The Quarter-Life Anti-Crisis


The countdown has begun. Five days until I turn 25; until I become a full-fledged adult, who can rent a car (well, could, if I had a license). That’s 120 hours until I have to start thinking about properly decorating my house (which isn’t, in deed, mine). Five fleeting days until I reach that troubled milestone, a new, not-so-shiny quarter of a life.

The funny thing about the assumption that 25 is a threshold into quarter-life is that it’s only true if you live to be 100, and really, who wants that? Besides, 25 is middle aged in some places — Uganda, Ethiopia, and my own broken home-nation of Somalia to name a few. But whichever way I slice it, a good chunk of my life is gone.

I’m already old enough to remember my youth, when waiting for the weekend felt like a lifetime. And now time slips through my fingers, refusing to be contained. A day in relation to all the days I’ve lived is about 1/9125, whereas for a nine-year-old it is something like 1/3285. Time is literally accelerating and I have no choice but to hold on for dear, dear life.

I’ve spent the last 17 months thinking about what kind of adult I want to become, but now I’m reaching the conclusion that becoming is continuous, and at my precious age, in a constant state of flux.

We don’t ever stop. Each action — big and small — defines us, until we die. This is likely why I’ve always had an issue with the hypothesis that life is a path. So, we are all collectively hiking along, and aging is this awful trajectory that begins with first steps and first words and a world full of infinite possibilities and imagination; that is until we no longer experience definitive firsts and we stop looking and seeing and enter into a monotony of milestones — graduations, quarter-lives, marriages, promotions, etceteras — that mark our trail. And then — poof! — we’re old and senile, reverting to baby-like tendencies: helplessness, incoherence, and diaper-cradled-bottoms. Turns out the path is more like a circle, and nothing like what I imagined I’d look forward to.

My fascination with Borges has led me to adopt the following theory: life is a labyrinth, multiple paths, many possibilities, and not all of them have to end in diapers. This narrative of life as a labyrinth is also a great defense for failure, since dilemmas and difficulties are the only certainty in life. And the realization of success is unrelenting, because once you get it the work doesn’t stop. The legendary labyrinths of Greek mythology were built with such cunning that often, there was no way out. Which is fine with me. I’d rather not live to see the ending. I want to persist in the middle of the story — which isn’t, of course, the same as being trapped in the middle, where life is in a perpetual stasis: nothing ever happens; nothing is ever accomplished.

Birthdays should be fun. They should be a time to reflect on a year lived; but instead we dread the innumerable unknowns to come. We blow out candles and hoard wishes for a better future, all the while succumbing to societal pressures on how our perfect-little-futures should play out. I’ve read so many “woe is me” articles about how life is just so goddamn hard for us milennials. We’ve been taught to believe that we are all so special and smart; but once we emerge from our safe little bubbles we are shocked to discover that our dreams still hover away in the distance. And yet the last time I checked we weren’t being conscripted into endless wars and having to march for our right to equal opportunities. Today we march for something much less definitive — that life is unfair for the 99 percent. We are united in our suffering in a way that just seems so purposeless.

I can’t help but recall the sentiments of anti-optimism in Voltaire’s satire Candide: we must cultivate our garden. We can’t stop the world’s suffering or bring peace to the Middle East, but what we can do is nurture our potential, and maybe then we can create something that will better the world. We are actually lucky in this sense, because despite the so-called crappy hand we’ve been dealt, technology has afforded us countless tools to create our own success. I don’t need to be published to be a writer — although that would be nice — all I need is a pen and paper and a stream of coherent thoughts that I can later post on my blog. So all this misdirected animosity has actually allowed me to appreciate that I’m right “on track” — minus a few professional hiccups — to becoming a “proper” adult. I may not be where I thought I’d be at this “juncture” — and some days the feeling that I can’t escape my circumstances does overwhelm me — but instead of drowning in fervent fear because I’m not living my life according to some prescribed notion of “success,” I’m doing what I love: I’m writing, hand to mouth, pen to paper.

The middle is a story in itself, with many beginnings and endings. Twenty-five isn’t just a quarter life, it’s a commemoration of living. So when I blow out my candles this week I won’t be wishing for anything; instead I will be thinking up a storm of ideas to make the next year the best ever.

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image – Will Clayton