It seems like every few months, I find myself asking the same question: now what? What the hell am I doing with my life? I know, it’s the quarter-life crisis, a phenomenon which has been so well documented that at this point is beyond cliché. You hit your twenties, graduate college and freak out because you have no idea what you’re doing with your life. It’s time to start being a responsible adult, but you realize you have no idea what that means. Time to start worrying about rent, health insurance, 401(k)s and a thousand other things that smack you in the face, screaming welcome to the real world. It’s no longer about a job to cover gas and drinking money, it’s about a career and what you want to do for the rest of your life. Suddenly, you’re expected to have five year plans and a vision of the future, or at least to be well-situated in the present.
My family expects a lot from me. Growing up, other kids got rewarded for getting As. I got a nod and maybe a pat on the back. It was what was expected of me so my parents didn’t see any reason for a reward. These were the things you had to do to get into a good college and be set up for your future. When I was a doctor or a lawyer or professor, that would be my reward for hard work. In comparison, a new toy wasn’t worth it. That was the plan anyway. And for a long time, it looked like it was going to happen. I worked hard all through school, got the grades and the high test scores. I even got a full scholarship to my second-choice school and was promised that if I went there, my parents would cover medical school. So I went. I took the next step decreed by the plan. And then I woke up.
Three-quarters of the way through my degree, with all those pre-med requirements checked off, I panicked. It was like waking up from a dream and realizing and realizing that in the real world, you’re an entirely different person. Hadn’t it been my plan to become a doctor? Wasn’t I the one that chose this school based on its reputation as a research university, its affiliated medical school, and the rigorous program that would lead me exactly where I wanted to be? It wasn’t my parents’ idea for sure. They were business people. They understood money, marketing, sales, and the like. They had no idea what it took to become a doctor and they left the planning to me. Of course they were proud. Dad loved to tell people that I was going to be a doctor, that I was at one of the best research universities in the country, honors, scholarship and all. But neither of them had ever told me that this was what I was going to be and there was no choice in the matter. So who the fuck was this person that insisted on eighteen credits a semester, the toughest classes, the hardest major? And why the hell did she desert me halfway through? The least the little bitch could do was stick around long enough to get through this torture instead of ducking out halfway through and leaving me to find a way out of the mess. But that’s not how things work of course.
So I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I didn’t have to slave away over the MCATs the way my classmates were. I didn’t have study until four in the morning for the next biochem test. In comparison, writing a fourteen page paper was a breeze. The problem was that when the white lab coat dream died, there wasn’t anything to take its place. It’s not like when I was younger and gymnast was quickly replaced by basketball player (until I stopped growing), which was replaced by psychologist, then lawyer, and finally doctor. This seemed to be the end of the line, out of options. I fell into book publishing because that seemed like a good place for an English major to go. Then I fell into social media because it came naturally to me and I enjoyed the interaction. I’m getting a Masters in a field that, when asked what I want to do with it, I smile and shrug because I haven’t the slightest idea.
There has always been a plan. The specifics might change as the end goal shifted. But there was always a clearly defined next step and a way to measure if I was on the right track. But now, when it seems I’m expected to have a plan, it has entirely deserted me, along with the desire to have a plan. There’s a part of me that is still desperately attached to my old way. It needs to know where I’m going, or at the very least where I want to go. It needs a way to measure if I’m doing okay, if I’m successful. It sees my current state as one of failure because I’m not exactly moving towards anything. It is the part that reminds me I can’t go anywhere until I finish my degree. It says that I can’t run off to a foreign country for the summer because I’ll lose the beautiful little apartment I love. It begs me to put down roots somewhere, anywhere. It panicked when I quit my job, wondering how the hell I was going to eat and pay rent and save money and do all the responsible things that are expected of an adult. But that’s the problem. I’ve only just started to be an irresponsible kid.
I didn’t rebel in high school the way other kids did. I didn’t drink or do drugs or get things pierced. I had things that had to be done, I had responsibilities to take care of and I took them very seriously. I had plans, I saved my money, I worked hard and thought about the future. And then I went away to college, and realized I’d never done anything really stupid. I had never gotten into a car and decided to just drive. I never pierced anything just for the hell of it. I’d never even gotten drunk. So I did. I drank, I smoked, I had sex for the first time, I got a couple things pierced, I pierced some of them myself, I got tattoos, I rode a motorcycle, and I threw the sacred plan out the window. And I had never felt more myself.