I am the only child of a blue collar, working class Southern family. It’s not an uncommon label, I’m sure, but it has born much significance in my journey to adulthood. As a kid and teenager growing up, I was acutely aware that much hope was being heaped upon my shoulders: hope that I would succeed in college and have a successful career that didn’t involve the hard, 80 hour weeks of manual labor my father had and will work his whole life, hope that I would meet an equally successful, educated man to marry and take care of me (yes, yes, my feminist soul hurts at that statement too, but I did say I was Southern..), hope that my success would ultimately make the end of my parents’ lives comfortable. Now, for me, this wasn’t in the least bit oppressive. I’ve been a naturally driven person my whole life and I loved learning. But, I think that we all leave home with much hope and anticipation around us from loved ones, and for me, that hope and those plans have been the unexpected, but dominating players in my quarterlife crisis.
I’ve read the books, and the articles, and this blog even, about quarterlife crises and what they’re all about. For the most part, it seems all the angst is over who you are as an adult and what your life does/will look like. Us twentysomethings, we all have moments of agonizing over the decisions we’re making personally, and professionally, and what that’s going to mean for the bigger picture of LIFE (I feel like someone should cue the dramatic climax music from a movie right now).
I’ll have to admit, my quarterlife crisis sneaked up on me. I’ve always been a planner- I’m a Capricorn- and I walked across that stage at graduation from my prestigious women’s college with total confidence for what I’d be doing after and how I was going to get there. I had already fulfilled one of my parent’s hopes; I had excelled in college. I was well on my way to fulfilling the rest, too. I knew what my life would look like, and I was going to work hard to make it so. What I didn’t plan for was how it felt when I got to that point. That was how my quarterlife crisis ambushed me.
The first bumps came early on; at 22 and 23. I succeeded in landing a temporary job in an international firm within 2 weeks of my arrival in D.C. Not my long-term plan, but a great stop over job considering I had a degree in French and it would buy me well paid time to find the public relations position in an arts organization I was seeking. I was in a loving, successful long-distance relationship with a woman (I had come out as bisexual, then a lesbian in college) that had serious potential. Great! Check and check, right? Except I was miserable. I was couldn’t bear to go to the job after the first two weeks, I was growing increasingly despondent about ever finding my museum PR job and suddenly, being thrust back into a co-ed environment was making me question every thought I had been so firm in when I entered into that loving and now increasingly-strained-by-the-long-distance relationship. Was I really gay? Didn’t I want that traditional, man-woman marriage with kids that was suddenly all I saw around me? My parents have always been accepting of my sexuality, but I certainly knew they had been disappointed and a little concerned. My dad worried who was going to change my oil and my mom worried about violence and hate directed towards me. Eventually, I ended up taking the first relevant job I was offered, a PR job with a non-profit that worked with people with autism, and I ended my relationship to try and explore what I really felt.
Two years were spent building this new life, which really wasn’t so different from the old life except for some minor adjustments. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing (PR and outreach) and building experience. I was in a serious, loving relationship with a man and had moved in with him to a house with a yard in a suburb. My parents were proud and happy. So imagine my surprise when I realized, once the initial giddiness of the new things in my life had worn off, that I was still miserable. In fact, more miserable than before. I was worried about how much I was depending on my parents financially for support, and I was agonizing over the seemingly inevitable return to a miserable for-profit job because it turns out, I really loved my job and who I was serving. I should have been thrilled about my relationship and shared home, but it became abundantly clear with each day that we weren’t living our lives together, we were simply living in one another’s lives. The quarterlife crisis had not only ambushed me, but now it was storming my freaking castle and pillaging the whole place. I was frustrated, terrified, and angry. Hadn’t I done everything I was supposed to do? Why wasn’t I happy? What else was I supposed to do? Why couldn’t I be that person? And, as soon as I had asked myself that final question- why could I be that person? – I realized the problem.
I am not that person.
The life I had made was a perfectly lovely life, for a perfectly lovely person, who was perfectly not me. And finally, I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to be living my life. Mine, and mine alone. Not the life my parents had hoped for me, not the life society told me I should have because it was “normal”, but my own life.
So the quarterlife crisis, I’ve discovered, has a legitimate purpose. Now, I didn’t feel so Mr. Rodger’s optimistic about this six months ago, but after making some incredibly hard decisions to eliminate parts of my life that were not true to me, like the relationship and suburb house, and the plans for a move to the for-profit sector, I’m feeling more clear than I have, ever, about what to do next. I’ll simply do what is true to me.
A Florida expat, Ashley Parker is a twenty-something “communicator for good” (a non-profit PR pro), a proud women’s college graduate, a sucker for tomboys and Cotes du Rhones wine. You can follow her musings on non-profit PR, disabilities services, and life at @fleuredeflorida.
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.