VOICES: THE QUARTER LIFE CRISIS
Twenty-five years old, or “half way to fifty!” as I like to call it, comes with it’s own very unique set of anxieties and pressures. A few decades ago, being a twenty-five-year old female meant it was time to think about settling down, getting married and starting a family. But in 2016 that couldn’t be further from the truth for most of us. Here to elaborate is the latest Voice in my writing project, a gorgeous human called Charlotte.
This essay was initially going to be focused on the voice of a twenty something student before the brief changed and I was forced to talk about my quarter life crisis instead. Needless to say the ego took a bit of a hit with the realisation that I just might be the poster child for not having your shit together.
Right now I am living in the UK doing my DPhil (the Oxford term for PhD) in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The point of a PhD is to do something novel that no one else has done or looked at before which means, while you have a supervisor and colleagues for guidance, for a lot of it you are on your own, kid. Sadly that doesn’t mean my day-to-day involves sleeping until noon, drinking until the wee hours and setting couches on fire (surprisingly that’s not a big thing here).
I am not about to argue about who has the hardest/most stressful/most rewarding job because, unless you are the Head Puppy Patter at Animates, every job is going to have their challenges. All of you reading this will have some kind of job-related stresses and in that respect my DPhil is not the catalyst for my borderline quarter life crisis, herein referred to as the QLC.
Your twenties is a period of life that people reflect back on in their memoirs. I have friends that are starting to note things down for theirs (I don’t know if they are strange for doing it or I am strange for not). I had never understood the appeal of compiling your memoirs. It seemed awfully narcissistic to think that someone else would take pleasure in, or even pay to read about your life. But maybe that is because I was never one of those people that had done Great Things or Adventurous Things or Funny Things. I had done things, just not Things.
In hindsight, the fact that the life plan 16 year-old Charlotte had originally laid out was aggressively not happening totally set me up for a QLC.
Let us briefly reflect on how I had envisaged my life as a teenager. Go to uni, do really well, graduate and get my dream job as a doctor, meet my future husband in my early twenties, get married around 26 or 27 and have my first child by 28.
I managed to get as far as “go to uni” before the plan started to disintegrate.
Initially I did not do well. Going to all manner-of-themed parties and eating six pieces of Nutella on toast a day did nothing for my grades or my BMI. I got a strong ‘thanks but no thanks’ from the med school. That was followed by a tough break-up with my long-term boyfriend in my early twenties, and with my 26th birthday looming I can tell you right now the only way I will be ticking off the marriage milestone is if they accept me onto ‘Married at First Sight’.
But don’t cry for me yet. Not getting into med school ended up being a blessing in disguise because I found an area of science I think is awesome. I pulled my finger out and did some work, and got into a master’s programme at Oxford for the aforementioned awesome science. The plan was salvaged!? What a start to the memoirs.
Alas no, it was during the end of the Master’s that I encountered the QLC. While my friends had been climbing the career ladder in law firms I had stayed at school only to become disenchanted with research. I was meant to be in the UK for a year, go back home, get a job and continue to rescue what I could of the life plan. The only problem was I didn’t want to go home, nor did I have a way of staying in the UK. To be honest I didn’t even know what job I wanted any more.
Getting into Oxford was probably my first proper memoir-worthy Thing but it came with such great expectations to do more Things. And at this point I was at a total loss as to what that could be. So I decided to travel.
In that weird way the world works, a week and a half before I was due to leave for two months travelling through Central America I got a job offer and was asked to stay for a DPhil. So I spent a year as an andrologist (which is another story all together) and here I am.
Is running off to the other side of the world to do a DPhil the QLC equivalent of buying a sports car? To be fair, a Ferrari is only marginally more expensive although much harder to get a scholarship for. If only I could stop people asking “Do you get paid/how much does it cost?” I would be truly content with my Life Plan 2.0. These questions are almost always from adults and it blows my mind that they think it is appropriate to ask this. I don’t ask you how much you made in the last quarter Stuart so how about you keep those questions to yourself.
But what is so bad about a quarter life crisis? Maybe it doesn’t need to be a negative thing. When you talk quarter life crises the assumption is that you are on the brink of a full-blown break down. There is a great quote from JFK, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” While the translation might not be 100% solid it embodies how I feel about the QLC. I know a lot more about myself then I did 10 years ago so the uneasiness I feel at the total failure of my 16 year-old self’s life plan is probably a good thing.
Having doubts about your future in your twenties isn’t like getting cold feet on your wedding day. Yes it is totally normal but it’s not something to brush off or ignore. We should embrace the QLC because it shows that you care. If you are self-aware enough to realise you aren’t content, then take the opportunity to change direction and get yourself a bit closer to whatever it is that will truly make you happy, with or without the memoir.
Words by Charlotte Walker