We’ve all heard about quarter-life crises. You’re probably experiencing one, or terrified of experiencing one, because it’s what social media is telling us that every twenty-something is experiencing.
Me, I got mine out of the way early. I had a penter-life crisis. (You can use that one). I hit twenty and freaked out hard. I’d just left University, convinced I would never be a writer, and had no clue what to do with myself. Suddenly ambitionless and dreaming only of travel (but doing little at this point to get on down that track), I dabbled in various courses and career paths, none of which panned out.
I finally hurtled down “the road” — looking over my shoulder as I went, hoping I wouldn’t follow me — and found myself in a number of exotic places. I turned 23 in Sri Lanka, and 24 in Hanoi, Vietnam. I stuffed my face with a birthday cake for one on my 24th birthday, pretending the shitty weather wasn’t really bothering me and that it was actually really cool to be celebrating alone in a freezing-cold house.
Silly, naive, hipster me. I was still freaking out.
Now, fast-forward one year. I didn’t continue the trend of spending each birthday in a foreign country, because I’m back in Brisbane — a place I was loathe to frequent in the past. I haven’t any concrete plans to travel again any time soon, though the ideas are always there.
In any respect, if I’d have said this to myself one year ago, I’d have told me I was joking, and to get myself on a plane within the next hour and spend my 25th birthday morning surfing volcanoes in Hawaii, or something. What was I thinking, and why did I give up on my goal of open-ended travel?
Actually, one-year-ago me wouldn’t have had a chance to express any of this, for she would have been cooling off in older her’s calm and collected shadow. Because — as the twist in this tale goes — at the end of this first quarter of life (let’s hope it’s a quarter, anyway), I find myself at home and more content than I’ve ever been. Hell, I’m better than content — I’m ecstatic. It’s almost unnerving how I wake up each morning happy as I was the previous day, even though I’m not jetting off to a new destination or hunting down black forest cake in a foreign city.
Wow. 24 year-old me did not see that coming.
This isn’t to say I’m growing complacent. Rather, special people and events of the past year have simply taught me to shoot for smaller, daily doses of adventure, and not get so hung up on the bigger picture.
I know, I know…it all sounds woefully plain. However, this approach has done wonders for my sanity — and these days, it’s difficult to stress me out at all. (Except when I’m hungry — in which case, even passing butterflies are moving targets at which to hurl my wrath).
So why the newfound calm, tranquil lady?
Well, to be honest, I’m not terribly sure my own self. I’ll start by unpacking the goals I set for myself in 2014 — the year I turned 24. Perhaps doing so will provide some answers. (And address what I forgot to in my recent New Year’s post).
On the eve of the eve of New Year’s, 2013, I was tired of waiting, and vowed to wield the hours of freedom in my favour. Well, I did that — in my spare time, I was writing. I was feeding my soul with art and film and literature. I was talking to new and interesting people. I was leading overland tours in Africa. (You know — the usual stuff). There were still hours of waiting, but they never felt aimless.
In 2014, I sought to teach English in Vietnam (check). I wanted to cycle the length of New Zealand, learn Spanish in Peru, and hike the Via Dinarica Trail in Bosnia (all unchecked). Instead, I stayed with a local family in Ha Long Bay during Tet, rode around northeast Thailand on a scooter, and got up to all kinds of mischief in a truck romping from Kenya to Zimbabwe. Jesus, I got to go to Africa — that trumps everything.
In 2014, I was determined to spend more quality time with my friends and family (check). I said I would count on myself to achieve whatever I set my mind to, and exchange the wholest and purest love. I did, and I did — the latter presenting itself in the most delightfully unexpected ways, including love from me to me. What!
In 2014, I aimed to completely sustain my travelling lifestyle through online work. That goal bit the dust, but I decided a life spent before a computer screen wasn’t for me. I also aimed to learn to beat bouts of loneliness (check), do something that excites and/or terrifies me (check — bugger me, I flew to Nairobi with nine days’ notice. It doesn’t get much scarier than that, unless weapons are involved), read more (check — and discovered two new favourite books in the process), take up a new hobby (check — well, sort of. I rediscovered old hobbies, like illustrating and fiction writing), laugh a lot more (check and mate, my friend), and see the third Hobbit movie in a location starting with B (check — Brisbane!).
I also said I’d pack lighter (ha — my dear mother thwarted that goal, and if she hadn’t, I’d probably have been hanging passengers’ luggage off my nipples due to being freaking cold in Africa) and convert a reader to a life of full time, sustainable travel (not that I know of — but then, I realised that such a lifestyle isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be). I said I’d continue to embrace spontaneity — check, and I fell off a lot of rocks and boats because of it.
In 2014, I wholly and inarguably scared myself more, and packed more excitement into my life. (A warning to readers: making such a promise to oneself might compel one to leap off high bridges, nearly drown in the Nile — four times — walk within mauling distance of lions, purposefully inhale extra-strength rum and Tabasco sauce simultaneously, perform poorly-constructed flips into the open ocean, compete with swerving lorries for road space, chase after thieves in Cape Town, bandage sprained limbs in the pouring rain and mop up a stranger’s blood in his own house — all stories for other days).
Huh. I’m starting to see where all the serenity is coming from. The answer is simple — realising that I have bugger-all to complain about, and everything to be grateful for.
This is the answer I’m taking into 2015 with me — the year I turn 25. It will pluck me from times of distress (should they arise) and warm my heart on colder days (and the hot ones, for that matter). We’ve only just hit February, and I’m already enamoured by this hipper, more beguiling version of Brisbane — there are alleyway cafes! underground bars! communal herb gardens! — and realising the prospect of staying planted here for a while doesn’t freak me out one jolt.
Rather, it excites me. I can make some decent money, and plan for more specific doses of adventure. (I will find a tuk-tuk, and I will drive it around India). I won’t miss out on events like birthdays and weddings. I’ll have time to watch more arthouse movies, practise my Spanish, finish my novel, decorate my new bedroom with quirky knick-knacks and maps, go camping more often, shop at farmers’ markets and buy organic tea, borrow books from the library, and relish every moment of rediscovering a city I used to dislike.
In 2015, I will look back fondly on the last quarter of my life, and stay calm about the next three (fingers crossed!) to come. Because life is far more enjoyable without stress, no matter where you are.
And really — what’s there to freak out about, anyway?