Here's the Thing: You Aren't As Stuck As You Think
BIG SWEETIE ALERT:
I need some advice. I am in my late 20s and I am in a job I don't like, living in a city I have been trying to get out of ever since my third year of university. I am feeling so lost and confused about the trajectory of my own life, like I have no control over it and it's very overwhelming. I guess this is what the kids call a quarter life crisis. I am trying to be proactive and applying to other positions where I can save more and hopefully move to the city of my dreams. I guess my question is: does it ever get better? Is there something I can try to maybe change my outlook on my (current) life that will help me make the changes that I need to make? I don't want to end up being that very bitter person in their 40s who just let life take control and led them down a path of resentments and regret.
Someone please tell me why I thought my twenties was going to be like this help.
Ok sweet angel, this is such an easy letter (from the outside) BECAUSE IT’S ALL GOOD NEWS! I don’t mean to minimize or downplay what you’re experiencing. It’s real, it’s overwhelming, it’s like walking through life but instead of air everything is two-day-old split pea soup. And it’s definitely not just you, not by A MILE. I think there are actually more people your age who feel like you than who wake up feeling happy, healthy, fulfilled, sexy, satisfied and in control of their skin care routine. And anyone who does wake up that way was probably born mega-rich, so they don’t count.
To answer your question, no, it likely does not get better. Things don’t magically become fulfilling to you. You can’t perspective shift your way out of unhappiness. BUT you have a MASSIVE amount of control over what happens next in your life. Since you don’t mention them, I’m going to assume that you don’t have kids or a partner right now, which is great in that it makes your life a lot more flexible. Your assets are a lot more liquid, basically. But instead of using your mostly unbound freedom to your advantage, you’ve let the options overwhelm you. It’s like how it’s easier to write an essay when the teacher gives you the subject; and nothing paralyzes like “pick a topic to write about.” (BICH JUST TELL ME WHAT THE ASSIGNMENT IS). What gets better is you, and what you get better at is figuring yourself out.
You have all the control in the world (perhaps too much control). You now need to work on the feeling of being in control. You need to decide to seek things out that you want to try. This does not mean that you will like them! You might hate a lot of the new activities you sample. That’s fine! You’re trying new shit. That’s it. That’s your job. If you think you start to see a pattern of what you feel you’re missing (friendship, job fulfillment, spiritual connection, romance, etc.,) give that part of your life some extra attention. In the meantime, don’t let yourself agonize over how you’re spending time— make a plan and stick with it. Tonight I’m texting three people to see if they want to try this new taco truck and if no one can go, I’m going solo.
If you don’t trust yourself to seek out new experiences without a plan, make a list of anything you’ve had vague interest in recently. (Seeing a movie alone, reading a particular book, starting a journal, hiking more, taking a spin class, trying a new cocktail, petting a puppy— it really doesn’t matter). And then set out on an adventure to do those things. If you’re having trouble getting into the right mindset, pretend you’re dating yourself, or pretend the biggest crush you’ve ever had or the most impressive person you’ve met is privy to your plans and try to impress them (not that their opinion matters more than yours!!!!!). Anything that might raise the stakes a bit and make sure you’re out there taking risks.
It’s not that you need to live your whole life with your foot on the gas pedal and never relax ever, but right now you need to do the life equivalent of drinking a red bull and rallying before a night out. You need to give yourself chances to feel in control. I’m 100% sure that this is much easier (and cheaper) said than done, so don’t feel like this is supposed to come naturally to you. Like all of a sudden every weekend will be— or should be— packed with FUN. Fun isn’t the point, in fact. It’s The Point Adjacent. But the point is discovery. It’s looking for things to keep you fulfilled while you work toward going to a new city and a new job.
Because if you don’t do some of this work to figure out what you like, what is fulfilling outside of a job—jobs are not sufficient for fulfillment!!!—before you move cities or change jobs, you will end up in the exact same spot you are now. The weirdest part of life is that wherever you go, there you are. You can’t get away from yourself (this is part of why I take so many naps; I’m exhausting to be around). You will be bored and restless and dissatisfied in a new city, which is fine for the first two weeks of adrenaline and frenzy, but which will quickly become even more depressing because there is nothing to blame this listlessness on but yourself.
Remember: there is no narrative arc to life, no trajectory. We add that in artificially later. No one else has more of a guidebook than you do. We make stories out of the lives of others to make sense of them because humans LOVE narrative, but that is false. None of us has any idea what we’re doing. Yes, there is some cause and effect, but there’s also a lot of random chance. Sometimes you decide not to date anyone for two years to give yourself a break and then 16 days later you meet a real hunk who is perfect for you, despite showing up a bit early. Sometimes you stop loving your favorite hobby, the one you always thought defined you. Or you get a new boss who makes a job you loved miserable. All you can do is set yourself up as best as possible to deal with both the times of abundance and the times of bleak, terrible emptiness.
Perhaps that means going to therapy if you can afford to, especially because some of what you’re feeling might have a mental health component like anxiety or depression (although, again, feeling restless and aimless in your 20s is perhaps the most common feeling of all). Perhaps it means making a semi-detailed five year plan. Perhaps it means taking up meditation. Or getting really into parkour. I have no idea what will set you up best for the future, what things will sustain you, relax you, fulfill you, enlighten you, make you cry, connect you with other people. But you’re about to figure it out!!! (PS, once you think you’ve figured it out it will change again; you’re gonna be riding this train your whole life sorry). You have to take an active interest in who you actually are and what you actually like.