I Had a Quarter-Life Crisis – at age 21.

What am I doing with my life?

Enter the quarter-life crisis.

This seemed like a question nearly everyone in their 20s, especially these recent generations, asks themselves. Sometimes it’s out of frustration – working a difficult project in college, dealing with a not-so friendly colleague. Other times it’s boredom – staring at their friends’ fun Instagram stories of a cool Europe trip while they’re sitting chained to a boring desk job.

But sometimes? Sometimes it’s borderline anxiety.

There goes Pat with their new, super-cool business venture. How on earth did Sam find the time to write a book? And can someone tell me when James auditioned for an awesome TV role and actually got the part?

But look at us, barely making it out of every day. We’re not Pat, Sam, or James. We can’t afford to dream that way.

We can’t fathom chasing our dreams when the world is feeding us all these different dreams we seem to ought to have. Are our life goals even our own anymore?

”It’s hard to be me” and other related woes

We’re always told to love ourselves and that we’re doing great and that one step at a time is all we need to take.

Yet when the world around us – when the people around us – is out there, winning at things, and we’re…not…then it’s so easy to just fall into the rabbit hole of self-deprecation and self-sabotage.

Do you know the rabbit hole I’m talking about?

“Man, I’d be better off at another career.” “I could never do that thing she did.” “I don’t have that kind of money and probably never will” “Wow, it’s so stupid, that mistake I made 10 years ago.” “Self-care? Who has time for that? I work 20 hours because my job expects that of me – I’m a martyr.”

Or is it just me?

The quarter-life crisis is a dance I’ve done before. And it doesn’t help that I once let myself believe I had to do it solo.

Always the destination, never the journey

We’ve heard it a billion times before:

The journey is more important than the destination.

Mm, okay.

But do we actually remember that quote when it matters most?

I know I’ve forgotten. Many times, if I’m being honest. I was 19 when I laid out this big life plan in front of me. Everything seemed so crystal clear. A good friend even made a comment: “You’re so lucky you have it all figured out.”

A year later, I realized that that plan was changing. Maybe I had to delay a couple things, or I found that I was leaning towards something different. Nothing wrong with that, right?

But yet another year later, I realized the plan maybe wasn’t enough or I couldn’t do the plan or I was wrong not to make a backup plan or my plan wasn’t even planned enough or –

There it was. The crisis. The quarter-life crisis.

”Who cares about the freaking journey when the freaking journey is the thing that’s stressing me out?!” said I to myself countless times.

The destination was where it’s at, yo.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

Turns out when you hit the destination, it’s not all that it’s cut out to be. Because once you succeed at one goal, you’re not really as happy as you think you are. Trophies, battle scars, bragging rights, pitfalls…

We’re always looking for the next gold star to pin on our shirts. One sure isn’t enough. Two either.

Have you ever felt that? Felt that you were meeting some pretty impressive milestones – hey, look, it’s your one-year job anniversary – but it just wasn’t enough?

Because you always felt like you had to be doing more?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt that. All too often. My quarter-life crisis, at the too-young age of 21, made sure of that.

“Your 20s are going to be the best years of your life.”

Really? But if this is what my twenties is like now, what’s the rest of my life going to be like??

”But my friends are killing it!” and other related comparisons

I attribute much of my quarter-life crisis to social media.

Not to say that it was social media’s fault – I knew very well that the fault lay in how I processed and experienced what I was seeing.

A friend gets a job promotion after a year of working at their company. Another friend just moved to their dream city. Yet another is now a TV star.

“These are all so cool,” I’d tell myself. And without my knowing it, the paralyzing tendrils of self-doubt were creeping around my neck, and suddenly the life plan I’d made for myself looked like a dull rock in comparison to my friends’ gemstones of a life.

Should I get a job in this industry? Should I get a job at all? What about a masters – was that still on the table? Am I maybe better off becoming a full-time entrepreneur right after graduation? I’d heard of plenty going that route.

And why am I the only one who seems to be worrying about all this???

Overthinking – the leading cause of the quarter-life crisis

Eventually, I had an epiphany, the biggest kind that makes you say, “…Duh.”

My much-too early quarter life crisis was something I was doing to myself.

The relentless overthinking, the fear of actually making a choice and even expecting instant results the likes of overnight success were the perfect ingredients to drive myself mad.

I was expecting too much of myself. Too much too soon.

So I wasn’t going to get four doctorate degrees by the time I was 30. Maybe I wouldn’t be earning six figures on the first year of blogging. And I guess I had to push back my goal of studying abroad by a few years.

That’s okay.

Instead of worrying over the countless things I should have been, should have been, should have been doing, I did what any creative goal-getting, big-dreaming borderline-millennial-Gen-Zer might be too afraid to do.

I made a choice.

I figured I wasn’t going to let the quarter-life crisis win by looping me into a vicious cycle of analysis paralysis. The paralysis bred more paralysis. Not making a choice seemed better than actually making a choice – which is crazy because it’s not even true.

Maybe I’d been so obsessed with the thought that I had to get things right the first time that I was too scared of making mistakes or realizing that, maybe, my choice was the wrong one.

I can’t believe I’d ignored one of the wisest things my parents always told me: “Charge it to experience.”

Charge it to experience

The quarter-life crisis made me believe that I couldn’t change my mind after making a life choice. That, nope, you studied a Communications course, you need to work a communications-related job. Nope, you committed to blogging about creativity, you can’t possibly blog about freelancing either.

Joke’s on you, quarter-life crisis. I’m making decisions. And if I’m wrong, then I’ll charge it to experience. And I’ll make better choices.

And then I’m going to keep trying until I get it right. Everything I’ve done is proof that good things take time, and my success is mine to define.

The quarter-life crisis would only have power if I gave it power.

What that meant? Seeing a friend’s achievement post on social media and being genuinely happy for them. No more sulking in the corner and wondering if I ought to be doing the same.

Being unafraid of making conscious decisions. Being unapologetic about my decisions and goals. And making sure I charge everything to experience as I go.

I found that I shouldn’t be afraid of my own life, ups, downs, u-turns and detours and all.

But has it been easy-breezy, crisis-free-zy since then?

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s still creeping doubt about the paths I’ve chosen from time to time. Sometimes it even feels like the crisis hasn’t completely gone away, and it’s ready to launch me into an insomnia-inducing paralysis that has me crying on my bed for a whole weekend yet again.

But it’s become easier to deal with those creeping feelings. Somehow dealing with the quarter-life crisis was like the moment you tried a HIIT workout for the first time — painful, but then you get used to it after a while, especially the more you do it.

And I guess for that, I’m grateful for the quarter-life crisis, just like I’m grateful for everything in my life even when it was hard to think there was anything to be thankful for in those difficult moments.

Would I go through the quarter-life crisis all over again — go through the self-doubting, the incessant messaging-someone-at-12-in-the-morning-to-ask-them-what-I-was-doing-my-life?

Maybe not. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m grateful that it happened anyway.

Because now I know what to do the next time a similar internal crisis strikes.