Last night I woke up with a jolt from a horrible dream. This isn’t the start of a Point Horror novel, I promise (though that would be good, I love a Point Horror) this cliché of an opening sentence did actually happen to me.
In the dream I had found myself in my late twenties, confused and directionless, wondering how on earth everyone around me had got themselves actual careers, houses, families and were achieving their life goals. I woke up and realised that the dream was unfortunately, true.
Stupid night terrors – you’re supposed to wake up and realise with relief that you’re not being chased by brain-eating zombie goats, or that you’ve not grown a massive beard and been forced to join a travelling circus as a bearded lady, or that you’re not after all pregnant (everyone classes dreams about being pregnant as nightmares, right? That’s totally normal). When your nightmares are a reflection of your real life, it’s probably time to try and do something about it.
Welcome, dear friends, to the Quarter Life Crisis. It is apparently a rather new phenomenon that is affecting our generation and by jingo it is affecting me. It has actually been going on for a couple of years now, and the thing is, I really have been trying to do something about it. The beginning of the New Year is when the feelings of confusion and helplessness are at their strongest, when I sit back and wonder exactly where a whole year has gone to, what I have achieved and where my life is headed.
The majority of my friends are now 'somethings'. I know lawyers, teachers, priests, musicians, actors, doctors, writers, professional sports-players and dancers. I met someone recently who plays the oboe in a baroque chamber orchestra, as his actual paid job. While I’m still in my (admittedly very lovely) shared flat, people I know are getting married, they’re showing off new babies and sharing stories about their promotions, landing their dream jobs, buying their first houses.
The thing is, it’s not that I want any of my friend’s lives – did I mention the NIGHTMARES about being pregnant? – it’s just that I really want my own life to be going places. When someone asks what I do for a living, I want to dazzle them with something fascinating and glamorous like “I do the PR for all the black swans in the South West” and to know that I'm doing exactly what I should be.
Cathartic as it is, this sort of moaning obviously doesn't get anyone anywhere. The important question is what you can actually do about it. Well, first off, we all need to just STOP shutting ourselves up in our bedrooms and inhaling gallons of wine in terror, and instead tick off all the good things going on. Just because you haven’t yet hit upon your dream job doesn’t mean you aint got no skillz.
I get to do loads of the things I love in my spare time; writing excellent public-service broadcasts like this for xoJane, playing and recording music (I have just finished working on my first EP, which is beyond exciting – I do not apologise for my shameless self-promotion) and of course making pictures of my friends out of pasta. Who knows where any of those things could lead?
Crucially, whilst it's so easy to worry about finding a direction, it's just as important to remember how lucky we are to even have options. We don't live in a perfect world, but there has never been a time when women have had more opportunities open to them, and in seeking out a career we're not fettered by our gender.
I reckon it's important too, to remember all the things that you have been doing to shape the direction of your life. If you sit down and think it through properly, I bet it's more than you are giving yourself credit for.
I moved to London from the country despite my absolute abhorence of crowds and the demonic tube system (what be this infernal breeze that blows underground?! A hot, horrible, cloying breeze! What manner of sorcery is this?!) because I knew there would be far more opportunities here.
I've been volunteering, temping and interning and have gathered new skills along the way. I wouldn't have met some of the most brilliant people I know if it hadn't been for the odd temping assignment, for the jobs that I fell into rather than ones that I have coveted and missed out on.
Even more importantly, the jobs that you fall into are often the places where you gain crucial skills, contacts, and learn what you want and don't want from a career. You could take a position with a temping agency and completely fall in love with an industry you'd never considered before - you just don't know.
I think that the biggest danger of the Quarter Life Crisis is to let yourself become the sort of person who can't be happy until they reach what is probably a completely unrealistic stage in their life.
It's dangerous to let yourself get into the habit of thinking that you'll only be happy once you're in a dream job, in the perfect house, with a completely pancake-flat stomach and a huge managerie of rabbits (I would call it my rabbnagerie and they would have their own bedroom with a huge garden and all the carrots they could eat...) because when you get there the chances are that it won't be everything you thought it would (except the rabbnagerie, that can only be AWESOME).
As crappy as it is, the Quarter Life Crisis has forced me to come to terms with my inherently British grass-is-always-greener mentality. I only really realised that I was assuming everyone else's lives are so much better than mine once I sat down to take stock of my own life.
It really took this for me to realised that the chances are everyone who seems so sorted could be feeling just the same as me and really, when you strip all the fear and uncertainty away, this jumbled collection of chance decisions, accidental happenings and last minute changes is what constitutes life. And it's all a bit of an adventure really, isn't it?
In 2013 I’m going to try and be more grateful for everything I do have, for the opportunities that are open to me, and to stop stressing about the things I have no control over. Most importantly, I’m going to get to work on assembling that rabbnagerie.
Kirsty's riding our her Quarter Life Crisis on Twitter @kirkycheep