By: Rachel Kapelke-Dale and Jessica Pan
You thought things would be perfect by now, and yet somehow nothing’s come together. It’s getting embarrassing to ask your parents for money or for your roommate to spot you the electric bill “just this month.” Maybe you’re working an unfulfilling job (very likely), or maybe you’ve broken up with your college boyfriend (or the loser you dated after him). Yep, that’s right: you’ve hit your quarter-life crisis.
We’d love to say it gets better.
But the truth is something a little more complicated than that – you have to make it better. And the simple act of taking control of your life is the most powerful thing you can do to get through this quarter-life crisis.
After graduation, we moved to different ends of the earth – Jess to Beijing, Rachel to New York – unsure about what we were doing, how to go about doing it, and how to make things work. As we made our way through our twenties, we created irrefutable proof in the form of our weekly emails to each other, now collected in our book Graduates in Wonderland , that the more you know about yourself, the easier it is to create the life that you want.
Looking back from the far end of our twenties, we have a few more tips to add.
Decide what you want.
You might not have a ten-year plan, a five-year plan, or know where next month’s rent is coming from. That’s okay! We’ve been there (figure out how to pay that rent, though). You need to figure out what you want. This might not be in the form of a job. The pressure is on, in your early and mid-twenties, to define yourself by what you do. Is that how you’re going to define yourself for the rest of your life? Of course not.
So, maybe you find that “perfect” job through trial and error – you’d be in good company (poet Wallace Stevens was initially a doctor, T.S. Eliot worked at a bank – you get the gist). Maybe starting a 9-to-5 after four years of pulling all-nighters, you’ve discovered you’re a morning person, and you love getting up at 5 am. That’s a win (well, for you – not for us, definitely). Or, maybe that part-time temporary nanny gig shows you that you really do want kids, after all. That’s also a good thing.
Figuring out who you are and what you want is so much more than figuring out where you want to work.
Cut out what’s not working.
Over the course of our Graduates in Wonderland years, Jess had to decide to minimize the impact of her friendship with Astrid, because it was becoming toxic. Rachel quit her hard-won first job because she couldn’t stand her aggressive boss. We moved apartments and even countries. Sometimes on purpose and sometimes by process of elimination. It’s your life and you’re no longer being graded. Get rid of all the stuff you no longer have to put up with.
Don’t beat yourself up. You’re going to make mistakes. Inevitably, you’re going to mess up at your job or maybe you’ll even be fired. You’re going to end a relationship too early or be broken up with for reasons you’ll never comprehend. And you know what? You’re not the first person in the world this has happened to, or that this is going to happen to. None of these things makes you a bad person. In fact, they just make you more interesting.
Take responsibility for your life.
No, we’re not contradicting ourselves. Taking responsibility for your life doesn’t mean that you go around berating yourself for those five pounds you’ve gained or that outstanding credit card bill. It does mean that you realize you have a choice and that your current situation is the result of choices you have made. So, either embrace those five pounds or take up running again, pay off that credit card as quickly as you can, or decide upon a new career as a trophy wife.
That’s tough love, and while we realize that people come from a variety of backgrounds and familial situations, one of the toughest things about your twenties is starting to own your own life. After all, you don’t want to be the forty-year-old who still blames everything on her mother.
Cherish your friendships.
Through it all, don’t forget to make time for the people who love and support you. Without each other, we would have been so much more lonely and confused than we already were. Do whatever it takes: weekly emails, monthly Skype sessions, care packages from overseas, etc.
These are the people who are going to be there for you when you get dumped (as Rachel wrote to Jess during a break-up, “Please send me that sad album you had on repeat!”), when you’re questioning your relationship, or rethinking your career path and wondering what to do next. Your friends are the ones with whom you can share the stories of the bad times that they are also going through – because everybody, inevitably, does.
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