easy if you end up with any of a mortgage/partner/family. I lived abroad twice in my late teens and early/mid 20s, then worked in London for five years, then went and worked overseas for another 3.5 years in my late 20s/early 30s. After that I came back to the UK, got a job and bought a flat when I was about 34, worked out fine, and I don't have a huge urge to go and live overseas again now I'm in my 40s. I would say it took me a couple of years to 'settle' where I am now, though.

Which I guess is all to say...
I don't know how to begin finding the right ones.
...there's no one 'right' path that you have to find - whatever you choose to do, you can make it work out fine. Sorry if that's not super-helpful, but you don't need to worry that you're going to make some terrible mistake. Whichever you choose will work out. Maybe knowing that from someone who's been in your shoes will help you relax enough to make a choice.
posted by penguin pie at 3:00 PM on July 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I read the whole thing. My opinion, though, is that you should not sweat any of this. Everyone worries about this stuff when they are 24, and none of it matters. Do what you can afford to, and what you enjoy. Don't stay somewhere that you're unhappy. Don't worry about dating. Do you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:04 PM on July 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure anyone else but yourself can answer all of these questions. One thing i will say though is that you seem to be putting undue pressure on yourself to come to some kind of dramatic breakthrough. From my own perspective you sound like you are in a great position to make decisions about your life which, it might be surprising to learn, is a rare position to be in.

You mention travel more than once so maybe you should focus on that. Save money, live your life and travel when you can. It sounds like you are able to find paying work as a writer which is an amazing and wonderful thing. You might hate being at a computer, but to some degree all work is a trade off between what you can and can't stand to do. Could you find work doing travel writing? Could you travel and write pieces based on your travel and submit it for publication? You also mention women's issues as a passion. I'm sure that there are women's groups around the world that need writers in some capacity. NGO's might need a writer for fundraising. A women's collective in Bangladesh might need a writer fluent in western english to help them sell their handiwork or gain access to grant money.

To me everything you mention sounds viable, and there's no need for them to be mutually exclusive. You're young enough still to be able to take big risks without devastating consequences. Education doesn't go bad. If you go back to school and find that that wasn't quite what you needed it is still valuable experience. Not to sound flippant, but anything you experience in life is valuable.

There are a lot of things one can't plan for in life, but you sound perfectly set up to be able to make good decisions for yourself. And guess what, there's no wrong answers here. It's just life. You live it and it goes on, and you go on. It really sounds like you know what you want to do and just need to take some quiet time to listen to yourself. Once again though, you can do all the things you list, and more.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 3:10 PM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey, I'm there with you. Young journalist and writer, 24. I think Conrad-Casserole hit the nail on the head --"To me everything you mention sounds viable, and there's no need for them to be mutually exclusive. You're young enough still to be able to take big risks without devastating consequences"

People experience success -- however you want to define it -- at different times of life. Some people take longer to get to what they want to say than others but it doesn't make it less significant. If you're serious about writing, you want to make sure you're taken care of financially. If you can freelance, that's good, but there's nothing wrong with having a day job and writing on the side. It requires discipline and hard work. If you can do that while traveling, great; work, save up money, write on the side. Then when you've saved a pretty penny, go on your trip and make sure you write then, too. Writing does require time so you can't do a job that emotionally and physically drains you and then expect to sit down and spend several hours writing. So be realistic about what is possible and what kind of jobs will let you carve out that mental space. Personally I find it's important to keep a daily rhythm rather than having all this free time when I'm supposed to be writing but that I squander away by being anxious.

Also, if you don't do anything now, that's okay -- do it later. Pick the thing that works the best now. Set the other goal aside and focus on now rather than fixating on the other things you should also be doing. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge that you're growing and it's not something you can always see, but it's happening and its building you up. I often get impatient with myself and wonder why I haven't done more or why I don't know what I want to do yet -- but this isn't a new crisis. You would certainly be remarkable if you could see everything so clearly by 25.

If you don't already, make friends who are older than you and of different generations. It will help center you once you have heard about the wide range of ways that people grow and end up where they are.
posted by mmmleaf at 3:50 PM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, if you don't do anything now, that's okay

I meant - "if you don't do it all now"
posted by mmmleaf at 4:01 PM on July 17, 2016

When you're 18, you envision where you'd like to be when you're 30. At 25, you realize that you're nowhere near halfway to the goal, so you feel like a failure. Try to keep in mind that the both the goal and the time constraint were decided upon by an 18 year old with no life experience, so don't feel bound by them. Life isn't a trajectory.

I see people getting engaged & buying their first home together & feel disconnected from their joy. Don't EVER let that particular sensation of inadequacy guide your actions.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:47 PM on July 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Imagine your life as a tree. Imagine the things that bring you joy as the sunshine. Grow your branches toward the sunshine. Right now it doesn't matter so much where you grow branches, as long as you're getting the sunshine you need to thrive.
posted by aniola at 5:33 PM on July 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

You're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to meet certain expectations, either self-imposed or society/community-imposed. None of those matter. Publishing a book at 29 is awesome, as is traveling more now and publishing at 45, as is deciding you hate writing at 26 and doing something totally different. Getting married in your early to mid 20's is cool, as is taking more time to do all the cool things you like doing.

I read an article on lifehacker (that I can never find, so maybe it doesn't exist? get ready for a poor explanation) about how we try to make the right decisions by predicting which will work out the best. Of course, there is no way to predict the future accurately. So instead, the article recommends making decisions based on how you'll feel being the person that made that decision. Is your authentic self someone who values taking chances? Are you someone who wants to find 1-2 goals and work super super hard towards them for a year or two at a time? Are you someone who wants a more balanced life? That could help you figure out what to do next.

And like others have said, you are so young! Making decisions is hard, because it can feel like once a decision is made, all the other things that you could have decided are suddenly unavailable. Which is not true. You can do something for a year, and then change your mind! It's ok! All the things you're talking about are pretty malleable - you can work really hard on writing, and then stop doing that. You can travel for a few months, and then stop that. You can decide to stay in Scotland, then change your mind. Possibilities are awesome!
posted by violetish at 10:14 PM on July 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agreed with all of the above! You are so young, and none of this is either/or. That said, if I had to do it over again I would travel MUCH MORE in my twenties when it was so much easier! I've never heard anyone regret travel.
posted by EtTuHealy at 4:12 AM on July 18, 2016

The two classic crisis:
At 25: Do I matter enough?
At 45: Oh my god none of that mattered?

If there was any advice I could give myself at 25 it would be to let go of expectations, about everything. Don't worry about how your life will look on instagram or how it will sound at a cocktail party. Worry less about life goals; because who's expectations were those? a 10 year old? a 20 year old? my mother? that cool writing professor? I was none of those people, and the "do something important" impulses lead me to do things that were not what I really wanted/enjoyed. I wish had I had more fun and spent less nights agonizing over my potential or life plan.
posted by French Fry at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm a 44-year-old writer and at various points in my life, I've wrestled with some (albeit not all) of the issues you're going through. I do not remotely claim to have everything figured out, but for what it's worth, here's my perspective at this particular point in my life:

In making life decisions, people tend to choose either the path with more predictability, or the path with higher risk and greater reward. A stable path can be anything from working in a fast food restaurant to being a neurosurgeon -- basically, you know what the requirements are for each step along the career ladder, and as long as you have the appropriate requirements, you will probably be able to find work at a predictable level of income. And generally speaking, the better you are at this kind of job, the more successful you will be at it.

Paths with higher risks and greater rewards tend to involve self-employment and/or fields without clear requirements. A novelist, for example, can work incredibly hard for decades and never publish, or she could write a dozen best-sellers before she's 30. And the most successful people in these fields are not necessarily the most talented or hardest working.

I hope it's clear that neither way is inherently superior to the other. Any path in the world can be meaningful and fun if it suits you, and any path in the world can be unpleasant and destructive if it doesn't match up with who you are.

As somebody who has lived the unpredictable life of a writer for more than two decades, I can tell you that it frequently sucks. I have no idea what my income is going to be from year to year, and if you average out everything I've made in my career, I'm pretty sure it works out to less than minimum wage. If I knew of a more stable job that I was equally suited for, I would have switched over to it years ago. The only thing that makes being a writer bearable is that I freaking love doing it.

It sounds like you are considering a wide variety of paths, including fiction writing, teaching, women's aid, coral restoration and your current job of social media development. My personal advice is to reject any career that you will hate doing on a day-to-day basis, and/or that will make you feel like you're wasting your life. Consider only the paths that will make your life most happy and meaningful. Then, from among those meaningful options, pursue the path that is most stable and predictable.

Of course, if you're like me, none of the truly meaningful paths will be particularly predictable. That means that as you proceed along your path, you'll glance over at your friends on more stable paths and notice that their lives are, unsurprisingly, more stable than yours. They'll have mortgages and promotions and various other things you lack. That only means they're on a different path than you. If you are on the right path for you, you have nothing to envy them for. And if you're on the wrong path -- well, you can change at any time.

And now I'm going to tell you something about writing (or any creative field) that might seem a little contradictory: financial freedom equals creative freedom. I don't know how much a three month trip across America would cost -- but I bet you it would be more than spending three months in your current home doing nothing but writing fiction. Of course, if you are feeling burnt out and inspiration-less, it's entirely possible that a three-month trip across America would do more for your creative process than three months of staring at a blank page in ever-growing frustration. Once again, there's no universal rule. Only you can figure out the correct path for you! I'm just saying that if you think you want to take a risky and unpredictable path in life, you should save as much money as you can without losing out on the things that bring you meaningfulness and inspiration. That might involve temporarily sticking with a joyless but well-paying job for the short term, as part of a carefully thought out plan to do something meaningful in the long term. (Just make sure you set concrete goals for how long you'll stick with it and how much you want to save up, so you don't end up putting off joy indefinitely.)

And finally, to answer your specific question about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing -- self-publishing is an extra layer of uncertainty ladled on top of the already uncertain life of a writer. A traditional publishing house will have all sorts of resources to help you get your book into the hands of paying customers. I strongly encourage all writers to start off by trying the traditional route before taking on the incredible additional workload of self-publishing. (Unless you are are writing for a specific niche market that is underserved by traditional publishers.)

That said, I think it's too soon to be even asking about publishers. If I understand correctly, you haven't started writing the four books you have inside you. Write one of them. Make it as good as you possibly can. Then, and only then, figure out what the best way is to get it out to readers. (If you want some advice on actually getting the book written, here's how I did it myself.)
posted by yankeefog at 8:20 AM on July 18, 2016

Irving Yalom wrote a little book called Momma and the Meaning of Life. I recommend that you read it.
posted by SyraCarol at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2016

I generally dislike "vision boards" and similar fluffy activities, but this comment by Brittanie about making better decisions and setting goals really appeals to me.
posted by capricorn at 11:45 AM on July 18, 2016

Response by poster: I just want to thank everyone for their advice. I have been doing a lot of writing and planning since this thread - I seem to go through intense periods of a few months where I''m writing lots and other times where I don't seem to have the gumption. But I feel I'm moving forward with it and this thread helped me to see it may take longer than I had anticipated.

In reference to travel, I am now thinking about living abroad for a period from next year, which will allow me to take up an aspect of my career that I loved and miss a lot, while also leaving scope for writing. I plan to top up my current qualification following this to get a more stable career that I believe I do want, although not at this moment in time.

After breaking up with the initially-great-on-paper-but-turned-out-to-be-abusive guy I found out that at least some of my time with him had been acting as a distraction from the situation where I admitted my feelings to a male friend who turned me down last year. Since my recent(ish) break up, I have been ruminating on missing my friend more than I would like. I found out that he had been in my city visiting friends, about half an hour from where I live, and it threw me off a bit. It's interesting because he had been making NO effort with his friends before we had that come to jesus talk, and I've found out he's done a bit of a 180 and been putting quite a lot of effort into his friendships since then. Likewise, I've stopped putting quite SO much effort into friendships and let them come to me more. I have found more balance in this.

I am not ready to talk with him yet (it's been about 8 months) but I now apprectiate the unique value this friendship brings to my life. But I am not ignorant of the things that were hurtful last time. So, while I am reluctant to be very emotionally intimate with him again in the future/would probably bawk at meeting in person for the next year or two, being cut off permnanently feels wrong to me. Aside from this, my nomadic/travelling lifestyle concerns me slightly in terms of dating. I've been single for about 2 years now, with a few short-term relationships thrown in. At 24 (soon 25) I'm starting to feel the pressure of settling down more and because it is something I know I want someday, I worry that all this travelling could derail that future hope. I am going travelling for about a month from next week onwards so I hope that helps a lot of the anxieties going on right now.
posted by Ariel432 at 8:56 AM on August 24, 2016

« Older Monitoring infection during switchover to oral...   |   Place to store luggage near SF airport? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.