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Thursday, January 10, 2013

224

Shouldn’t I Be Saving The World, Or Something?

Dear Megan, 

I know there's nothing more trite and irritating than a "quarter life crisis." I know that, really, I do. And I try not to talk about it, except in some charmingly off the cuff, self-deprecating way, that is always less charming than desperately sad. But I have to talk about it. I have to think about it. It consumes me about 80% of the time.

Here's the deal: I'm getting a PhD right now. Why? God knows. Probably because unemployment sounds fun, and taking a long, winding, and cripplingly lonely path to that unemployment sounds even better! (See what I'm talking about? Not charming. Desperate.) I entered the program after one year out of college, because I listened to my father's advice. And I don't hate it. Not always. Sometimes I love it, and I think I might be Good at History, so that's something. Plus I really like the teaching part, and everyone else hates that, so I take that as a good sign. But I just feel ... like a failure at 27?

I have a lot of opportunities, and my parents raised me with so many advantages, and I feel like I'm throwing them away. Shouldn't I be saving baby seals or something? My sister basically saves the world. My brother's an artist, but he's legitimately good at that. I'm just here. I used to have this thing where I told myself I would live my life in a way that would seem absurd in the past tense — live it so I'd have stories to tell my children. That time I spent months alone in archives is not, you know, a great story. Plus the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Shouldn't I be out changing it? Or at the least having great adventures trying? My sister has diagnosed me with acute FOMO — Fear of Missing Out, and she's probably right.

Here's the thing: I know its okay. I know life doesn't end at 30 or with commitment. I know that picking a career is the beginning of a path, not the end. I know I can change it if I want, and that not much happens while waiting around. I know that time will be the only thing to tell if my boyfriend will be my husband (that's a whole other basket of crazy I won't go into here). I know that there's so much more coming and I should just CALM DOWN. But I can't help feeling trapped or like I'm throwing away my youth or not doing all the amazing things I should be. So how do I just embrace this? How do I take it one step at a time? How do I not die crippled by FOMO?

*****

Aw, honey. You sound like a pretty smart cookie, and you pretty much answered your own question there in the last paragraph. But I wanted to talk about this anyway, because I think these are pretty common thoughts and anxieties. Another year has passed — did it add up to anything, or did I piss it away? What am I doing with my life? Shouldn’t I be saving the world, or something? 

But these questions can be tricky, because they frame the process of change as something dramatic and binary. We are either saving the world or not saving the world, nothing in between.

And of course this trips us up because, in reality, the world is not really that savable. Unless you're a fictional character named Buffy Summers and the Hellmouth is opening up again this week, I guess. Salvation means a sudden dramatic flip from everything’s wrong to everything’s right, but that’s not generally how it works. There never has been or will be a moment when everything is sorted and we feel free to kick back with a pint for more than a short while — even Buffy had to stop like a hundred different apocalypses.

Here’s how change happens in the real world: Problems are encountered and solved, and the solutions cause more problems, and the next solutions cause even more problems, and so on. Progress does seem to march on, but it is slow and messy and it takes forever. Literally.

Of course I know you know this, and of course I know you are saying “saving the world” as shorthand for “making a positive contribution.” But it’s important to make the distinction, because one of those activities is in the realm of possibility, while the other is not. So … maybe try to think about contributing, not saving. Tiny contributions that add up to big ones over time.

And there are tons of ways to do this. Just remember as you sift through all the options that people who are able to make big things happen are people who have gotten really good at what they do. Like your brother with art, or Hillary Clinton with badass feminist diplomacy, or Neil Young with endless shimmering guitar solos.

To make an excellent contribution, you kind of have to be excellent at something … and that has far less to do with talent and much more to do with commitment. It requires that you make a choice to put your head down and work very hard to develop your unique set of superpowers.

We tend to get this backward. We believe that if we only choose the perfect option — the one we’re passionate about, the one that has this enormous potential to save the world — our lives will become awesome and we’ll quickly transform into famous fulfilled geniuses because that’s how it works when you're tapped into your own deepest potential or something.

But for most of us, buying into the myth of the perfect option doesn’t help us find it. It only stresses us out to think that we haven’t found it yet and may never find it ever, and MY GOD have we already doomed ourselves to lives that are far less thrilling and fulfilling than they could and should have been?

Worrying like this is worse than useless. Just like body craziness, just like repeating the loop of a bad relationship, constantly having a cow that you’re not doing life right is in and of itself a wretched waste of it.

Let’s be clear: you’re not missing out on your perfect option, because it doesn’t exist. There is no one true path to amazingness. We have to create the amazingness for ourselves, by committing to something and then busting our asses. There is no other way.

I’m not saying that you can only focus on one thing forever. I’m just saying, if it takes roughly 10,000 hours to get great at something, well, you can get that many in every seven or eight years if you hustle. Which gives you, what, ten or eleven lives? Given the way our brains work, and given the focus it takes to get deeply into something, it makes sense to think about living those lives sequentially rather than simultaneously.

So … what do you want to do with this one of your many possible lives? My advice is to pick something that is ethically acceptable and interesting to you, that you have some aptitude for, and that someone will pay you to do. Then put everything you have into doing it extremely well, better today than yesterday, every day. Because that is how the world gets saved — slowly, incrementally, by people who are excited about what they are doing and do it with great skill and gusto.

For instance, if you decide to stick with teaching for awhile, why not aim to be one of the life-changing teachers, one who makes students feel like they’re discovering new frontiers in their brains with every class. You have the opportunity to become a person who can inspire other people to greatness. That’s gotta help, right?

And when you get down deep into the nuances of your profession, you'll likely discover fascinating and astounding stuff at the edges, and maybe you can help push those edges even further. Which is another excellent way to contribute.

Also, don’t underestimate the enormous and generally unsung value in simply being dedicated and trying hard. There are days in my life where the only thing that relieves the feeling of entropy crushing my skull is a pleasant encounter with someone who's thoughtful and competent — it can really feel like a miracle. Aim to be this kind of person, and you can’t help but make a quiet yet huge addition to the world’s net goodness.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the only thing that makes FOMO real is FOMO itself, because of the waffling and wailing it causes. People do need to experiment and run around bumping into stuff for a while when they're young and figuring things out. So, experiment if you feel you need to! Go run into some stuff!

But honestly, it sounds like you have already found something worthwhile and interesting to work on for your first life or two. And you’ve already gotten quite far working on it. So, at this point, doesn’t the constant worrying / second-guessing / being 49% willing at any moment to throw it all away all feel a little silly? Not to mention painful and crazy-making.

So let’s talk about how to cut it out. Because unlike saving the world, changing your brain a little is very possible and not even all that hard. It’s not like you’re ruined or anything — you just have a bad habit of thought. A bug in your software. It’ll take a bit of effort, but you can shift it.

How? The first step is to notice when the script starts to play. Just notice it. Hey, whaddaya know, there’s the ditherer again. What does it feel like in your body? Are your shoulders tensed up? Take a deep breath. Pay attention to right now.

The next step is to poke holes in the script. Your brain is spewing factual errors at you, so question and correct them. What you are trying to do here is be logical and also be loyal to yourself. You’ve been down this road before and you know it doesn’t go anywhere, so stop. Use your imagination and knock the destructive thoughts down to their actual tiny size.

Finally, find something else to do with your mind and/or body, something engrossing that will take up all or most of your attention. Take a shower, read a book, volunteer, watch “Band Candy," whatever. Anything will be better than sitting around FOMOing.

Over time, you’ll be able to recognize this pattern clearly and quickly, and you will get quite good at shutting it down, and you’ll laugh at how hilariously unhelpful certain parts of your brain can be. And then you’ll be able to turn your attention back to what is crucial if you want to live a remarkable life: developing your abilities so you can make concrete, valuable, and possibly even tremendous contributions to a world that needs them a lot.

Previously: Considering Criticism, Impostor Syndrome, and Married-People Ethics.

Megan Dietz wrote a book called 'Be Less Crazy About Your Body' that some people say is cool. She also blogs here. Ask Megan anything.



224 Comments / Post A Comment

noodge

I think this is especially apropos:

"To make an excellent contribution, you kind of have to be excellent at something … and that has far less to do with talent and much more to do with commitment. It requires that you make a choice to put your head down and work very hard to develop your unique set of superpowers."

I'm in the midst of that - and it sounds like the letter writer is too. The education portion of developing your superpower can be the most frustrating because you WANT YOUR GODDAMN SUPERPOWER ALREADY! But it's only something that develops with time and effort. In the meantime, your contributions towards bettering the world, in the form of trying to be generally helpful to your friends and neighbors, and, you know, not littering, or speaking up when someone says something racist or sexist, help shape your world in small but meaningful ways, so keep it up and acknowledge your efforts!

Judith Slutler

@noodge Aaaaahhhhh it's so true. My boyfriend's friends are all in their early 30s and so is he, and I'm 27, living in a different city than him, and working on my master's degree.* Sometimes when I look at them all with their budding careers and their engagements and their "whoops a kid popped out and now we are parents how exciting" I just want to scream! I so often feel like I want all of that NOW NOW NOW. I have for the past few years, actually.

I just try to take deep breaths and take my life one step at a time.

*See LW? You are in no way "behind".

noodge

@Emmanuelle Cunt
...and you're ahead compared to me (at 35, working on my FIRST BACHELORS DEGREE UGGGHHHhhhHHHhhhHHH). So everyone's path is different.
I remember complaining to my mom about feeling so far behind my sister (who had 2 kids and her PhD by the time she was 36) and my always excellent mother said "yeah, but she'll be bored by the time she's 40! look at all the amazing things you have yet to do, and will do!"

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@noodge This is a great approach. My gf is a therapist for at-risk kids and their families, and she's had to learn pretty quickly that you can't save them all, wholesale. You have to make little differences where you can, because that's just how this all works.

crane your neck

@Emmanuelle Cunt It happens! There are good things about it, too. Loved that Adriane Quinlan piece in The Awl about being 27.

Judith Slutler

@crane your neck Hahahahahahahahaha I would feel a lot better about that piece if I hadn't spent the past year dealing with crippling depression!

michealjohn

@Judith Slutler I also benefit from learning the assessments, but learn that alot of people ought to stay on essay to try and add worth in the direction of the authentic weblog release.
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michealjohn

@noodge I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.
kendall

jhonsons

Master!!!!!!!!!!!@j

Megasus

If we're gonna do "As a Sane Person" we should obviously let Melis do "Ask a Crazy Person" right? (lu melis!)

Scandyhoovian

@Megano! I'd read it.

evil melis

@Scandyhoovian THE ANSWER IS SPINES

The Lady of Shalott

@evil melis I thought the answer would be SPIDERS.

evil melis

@The Lady of Shalott spines made of stiff frozen interlocking spiders locked in a permanent scream up the back of you

taco-salad dot com

I love the Buffy theme to this, so I wanted to add that Buffy herself would have given almost anything at times to just be a "normal girl" - someone without the weight of the world constantly falling on her. So maybe try to look on the bright side of not having a chosen path you absolutely must follow right now, instead of feeling burdened by not doing enough. Be grateful that you can choose when and how to contribute to the world and that such "greatness" isn't thrust upon you ;)

Hellcat

@faceifer And Buffy had to die twice in the process of making her contribution. Now, Letter Writer--by all means, do not die literally please, but if we're talking Buffy anyway, see it as a metaphor for this part of life.

Cat named Virtute

This is really apt and well-done and comes to me at a really good time. Thanks Megan!

I wish fixing the bug in the brain software were easy though. It is very persistent and has a long list of evidence on its side. Sigh.

shannanigans

I recently read "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and was struck by how important learning history *should* be for eliminating racism, improving workers rights, understanding how class impacts quality of life, and all sorts of other being-a-good-citizen-and-empathetic-human-being kind of stuff. But it's not because most of what young students are taught about history is propagandist bullshit.

My point is, a passionate history teacher can have a huge impact on lots of people. Hang in there and master your superpower!

Judith Slutler

@shannanigans Totally. I've gotten so interested in 19th century history this semester, it almost makes me wish I were a historian and could drop History Truth Bombs on a bunch of unsuspecting students.

Beaker

@shannanigans That book BLEW MY MIND in high school. Our teacher made us read a few chapters as part of our summer homework and it totally changed my perspective on our mandated history textbook (which was awful and liked to use the word "virgin" when describing new forests/lands, which seemed super creepy, and felt the need to describe in great detail the physical attributes of each president instead of, you know, describing how their policies influenced the nation).

My point is good teacher armed with good books will stick with you forever! Dropping truth bombs is a great superpower.

jule_b_sorry

Umm, you're 27 and nearly finished with a PhD. There are plenty of us with BA's, older than you, who are looking at you jealously b/c they were never able to get it together to actually go to grad school (b/c life got in the way) and now feel like they haven't achieved enough, and never will, in their lives.

No matter how unsuccessful you feel, just remember that someone is almost always looking at you jealously, I guess...

WaityKatie

@jule_b_sorry I'm 36, and have very little Life Wisdom to impart, but the one thing I am beginning to grasp is this: as long as you compare yourself to others, you will be unhappy. I was at the same place at 28 (and 29, and 30, and 31...) feeling like everyone else was happily progressing to the "next step" in their lives, whilst I was sitting there STUCK, doing NOTHING, oh my god NOTHING and just STAGNATING IN NOTHINGNESS FOREVEERRRRRR and I remember what a terrible feeling that was. But I eventually had to realize that it was just a feeling and does not have to rule my life. And that other people are, underneath it all, just as lost and clueless as I was and am. And that what matters is what I am doing right now, not what I think I should be doing or accomplishing or what I think others are doing or accomplishing. And that's enough. It's still a struggle sometimes to really know that, but I think that is maybe a secret to life?

redheaded&crazy

@WaityKatie teach me your ways obi wan.

how does one progress from not openly comparing oneself to others (I don't do this anymore thankfully) to trying not to feel it (where I am now I think) to actually not feeling it??

Mae
Mae

@WaityKatie I find this comforting. I'm 27, and for the last couple of years I've felt a growing sense of panic and inadequacy - I don't have a graduate degree, I haven't had any jobs that I really liked, until very recently I've gotten shit pay, etc.

On the other hand, I think I've spent this time just learning how to do basic, adult things, like saving money and taking care of my cats and cleaning my apartment regularly and exercising while having a full time job. Which of course sounds really small and insignificant, but maybe isn't?

I still feel woefully under accomplished, though.

Theda Baranowski

@WaityKatie It's hard. I'm 32, and I still have a problem with it - especially when I look at my (younger) sister with her job at A Cool Company and my brother who's at the top of his field and owns two bars while I was unemployed for six months and am now temping.

redheaded&crazy

@Theda Baranowski Ugh the not comparing to siblings issue is the most insidious one. Faaaaack how do you get away from it?!

Judith Slutler

@redheaded&crazie Have siblings who are super different from you? My brother is learning to help care for goats and chickens on an organic farm, I can't really compare that to my urban planning grad school except to say "thumbs up bro"

WaityKatie

@Theda Baranowski For me, 31 was the hardest year. (and weirdly enough, I was warned about this by my older brother when I turned 31, even though he and I have had totally different life trajectories). It was the year I felt stuck in a job I hated, in a city I didn't want to be in, terminally single, and also had a huge friendship-ending drama that left me with no close friends in the city I lived in. Man, it was rough, for reals. As a result of all that I actually took a new job, moved cities twice in the next 2 years, and basically upended my entire life. So I think after that all settled down, I gained some perspective on how I had been feeling and basically came to the conclusion that comparing myself to others didn't lead anywhere good. I still do it sometimes, but I'm in the habit of stopping myself. So basically, I don't know, throw your whole life in the toilet and start a new one and then you'll get perspective eventually? Haha, like I said, I don't really have any life wisdom.

WaityKatie

@Emmanuelle Cunt Both of those share kind of a utopian theme, though!

roadtrips

@redheaded&crazie I'm the oldest of two sisters and I've had to recently completely redefine my relationship with my sister. Before this year she seemingly had things waaaaay more together than me (she - tenure track teaching position and a boyfriend with the same, me - messily ended 4-year horrorshow relationship, broke, finishing totally unpractical MA in my late twenties). Then in the beginning of the summer, she had a nervous breakdown, broke up with her boyfriend, quit her job, and moved back in with our parents. Through lots of long and painful conversations, she told me that she'd always thought of me as having it all, even though I often feel like my "real" life hasn't started yet. I still think that my sister is amazing, and super smart and talented and a lot better than me at a lot of things. But this has also really taught me the hard lesson that everyone's life is as together as they present it to the world.

Theda Baranowski

@redheaded&crazie It is impossible. Impossible. Except when I remind myself that at least one of them has no time in his life and has problems of his own.

Judith Slutler

@WaityKatie I always tell him that one day when I start an urban gardening project, I'll surely pester him for advice 24/7.

jule_b_sorry

@WaityKatie Ugh this is very good advice that I have trouble following (especially with the not-being-jealous-of-sibs thing) and I need to keep in mind. Starting this article, I totally had a knee-jerk "you almost have a PhD HOW CAN YOU HAVE PROBLEMS" reaction that was not totally appropriate and more connected to my own issues of inadequacy, which the LW is clearly also struggling with and many of us need good advice about.

redheaded&crazy

@roadtrips Yeah, in my family it's definitely fucked up in both directions. As the oldest ... I'm doing alright. I mean, I think it stresses my siblings out to feel like they have to "live up to my example." But then I worry that they are going to surpass me in things that I want and OH GOD WHYYYYY CAN'T WE ALL JUST LIVE IN OUR OWN ISOLATED LITTLE BUBBLES OF HAPPINESS.

roadtrips

@redheaded&crazie I've long accepted the fact that my sister and I will always have a certain level of competition. But talking about it has really helped. She recently told me that she's always thought of me as being surrounded by "cool guys who want to sleep with you." Which, I was flattered, I guess, but could not be farther from the truth. Being honest with each other has really dispelled a lot of the mythology that builds up in families - that this sibling is the prettiest, this one is the smartest, this one is the science one and this one is the artistic one.

rbrtposteschild

@WaityKatie I don't even play music, but 'From the Top' on NPR makes me feel like a colossal 28-year-old failure.

whateverlolawants

@Mae Making accomplishment lists make me feel better. When I'm down on myself, sometimes I make a list of the things I've done right lately, the things that were fun, the things I learned, the things I'm proud of. Sometimes it's just doing the laundry and watching YouTube videos and continuing to be a vegetarian (which isn't a struggle whatsoever, I barely think about it after all these years, but when I make myself think about it, I feel proud that I'm continuing to live in a way I find ethical.) Even the small things contribute to better self-esteem and inner calm.

whateverlolawants

@roadtrips I am SO lucky that my parents somehow succeeded at their goal of consciously raising my sister and me without comparing us. They encouraged us to be each other's friend and equal, but not to do the same things unless we wanted.

HeyThatsMyBike

@jule_b_sorry I think the other thing that really factors in here is that (speaking from experience) in most PhD programs you are regarded by many of your superiors as barely human and devoid of any useful value, knowledge, or potential contribution to anything important. I even have a great advisor who does not think that of me, and while there are positive aspects to grad school, overall, the whole experience is still completely soul-sucking and awful and really destroys your self-esteem in many ways. On top of it, as you get older and farther along, you begin to notice that all your non-PhD student friends have become real adults with babies and homes and you're still living below the poverty line, doing the same thing you were doing 5 years ago, and spending much of your time wishing you were doing something else. So while I appreciate that to most, saying "I'm a PhD student failure at life" sounds completely ridiculous (because it is), a large part of that statement is a product of that [often] awful environment.
To the LW - Stay strong, sista! It gets better, etc. I'm about a month and a half from being done, and I'm feeling better already.

Mae
Mae

@whateverlolawants I've done this, too, and it helps.

MilesofMountains

@jule_b_sorry Yup, everyone has regrets. I am 28 with a Master's, a good paying professional job and 5 years work experience in my field, but I've only recently started to accept that I need to stop dwelling on the way I've 'wasted' my youth. I've been jealous of people who have a million stories of skipping class to drink on the beach, or going to super awesome parties, or living in awesome places because I was too busy going to every single class and spending every evening writing reports for hours and moving to shitty towns because that's where the jobs are to experience any of that. No one can have everything, so I try to remember that everyone has sacrificed something they really wanted so they could have something else and all we can do is accept our choices and move forward.

jule_b_sorry

@MilesofMountains Haha, wow. See, I have a million stories of skipping class to drink on the beach, or going to awesome parties, and have lived in a lot of fun different places...but because I did a lot of adventuring, I'm jealous of my friends with advanced degrees because I feel they're more "respectable" and worry I wasted MY youth not studying. So still goes to show, it's easy to fall into that trap of being jealous, but the grass is always greener.

I suppose and it's best to try to avoid the mindset entirely and appreciate ourselves and our accomplishments.

Judith Slutler

@jule_b_sorry Or just keep talking to each other about this stuff! I really encourage the LW to talk to her sister about it actually. She might find out that while her sister is "basically saving the world" she deals with the same types of insecurities!

anachronistique

@roadtrips Ha, yeah, I got to be on the other side of this - my siblings always thought of me as the one with her shit together, the good child, and then I left grad school and moved back in with our parents for three years. Which sucked! But they definitely got a big dose of "oh right, our big sister is fallible." I think it actually helped my relationships with them in the long run.

Hellcat

@WaityKatie I am 41 and, until August, I'd only rented apartments while many of my friends had gotten married and bought homes, had babies, and was single for a lot of that time (or at least not "with" someone that I'd bother to bring out to dinner with all the other couples), and all of that that would sometimes bug me out, even though not one of those things alone was that important to me (especially babies). But I felt like other people thought I didn't have my shit together and that bothered me or, worse, that I only thought I had my shit together... but that I was actually so clueless that I didn't even know it (I hope that makes sense). And it didn't help that I never finished college either (this part still bugs me sometimes).

But I also knew lots of other people who had their shit less together than I did, even at my worst. I know the comparing part is bad, and what I just said kind of sounds like I liked that other people were messes but I don't... just that everyone moves through life with a different itinerary.

I just bought a place over the summer, and my BF is moving in soon, and my job, while frustrating as all hell, pays me decently and I mostly like it and maybe even consider a capital-C Career. And again, I am 41. So, to put an end to my rambling, my point is that different lives happen at different rates of speed and I can easily think of as many "not there yet" peers of mine as I can the opposite, and all of them, for the most part, are happy enough.

That said, you sound to me like you are indeed one with her shit together, and your anxiety and impatience and whatever didn't make me think "loser" or anything like that; the first thing that came to my mind was "driven."

Emby

My girlfriend is an inveterate FOMOer and I am essentially one gigantic living chill pill. Our biggest disagreements are over whether we're living the lives we "should" be.

I think my default mode is to accept the routine and find happiness outside its margins, while any amount of routine makes her feel trapped.

redheaded&crazy

I would say I am having this experience except more on the relationship side of the coin than the career side of the coin (thankfully I am leaving my incredibly toxic job within the next 2 months and hopefully taking courses that I think I could excel at, also hopefully moving to whistler to ski my heart out while I do so)

lots of people in serious relationships, getting engaged around single ol' bad-relationship-decision-making-not-feeling-like-dating-right-now-why-so-many-hyphens me. sigh. gloomy goose face.

Emby

@redheaded&crazie But if you don't feel like dating, and are also single, shouldn't that equal "good thing"?

redheaded&crazy

@Emby i've been moping around inifinity like this to a lot of people lately so I'm really just repeating myself ad nauseum (serious nauseum) but the line goes: I JUST WANT TO BE IN LOVE ALREADY.

First dates are exhausting for me.

Trying to be chill about being single is also proving to be exhausting at the moment.

SuperGogo

@redheaded&crazie Did you read Heather's latest Ask Polly column at the Awl? It is brilliant and about exactly this topic:
http://www.theawl.com/2013/01/ask-polly-will-i-be-alone-forever

redheaded&crazy

@SuperGogo I did read it! and I found it helpful. It was very well-timed as I've been voicing pretty much the exact same thing. It's one of those weird things where I think a lot of it is just a grim mood affecting a lot of things. Like what else would be better alone? Moving to Whistler! That would be much harder for me to do if I were in a serious relationship. So whyyyyy am I freaking out.

I think recent announcements of "oh we're moving in together and getting engaged soon" from BFFs have a tendency to have this effect though. Right?! Kind of?! Maybe?!

SuperGogo

@redheaded&crazie Oh, without a doubt. I'm 36 and single and I thought I was safely past the main onslaught of marrying, baby-having announcements from my friends...or at least that they had slowed down to a trickle. Not so! Instead, I feel like every other Facebook comment I make these days is "Congratulations! How wonderful!"

SarahP

@redheaded&crazie Aw, I want you to be happy and in love too, though I think they're mutually exclusive, but mostly I'm commenting because this is the first I've noticed that you've changed your user image and now I'm wondering what comments of yours I've read recently not knowing it was you! **clicks through redheaded&crazie's comments just to be sure**

Erryoudite

@redheaded&crazie: Completely off-topic, I wish you good luck in Whistler and for goodness sake BAG IT UP because there are endemic STD's there due to the non-stop party atmosphere generated by a million transient Aussies. Also, possibly the best place on the continent to be a single lady.

redheaded&crazy

@SarahP aw thanks :P (I changed it very recently so you did not miss anything!)

I also don't think being in love is the only way to be happy, and lots of the time I am happy even though I'm single. Just ... right now ... I'm not. Oh well.

@Erryoudite haha thanks! I am not much of one for casual sex to begin with but this is not the first time I've heard this advice. And the fact that dudes will outnumber ladies in Whistler (even though "the cutest ones are probably already taken" according to my sister) is one factor influencing my move. Not the only factor or the most important factor, but certainly one of em :)

Blushingflwr

@redheaded&crazie OMG I can relate to that. And then eventually I met someone, without really even trying.

redheaded&crazy

@redheaded&crazie also i don't necessarily need THE CUTEST ONES anyway you superficial jerk (not really a superficial jerk) just the ones that I find cute who have other endearing qualities like don't make fun of my singing. #thekeytoanygoodrelationship? #no

redheaded&crazy

@Blushingflwr i guess some people meet people by making a big effort (reaching out on dating sites, putting themselves out there), and some it just happens by happenstance. either way I'm trying not to be too focused on either method.

"HELLO I'M SITTING HERE JUST LIVING MY AWESOME SINGLE LIFE NOT TRYING WHERE IS MY PRINCE CHARMING?!" and "HELLOOOOO I WENT ON TWENTY DATES AND NONE OF THEM WERE RIGHT FOR ME WHERE IS MY PRINCE CHARMING?!" are both narratives that make me sad for separate reasons.

in other words: more dog time is needed here I think (thanks Polly!)

Blushingflwr

@redheaded&crazie I think you're right not to be focused on it, my comment eliminates the nuance. What REALLY happened was that I was essentially in a toxic quasi-relationship that took up a great deal of my emotional energy and focus and yet didn't really meet my emotional needs or put me in an actual relationship. And then that stopped being true, and I was open to the possibilities the world offered, and I flirted with (and at least once slept with) dudes on the Internet, and then a guy I'd been acquainted with for 5 years and who I'd occasionally flirted with upped the ante on the flirting and eventually we went on a date and now 18 months later we are working on moving in together. I've met guys through the Internet who I fell in love with, and others who were terrible matches for me. My best success has been with having a wide social circle and hanging out with my friends, honestly. Which is sometimes an effort, but not necessarily an effort geared at finding a relationship.

But oh, that feeling of just wanting to be in love already that you mentioned upthread? Yeah, that is a feeling I know intimately.

frenz.lo

Well, also, world-saving doesn't have to be your paid career. Sidelining in world-saving in the manner of your choosing while accepting money for other work is a perfectly cromulent option. That is, if you ask yourself some questions about your values, and work out what moves you and what you can do to further a cause or help a charity that you believe in, you can then start throwing a couple of hours a week at that cause or charity, and it can make you feel better sometimes. Or, make you feel worse in a more complex and interesting way than feeling rootless makes you feel. If you think you don't have time, maybe you're right, but you're probably fibbing to yourself, and you do have at least a little bit of time you're currently devoting to unstructured "leisure" time that's giving you an opportunity to churn endlessly through your stale old angst. That unstructured time is doing you no favors!

Judith Slutler

@frenz.lo True, why not throw some spare time or $ (obviously PhD students don't have a ton of either, but every little bit helps) at a cause you care about!

When this comes up I always suggest that people attend their local planning or zoning board meetings. Friendly people like me will be waiting to feed you coffee and cookies and hear your thoughts on what should go in the new playground or which stretch of bike path to complete next or your opinions on summer community events for this year. That's my "saving the world a little bit" career future and it's always awesome when members of the community show up to share their opinions and expertise!

Knowsey

@Emmanuelle Cunt I have started going to my community meetings and they are tons of fun. It's like being in an episode of Parks and Rec.

madge

@frenz.lo thanks for saying perfectly cromulent

glitterary

LW, YOU ARE ME. Only I'm 26, feeling like an academic failure because I can't pull a PhD application together while my brilliant younger housemate glides along doing her funded one while getting name-dropped at the BNF by important academics she's never even met.

The only way I've so far been able to quell the screams of OH GOD I'M WASTING MY LIFE (most days) is by recognising how much people who *aren't* doing anything groundbreaking affect my life positively. Like, there's a girl in my theatre group who is working on her PhD (most of my friends are doing some kind of academia because I moved to where I am to do an MA), but what makes her really great is how much she cheers up everyone around her on a daily basis just by being a really fun person, and by being really honest and awesome about other people's good characteristics. So as I'm not necessarily ready to (or won't necessarily ever) make some amazing difference to society, I'm aware that by trying to be the kind of person who contributes positively to other people's lives just a little every day (which is fun! people like you for it!) I can make a pretty big difference cumulatively.

Of course, I should be a lawyer or something, because I have the smarts for it. But it would also make me miserable, and then I could help fewer people in the small ways, and I would burn out and become bitter and hateful. Swings and roundabouts.

whateverlolawants

@glitterary So very true. I have a job that's pretty insignificant in the global scale and doesn't carry much social cachet. Yet I'm thoughtful and competent (most of the time) and I think that goes a long way with my customers. I try to be that way with my friends too. At the very least, at least I'm good for a laugh.

wee_ramekin

I think a good thing to remember is that "changing the world" doesn't always happen because someone blazes a trail of light across the sky. "Changing the world" can be as small - and yet, as significant - as working to be a Good, Decent Human Being every single day. Working to break out of destructive patterns that exist in your life, for whatever reason. Working to be really and truly compassionate, to understand and empathize with others.

I take my mother as an example. She came from an inflexible and stifling family deeply steeped in patriarchy. She was a bit of a wild child in her youth: ran away from home, did some drugs, had an abortion, didn't complete college, married young. But when she had her first child, she was determined that HER GIRLS were not going to grow up being told they couldn't play sports, or learn to play the trumpet ("too masculine"), or that their only value was in the shape of their face/hips/breasts. My mother raised four girls into intelligent, confident women, going through a soul-sucking, crazy-making divorce and skating on the thin ice of near-poverty while doing so. Each one of her children is college-educated, hardworking, and able to support herself. None of us have experienced the tumult and pain that she did because of the uninformed choices she made when she was young and needed love and guidance from a family who couldn't/wouldn't give it. Through hard work and perseverance on her part, my mother not only raised four children, but she got her degree in a field she loves (Library Sciences). She is now the director of our town's library, which is the heart and soul of our small community.

Change the world? No, my mom didn't change the world. But she broke out of the unhealthy patterns she was caught in, and changed my world - and that of my sisters - away from the path it could have taken. Through her work at the library, she altered the fabric of her community in a positive way, no doubt influencing the lives of countless children and their families. And she did it by putting one foot in front of the other every day, and trying as hard as she could to make life better for her and her children.

I'm not saying you need to have kids or be a librarian to add goodness to the world, but I do think that's an example of how adding goodness on a small level has a ripple effect for the rest of the world.

aproprose

@wee_ramekin oh this made me a tad teary! Your Mom sounds like the best.

Slapfight

@wee_ramekin This. Is absolutely. BEAUTIFUL.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@wee_ramekin This explains a lot about you. Or, I mean, what I know about you from your comments on an Internet website I frequent.

LooseBaggyMonster

@wee_ramekin Knowing how thoughtful and kind you are (again, from your comments) you've probably told your Mom all of these beautiful things you appreciate about her. But just in case you haven't, please share them with her!

ru_ri

@wee_ramekin Ah diminutive pudding vessel, you are the best and your mom is the best and now I have something in my eye!

dracula's ghost

GOOD TEACHING SAVES THE WORLD
DON'T LET THE HATERS TELL YOU DIFFERENTLY

whateverlolawants

@dracula's ghost Amen. Teachers changed my LIFE, man.

Megasus

Man, I am 26 and an intern, because I didn't know what I really wanted to do or how to do it until like, last year, and if I compare myself to other, MUCH YOUNGER people who are more accomplished than me and have actual paying jobs, I WOULD NEVER GET OUT OF BED.

coolallison

@Megano! I used to work at the Buddy Holly museum, and there was a 20-minute video that played on a loop that I could quote by the time I left, but the one line that always stung... every 20 minutes, said "though he was only 22 when he died, he revolutionized rock and roll music". I was 22 at the time and would always hear it while sweeping or doing something definitely the opposite of revolutionizing anything.

Judith Slutler

@coolallison I've had this conversation with my bf so many times, we feel like all our favorite music is now being made by talented, gorgeous people who are younger than us! And many WTFs are to be had.

roadtrips

@coolallison But you were working at the Buddy Holly museum! That is basically the next best thing to revolutionizing rock-n-roll.

WaityKatie

@coolallison Off topic but oh my god I am envious that you got to work at the Buddy Holly museum!

City_Dater

@WaityKatie

OMG, right?! I just logged in to say that I would be beyond giggly and thrilled to have the Buddy Holly Museum as a line on my resume.

Non-anonymous

@coolallison This reminds me of the old Tom Lehrer joke: "It is sobering to realize that when Mozart was my age ... he had been dead for two years."

iceberg

Wellllll at least you are having these feelings now, and not from a position of regretting not having done them. There's still time! 27 is really really young in the scheme of things.

As for being trite and irritating, well, there's always someone that has it worse than you, but your problems are real to you in the context of your life, and therefore valid. And people who care about you, whether it's IRL or here on the Pin, want you to be happy and want to help you be happy!

bitchycrosstownexpress

"There is no one true path to amazingness. We have to create the amazingness for ourselves, by committing to something and then busting our asses."

I am, for reals, making a poster of this to hang up in my apartment. Preferably where I can see it from my couch when I decide to Netflix binge instead of writing.

Emby

I'll also note that it's helpful (to me) to take solace and find happiness in small, everyday pleasures. I'm less angsty about my place in the universe when I can sit outside on a nice day and have a cold beer. Or make myself a cup of coffee and just sit in silence for a little while. Or shoot a game of pool with my friends and playfully rag on each other for a little while. If you can shift, for lack of a better concept, your happiness's center of gravity closer to small pleasures, then the bigger stuff becomes a little less important. You don't have to knock your dreams off their pedestal, but it can be enough to make them not so crazy-inducing.

Mae
Mae

@Emby I have found this to be very true.

Judith Slutler

@Emby This is key. You're still a human person in the world who deserves to have an ok day every day, even if it's just because you take time to catch some fresh air or post a few things on a blog.

churlishgreen

@Emby This is truly excellent advice. The older I get, the more I admire people who seem to enjoy life, whatever they do (or not) professionally. This often seems to require a conscious decision to do so (or a lot of them, every day).

coolallison

Man, I'm having a quarter-life crisis, too. Well, is it still a quarter-life crisis if I've been having it for like 4 years and I'm almost 30?

I have a master's degree and a professional license... and yet, I hate it. I don't even dislike my current job (though I have jobs where I wished for a car crash that would take me out for a few weeks just so I wouldn't have to go in), but I feel like what I'm doing doesn't make a difference. (I do some volunteering to try to get that feeling, but it doesn't really make it any better.) Pretty much every other week, I think of a different career that I want to do and start looking into what it would take to go back to school. (This week, I want to go back to school to become a physician assistant.) I'm trying to decide how to find happiness in what I'm doing, but if I'm still an accountant in 10 years, I'm pretty sure that I'll be rather bummed about it.

Anyway, all that is to say that this was a very timely entry, so thanks. I am rather appreciating all the comments proving that I'm not alone in these feelings, and maybe we'll all be okay.

WaityKatie

@coolallison I have determined through Scientific Observation that the "quarter life crisis" as well as the "midlife crisis" can more accurately be described as "life." Life is a continuing "crisis" in that we spend it constantly trying to determine how best to live. It never ends. So, better to start thinking about this stuff earlier than 45 or whatever the magical age for the "midlife crisis" used to be. If anything, the people who seem to have it all together and are just blindly charging ahead on a specific path checking off "accomplishments" seem more susceptible to a crisis/breakdown in middle age, i.e. "did I do it right? Is it too late now? What should I be doing?" If you're thinking about this stuff all along the way you'll be fine. (or so I tell myself...)

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@WaityKatie For a long time, I kept thinking that once I get [x] completed, I'll have a clearer picture of how life is supposed to go. But with a recent shitstorm of events in my life, I've realized there isn't a magic compass that appears when you check off items A,B and C on your list. It's just about your ballast in your own life, and whether you can keep floating.

churlishgreen

@WaityKatie I am an emissary from midlife here to tell you that you are completely correct!

madge

@churlishgreen uh huh. and it seems like the levels get harder and there are bigger bosses to kill, too.

sarah girl

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

oh! valencia

@Sarah H. Hate to be "that guy", but this one has widely been falsely attributed to Emerson. http://emerson.tamu.edu/Ephemera/Success.html

sarah girl

@oh! valencia Thanks, good to know! I don't mind that it's not actually Emerson, it's still a good quote :)

leonstj

Not that this helps, but be proud of your "Quarter Life Crisis".

The world is a big place, and we're so small. Maybe there is meaning to life, maybe there is not - but either way, we have no way to be sure. We only get one attempt at everything, so ya know, we might be making huge mistakes every day. A thing which seemed like it went really well may set us up for later disaster, a horrible thing might lead us to a beatific place.

Or maybe not. Maybe your life will just be "boring" and "average" and "normal". But the pain you are going through now is not a tootache or injury, it is not the feeling of something wrong within you. It is the muscle soreness of a long session at the gym. It is the pain of doing something right.

You are freaking out because you are thinking about things, not just passively letting them slide by. You wonder what you should be doing because you already have internalized the knowledge that you have agency, that you are in command. Megan's beautiful advice will help you cope a lot.

But not always. Sometimes, the exercise of self-analysis will leave you stiff and in need of aspiring the next day. Just remind yourself that, and the pain will continue to sometimes ache, but at least it will also remind you that you are making the most out of the few short years we get.

space opera

I'm about halfway through a PhD program and occasionally experience moments of fear/ blind panic about my career that are mostly along the lines of: Do I want to bust my butt for the next fifteen years to get myself a place in a top research university and a bunch of grants, which will increase my chances of making some specific significant contribution to my field? Or do I want a life where my most important contribution will likely be as part of a team of academics and teachers, where my name may not be in headlines/ textbooks but I will know that I have played a significant role in the giant machine that is academia, even if it is just through my teaching or a paper that contributes to a critical mass in a new research area. I know many, many people in the former category, but I have pretty much realized that my personal sanity/ family/ hobbies are more important to me than being a rock star in my field. But I think about the small non-researchy school that I attended as an undergrad, and how the personal attention I received from my professors had an incredible impact on who I am as a scholar and a person, and I feel pretty good about my decision. The great thing about academia is that it is a community, and even if it is sometimes silly and pretentious and egos get out of control, ultimately you are all working together to Figure Shit Out, whether it is science or history or the way we think about art and policy and human nature (or all of them!)

TL;DR, I like academia because you don't have to be the one big name in order to make a difference in the slow but inevitable progress of knowledge and understanding.

HeyThatsMyBike

@space opera Yes yes yes. This is what I keep trying to tell my boyfriend. But I think he's hell-bent on trying the R1 thing just to make sure, because he is one of those people that has to make sure he hates something by trying it instead of just thinking through it.

Anyway - mega-congrats to you for figuring this out on your own. I had a similar undergraduate experience, and have had a very different graduate experience at an R1. I think there's as much or more impact that can be made taking the route you want to take. Good luck!

MollyculeTheory

@space opera I'm in a very similar position, except I just came to the decision (that I really didn't want to be an academic PI in science) halfway through my postdoc ha ha. I had some freakouts like "I AM DISAPPOINTING EVERYONE I'M A FAILURE" but the other day I said to my boyfriend something like "I am never, ever going to get a Nobel Prize. And that's okay." which I realize is a spectacularly annoying statement (not that I thought I would in the first place but it was technically A Possibility, I guess?) but it was a real turnaround for me!

rimy

I love this advice and reading all these comments. It's really comforting to know other people struggle with dumb little mid-20s existential crises. I graduated 2 years ago with my Bachelor's, imagining moving to a new city, professional shiny job, exciting friends, eventual master's degree, etc etc, but instead became bogged down in the city I've lived in my whole life with a crappy job, zero new friends, and my boyfriend (who I love but who is equally frustrated). I feel like I'm dying a little every day. Some days are worse than others - some days I come home from work and collapse into bed and think about how tiny and insignificant I am, the world is, how vast the universe is, how we will all die, and how I can practically hear the seconds clicking by interminably. Eventually I just pick myself up, take a hot shower, make myself break the bad mental merry-go-round I'm on, and appreciate something small for a while. I try to forget about the pressure to do, go, find, explore, create!!! that is a constant loop in my head. I realize that it's when I'm feeling good about myself and confident and sort of happy that I get the most done. I write, I create, I read, I explore! And that I'm only 24 and there is a looooot of life ahead of me and that the best thing to do is not to be a horrible depressing person but to be nice and genuine and loving and kind, and to just DO things instead of worrying about them or planning them out meticulously. I wish I could help my boyfriend achieve a more peaceful mental state, too, or be more optimistic, but he's older than me, has a crappier job, and is feeling lost as to what step to take next... UGH!

I love you all, Hairpinners. These comments are so great.

SuperGogo

It may not be feasible for this LW, at least not right now, but making a literal move to go save the world, at least for a while, is entirely possible too. That's how I responded to my quarter life crisis--I quit my job and deferred my student loans and I signed up for the Peace Corps. I know it's not the right solution for everyone for a myriad of reasons, but it was the right solution for me; it definitely helped my mid-20s feelings of FOMO (although it came back, but nevermind that for the moment) and I think it made me a better person for having done it. (Edit: as in better than my pre-Peace Corps self, not better than anyone else...just to be clear!)

rimy

Sometimes I realize you either have to EMBRACE the situation and invest everything headlong into it (e.g. living in a capitalist society = you have to hustle, nothing is given to you unless you're wealthy/well-connected, that's just the way it is), OR you must completely REJECT your nebulous ambitions and find a small, peaceful life somewhere and invest all of you into that (e.g. abandon your hustle and start a self-sustaining goat farm or something). Or is that crazy? I guess what I mean is, don't resent your situation and externalize your frustration, instead act on it and change your life to your preference.

rimy

@rimy ("said the young capitalist") oh never mind I don't even know what I'm trying to say!

...
You can do it, everybody! Just do your thing and screw everything else.

City_Dater

In the overwhelmingly sad and chaotic world of animal rescue, there is a saying: "We cannot help every dog. But today, we can help this dog."

par_parenthese

@City_Dater Which, of course, brings to mind the story of the girl rescuing starfish on the beach: "It makes a difference to THAT one."

roadtrips

I've spent a lot of time talking to elderly folks about their lives (among other things). For the most part, people want to talk about their travels and adventures, the people they've known, and creative things they've produced (even if those things haven't been public). A lot of people talk about how hard their lives have been - the people and things they've lost. I don't think I've ever once had a conversation with someone who wanted to tell me about their professional achievements. Although maybe that's because the people who are interesting to me are the people who have interesting stories. And I've heard some amazing and by any account exciting stories. But I've also heard really great stories about really everyday stuff. Talking to people about lives already (mostly) lived is a pretty radical paradigm shift. Most people aren't famous, and they didn't come up with a world-changing invention. And that just has to be OK. Because the end of your life comes a lot sooner than it seems it will in your mid-twenties. The cliché of living every day as if it were your last to me is about living with your death in mind. Remembering that you don't have unlimited time to plan for some ideal future, or to wait for something "big" to happen. The happiest, most fulfilled people I've met are the ones who hold on to the small blessings of their lives. I realize that's pretty reductive, and doesn't necessarily hold a lot of weight in circumstances of real pain and suffering, but it can be a really helpful thing to keep in mind when struggling with the desire to be exceptional and recognized.

madge

@roadtrips yes! also, we don't get to decide how the world responds to us, only what we put out there. so it definitely makes more sense to focus on the process of putting stuff out there, rather than the part of us that wants everyone to think we are awesome.

planforamiracle

I have this feeling a lot too, and I think what's written above is really good advice.
Even though I am working in a job that pays me decently, that allows me to use my Fine Arts degree, and that lets me work at a sane pace for most of the year (and a temporarily insane/exciting one during our busy season), I question its importance because it is in the arts, because I am less interested in the field than I used to be, because I am good at other things too so maybe I should do those...

It always boils down to the feeling of never being enough, or doing enough. This is an insidious message that seems to come at me from so many places in our culture. My main focus right now is working on accepting who I am as I am right now, and accepting where I am at right now while being excited for the things I will eventually have thrown at me, and the things I'll later decide to strive for.

One thing that is really helping with the self-acceptance is yoga. Something that seems to be helping with feeling good about my circumstances is gratitude and negative visualization.

madge

@planforamiracle negative visualization is amazing. old timey roman cognitive therapy!

roadtrips

@planforamiracle I am totally on board with negative visualization. BUT I think the other side to it is owning your fear and suffering as well. I recently ended an emotionally abusive relationship with someone who, if I said I was sad, or had a bad day, would respond "but there are so many people who are actually suffering. Stop being a baby." It got to the point that when a colleague of mine died, I actually felt that I didn't have any right to feel sadness, because other people had suffered much greater loss. Obviously this is an extreme case, but I think it can be easy to use perspective as a way of shaming oneself about seemingly insignificant problems. If it's significant to you, it's OK to take note of it. It's OK to feel sorry for yourself or to have a bad day at work. I think that it's important to be aware that it is a passing condition, but that doesn't make it less real in the moment.

planforamiracle

@roadtrips I am so with you on that. I have generally not struggled with allowing myself to have feelings, because I was labeled "sensitive" at a young age and feeling myself to be an emotional person has always been part of my personality, and a very visible one at that (I laugh and cry easily, etc.)
But that doesn't mean it's easy to take ownership of those feelings, which is just as important. I like how you say "take note of" a problem or a feeling; we can notice these things, let them breathe and give them space, then let them go. This is something I find extremely difficult but am working on practicing.

WaityKatie

@madge Yessss! My conversion to Stoicism is currently underway.

Mae
Mae

@WaityKatie MINE TOO.

Litebrite Idea

@planforamiracle "It always boils down to the feeling of never being enough, or doing enough. This is an insidious message that seems to come at me from so many places in our culture."

So so true. Ugh. Especially for us sensitive people! I like your yoga coping perspective. I put the yoga class on my work schedule, and I already know the teacher and admire her, and I will go!

planforamiracle

@Litebrite Idea That is great! It totally works for me not just because of the calming, centering feeling, but also the philosophy of meeting your body where it's at, and not trying to push it too far. So that attitude can go a long way in the other parts of our lives.

Jinxie

I'm only 1/8 of the way through this comment thread and I can already tell I'll be spending the afternoon reading, refreshing, reading, refreshing 'cause it's already looking like an awesome support group for People Who Feel Stuck. Three cheers to the LW, Megan, and the wonderful 'Pinners for sparking such interesting and comforting conversation!

Non-anonymous

Multiple Buffy references in a single post are always welcome.

Blushingflwr

Arlo Guthrie says "if the world were perfect, you'd have to try awfully hard to make a difference. But in a world that sucks, like this one, you don't have to do very much at all."

sprayfaint

Indeed the grass is always greener! I never went for an advanced degree but always kept my head down, and now at 30 I'm well on my way in a career that I... am OK with... but never set out to pursue. It just turned out to be something I was good at, and I'm trying to come to terms with that fact (committing to being excellent at something that was never a dream). Meanwhile I look back on my 20s and wonder why I never spent years traveling and finding myself, while at the same time I have someone working for me who spent years traveling, and looks at my career with frustration that she's not in the same place. We all want what we can't have, that's for sure.

Verity

Watching Band Candy always makes things better.

Miss Maszkerádi

My quarter life crisis is that I know basically what I want to do with my life, I know in a really abstract sense what I need to do to make it happen, and due to a combination of laziness and terror of failure, I never seem to get off my arse to work at it. Heeeelp.

EggsErroneous

when i was a little kid I asked my mom why some people would want to become __________ (insert professions that don't sound impressive to a child), and didn't everyone want to be successful? And she told me that everyone's idea of success was different, and that someone who chooses to be a ___________ can be more successful than someone who chooses to be a ____________ based on how they define success. That's when I knew she was a hippie. Just kidding. That's when I knew it would be ok to go to art school.

EggsErroneous

@EggsErroneous She also used to sing "que sera sera" to me a lot.

celeec4@twitter

This is an awesome response, I always enjoy these columns.

...but...does anyone else find that these will send you off on a spiral of [insert whatever problem that you emphasize with in your personal life] because it was brought up in a column?

Like, I'm pretty much lying on top of my computer while at lab right now, wondering what I'm missing out on.

Litebrite Idea

I'm here from the early 40s to let you all know that even in my small closest social circle, a couple of those people who had perfect relationships/marriages/families in their 20s and early 30s went through very unhappy ugly divorces. (To say people change is an understatement!) Almost everyone is underemployed...one just recently unemployed - oh and this includes 3 people in those STEM fields you're supposed to go into for job security. The most successful person I know career-wise has money, a lovely house, husband, kids, and cool vacations, but she works a gazillion hours a week otherwise and she also had a first abusive marriage, divorce and a late 20s crisis where she questioned everything, and she also isn't working in the amazing field in which she obtained her PhD.

I have at least one of these self-questioning crises every few years. At least a couple of times because I got burnt out in "saving the world" type jobs and didn't make enough money for therapy, massages, or vacations. But I know I really did help some people along the way. And then I got a PhD. Which made me question my sanity even more. But, hey, it was an accomplishment, and a few people welcomed my contribution, and a few students liked what I had to teach them.

Very little is secure or dependable in the world, so being able to support your own self however that is is an achievement. If you can make even one person's life a bit better, family, friend, or stranger - however you do it, great!

But pick one adventure to do in the next year! In fact, since you say you have opportunities, you can probably swing one of those educational or service vacations (maybe even work in one over a summer) that combines an adventurous place with something humanitarian.

infinite stars

My unintended year off before grad school is now going to be two years and it's turned into this obsessive worry that I'm wasting my time and everyone else is doing important things why aren't I?, so this is very relevant to my life right now.

Seconding the mention of From the Top upthread. I think the quickest way to make me feel old and unaccomplished is to listen to that show. Especially as a musician. (Um clearly I need to start the not comparing myself to others thing)

Guybrush

I don't know if anyone's still reading, but I'd like to recommend this podcast discussion of Groundhog Day: http://5by5.tv/ia/53, especially the buddhist ruminations towards the end. It's all about finding fulfilment in everyday life. I'm usually not into spirituality and stuff but this really got to me.

joythemanatee

Not to miss the point entirely, but when I read "That time I spent months alone in archives" my reaction was "that sounds awesome!" .... it really is important, I think, to appreciate where we are at. When will you have the chance to spent months alone in an archive again? Well, for me, thats neverrrr. Sure, there are stretches of tediousness while you are in there, doing archive research stuff, but don't forget what a privilege it is that you have this time and a purpose to spend in there. I am rambling, and I am certainly not saying you are being ungracious, what I am somehow trying to define is that what you are viewing as your norm is something somebody else thinks is fascinating.

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