I turned 25 this year, which at least finally justifies the fact that I’ve been dancing around the edges of a ‘quarter-life crisis’ for the last couple years. One day I’ll talk more fully about my particular strain of the quarter-life crisis and what it means to me, but for today we’ll define it as: a post-college search for what you want to be when you grow up, and a degree of confusion about how to get there.
The thing about coming out of university and searching for your purpose in life is that – by definition – it makes you very future-oriented. And while we’ve all experienced future-orientation at some point (‘Once I start highschool/finish highschool/finish college/complete that internship…’), the difference now is that the future is completely wide-open to us, with unlimited possibilities, paths, options, and potential. It’s dizzying in a way that selecting your university (despite that decision’s drama) never was. So it’s no wonder that all the question marks floating around our heads demand a lot of our attention.
But here’s the problem I’ve found – becoming future-oriented can damage my ability to actually get where I want to go (even if I’m not entirely sure where that is), and make me fairly miserable with my everyday life.
Spending my energy vision-casting about being a published writer, a home-owner, a more fit person, an accomplished photographer, etc etc, has its merits, but ultimately if I spend more time envisioning than I do executing, I’m not moving any closer to accomplishment. And the more time I spend dreaming up lofty goals, the more overwhelmed I become, and likely to spend each day running scared from my goals, feeling guilty for not making more progress.
My solution? Focus on the ‘everyday’ (if I may make that into a noun).
What I mean is that I want to spend more of my energy focusing on what I want to do with each day, here and now, and what long-term habits and systems I want to be forming and maintaining, rather than on thinking about where I want to be in 20 years. It means looking at my life now, my work, my hobbies, my free time, and deciding what to do with what I see and know, rather than trying to mould the indefinite mass that is ‘my future’.
In his article entitled The Case For Having No Goals, James Cleary argues that if you were to spend all your time focusing on your systems (e.g. writing every day, following a training schedule, saving money, etc.) and ignored your goals, you’d still accomplish them – just minus the stress, and plus a bit more enjoyment and sustainability.
I love this idea because, while it doesn’t take any shortcuts to accomplishing goals, it also doesn’t delay gratification. Journaling every day, committing to writing this blog each week, riding my bike regularly (rain or shine), and playing piano on my day off, are all improvements to my everyday life that I get to enjoy tomorrow (or even today!), in addition to yielding valuable results 20 years from now. And, unlike making a list of New Year’s resolutions, none of these intimidate me in the same way the goal to ‘become a published author’, or ‘get fit’ or ‘become an amaze-tacular pianist’ does.
While many of us have heard that our 20s are some of the best years of our lives, I don’t think a lot of us are experiencing that, due to so much looming uncertainty and indecision. But making an effort to focus our sights on our everyday lives might make the difference.
Perhaps we need to decide who we want to be today, tomorrow, or next week before we worry about who we’ll be when we grow up.