The Annual Existential Crisis (Birthday)

By Dan

Progressione II

Last week I turned 25. I tried to forget about it, tried to push it to the back of my mind, tried to pretend it was a normal day. But, no. Noooo! Over 30 people (most of whom, let’s be honest, I barely talk to) were there on Facebook, “politely” reminding me that it was my birthday with a constant barrage of jovial messages.

It’s not that I dislike birthdays. I like presents. I like cake. I like attention. But what I hate is that moment. The moment when the party is over, the house is empty, cardboard hats cover the floor, the food on the table lies half eaten, and you sit alone on your sofa and you think, ‘so, I’m 25 now, what have I done with my life?’ The silence is the answer.

Nothing.

I am 25 and I have done nothing with my life. I don’t say this with pride, but I also don’t say this with self-pity. I just say it. How many 25 year olds have done anything with their life? Not many I wager. So why do I feel bad that I’ve done nothing with mine?

I don’t know what to do with my life. At all. But I feel I should be doing something. So my mind is caught in a constant cycle. First I must feel bad because I’ve not yet done anything. Then I must feel bad because I don’t know what to do. Then I must feel bad because I haven’t done what I don’t know what to do. I feel constantly confused. Like I have no place. I feel lost. I’m unsure about everything.

There’s a term for this. A “quarter life crisis”. A time in a young person’s life where they becoming introspective and start to question their existence. We go back to that question again of ‘who am I?

I’m sick of asking it. Really sick. The question is even starting to bore me. I’m starting to not care about who I am. Who gives a shit! Who says I should give a damn anyway?

The world. That’s who. My generation has been brought up with an unhealthy dose of optimism. As children we are told we can be anybody we want to be. That we can do anything we want to do. If we dream big, those dreams can one day be turned into reality. We can all be a great person. A memorable person. We can change the world if we want.

Then you grow up and you realise that unhealthy dose of optimism has turned you into a pessimist. You come to the realisation that you can’t be anybody you want to be. You can’t do anything. If you dream big, you eventually realise your dreams will never happen. You can’t change the world. You can barely build up the courage to change your hairstyle.

We’re raising our children to have a false grip on their existence. If we raise every child to believe their life is special, then eventually there’ll be a fallout when all of these children grow up and realise they’re just the same as everybody else. We aren’t all great people.

If everybody is a great person then what’s the point of being great? If everybody is great, then that just means being great is average. So really, what we’re saying is, everybody is average. It comes as quite a blow when you realise you’re just the same as everybody else. You will live, you will do nothing with your life, then you will die, and 100 years afterwards you’ll be lucky if your name turns up on a family tree. That is all.

We can’t all change the world. We all read the same books. We all think the same thoughts (even these thoughts, right now, that I’m typing.) We all buy our clothes from the same stores. We all feel. We all speak. We all see. We aren’t unique. We aren’t special. We are average. That hurts.

But I wonder, did it hurt my grandfather? Did he ever sit alone after the party. Sad about being the same as everybody else. Sad about his life having no meaning.

I doubt it. My grandfather’s generation fought in two World Wars. They went off to a foreign country, barely adults, and they shot other humans, who were also barely adults. But they never thought about it. Never wondered “what does this all mean?” They just thought about their family. Their love back home. Their luck to be alive. Nowadays it’s almost as if we’re unlucky to be alive.

However my grand parents were sold a different dream. They weren’t special. They weren’t unique. They were simply told that if they worked hard, they could have a family, they could have their own home, they could have a dog. They could be happily the same as everybody else, and if they were lucky they’d have enough money at the end of the year to buy a full turkey for Christmas. And they were happy enough. Not truly happy. But happy enough. With their existence, with their lives, with what they had. They knew that true, complete happiness was an impossible dream, that happy enough was the best they could hope for. They were happy with happy enough.

So where did it all go wrong? Well, personally, I blame The Beatles. I love The Beatles. They’re one of my favourite bands. But we really should have smelt trouble when they stopped singing about holding hands, and started singing about LSD.

The 60s were amazing, right? The world started to become more liberal (and never stopped!). Everybody started to become open minded. We suddenly decided that people should have equal rights. That everybody should have a chance. We decided that everybody, everywhere, could be a great person. Even you. Yes, you! Right there, you! Sure you’ve been born into poverty. Sure you’ve got no education. Sure you’ve only got the skills to dig ditches for a living. But even you could change the world! You could be great!

Once people believe they’re unique, they start to believe their life has meaning. Which leads to a horrible, horrible discovery when they realise it’s meaningless. Religion used to solve the problem. Sure, we have no meaning now, but we’ll have meaning later! But even those damn liberals have stolen religion from us and replaced it with the worst thing possible. Choice.

You can choose. You can do anything you like with your life. You have a choice. So much choice. So so soooo much choice. Choice is great. Choice means we’re free. But. (Oh, shit, there’s a but!?) You must choose wisely, you must make the right choice. God no longer exists, heaven doesn’t await us. This is it. This is your life. You have only got one shot. One choice. So make it the right choice. But make it now dammit! Time is running out!

That’s a lot of pressure. Your whole life is brought down to a choice. Which you must make. Around about now. Around about 25.

I don’t know what choice to make though. There are so many choices, and so much pressure to choose, that I can’t choose. I’m like a deer standing in the road, paralysed by the light of a car coming towards me. Behind the wheel is life. Grinning madly. Happy to run me over.

What if I make the wrong choice? What if I screw up? What if I fail to be that great person the world has told me I will be? What if? What if? What if?

There are so many what ifs that in the end, I make no choice. I don’t become a great person. I don’t change the world. I realise I’m not unique. I realise my life has no meaning. I realise I am average.

I sit alone. After the party. Thinking these things. Realising I was sold a lie in childhood, that I’m now paying for in adulthood. Searching for a solution. Searching for a choice.

But as I sit there, I start get bored. Bored of thinking. About everything.

So I turn the TV on. I open a bag of tortillas. I eat.

I start to go on with life. Forgetting all about that choice

Forgetting, that no choice is the worst choice of all.

—————–

Photo is Progressione II by Iguanajo

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16 thoughts on “The Annual Existential Crisis (Birthday)”

  1. I hear you, on all of this. Most twenty-somethings, I think, experience some sort of quarter-life crisis because we’re all so overwhelmed by choices. We feel like we have to go out into the world and be fantastic, when that’s unrealistic. So I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that I’m not really as special to everyone as my grandma thinks I am. But I am still pretty damn special to her, so that’s lovely with me.

    I used to think there were right and wrong choices, but now I just think there are a bunch of random choices and you just have to choose what will make you happy. Sometimes you don’t know what will make you happy until you make a decision that makes you unhappy. (“Oh, balls, I really hate adding numbers! Guess I shouldn’t be an accountant. Time to find something more fun.”) I don’t ever really think a choice can doom us, unless we choose to jump off a cliff or something (but if this choice is in your repertoire, let me save you some grief and just let you know, as an outsider, that’s a pretty shitty choice, so don’t do it).

    Instead of worrying about if I’m doing things right, I just do things that are fun. Okay, that’s sort of a lie, because I still do laundry and I pay bills and I clean the kitchen. But OTHER THAN THAT, I draw and write and read and play video games and bake cookies and exercise and watch movies and listen to Lady Gaga, all because it’s fun (to me) and I don’t really have much else aside from the life I’m living right now and if that life isn’t fun, then I’m entirely not interested in it.

    So I think people just have to find what feels right for them and go with that and not worry about the plans that others or the world has in store for them. The world is judgmental and we should punch it in the face. The end.

    (P.S. I wrote this comment in Microsoft Word; it does not recognize “shitty” as a real word. It should really improve its vocabulary.)

    1. I’m not sure where I stand on the whole choice thing, despite what I just wrote (often I write things I’ve not really come to proper conclusions about.)

      There is an illusion of choice I feel. You use the example of numbers and accountancy. I think it’s quite easy to see a person going into accountancy, realising it makes them unhappy, then continuing to be an accountant anyway because they find it hard to leave that behind.

      Isn’t choice a very middle class / western thing anyway? We can afford to make choices, others are not so lucky. I’d say the whole quarter-life crisis thing is a middle class thing too. We have too much time to think about our existence because we barely actually exist. We don’t experience life in the same way as maybe…an African hunter-gather does?

      Anyway, this topic is something I could easily write a shit load about. I could write a book about this stuff. Maybe one day I will!

  2. I blame postmodernism.

    Perhaps the problem is that our generation now have TOO many choices? It’s overwhelming! The bread aisle is a perfect example of having too many choices. (At least in the States. White? Wheat? Honey wheat? Fiber or no fiber? Whole grain? Name brand? Generic brand? Ahhh!!!!!!)

    I haven’t even hit 25, but I am facing the “Pre-Quarter-Life-Crisis.” I have just graduated with a degree in a field I don’t want to pursue. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. One day it’s to be a doctor, then a writer, and then a rock star. So many damn choices. But then again, I feel like I am not ready to settle down into a career. I’m 22! I’m young! Time to live it up! (That’s another problem. We are pushing things back: career, marriage, etc.)

    I wouldn’t blame The Beatles, either. I blame the “American Dream” that has been etched into our minds (perhaps it’s called the “England Dream” for you?), despite if one has “been born into poverty…has no education….has only got the skills to dig ditches for a living.” They could be great!

    I must end this with George Carlin: (You butter watch)

    1. I don’t think you need to be 25 to have the quarter-life crisis! It just happens in the time before you hit proper adulthood? (Or something!) Maybe part of the problem is that adulthood never seems to arrive nowadays, we just stay children forever.

      When you’re young you convince yourself that adults are completely different from you in every way. But as you grow up you just realise they’re pretty much the same! It’s a scary thought.

      You’ve showed me that Carlin before! Or maybe it was my other Carlin loving friend! Either way, I’ve seen that shit before. 😛

  3. Wow, you have echoed my general feelings entirely in this rant, I am 26 so I am past the quarter, but I’ve got to the stage where I just decided age means fuck all. We are programmed and schooled into thinking we should have so much done and achieved by certain ages, school, college, (uni) job career, family, etc etc.
    I say forget living up to expectations. Just live in the moment. I know its a cliché, but it COULD all end tomorrow for any of us so is it worth worrying about what we’ve done or what we are going to do?
    Since Jamie linked George Carlin, i will link another genius, with another very apt speech…
    It’s just a ride!

    1. Good clip!

      We’re definitely programmed to believe we should achieve certain things by certain ages. I always think about Wayne Rooney (the footballer.) He’s younger than I am and has achieved more than I probably ever will in my entire life. Of course, most of what he’s achieved is pretty meaningless, but he’s still achieved something.

      But can he write a good blog post? Probably not…

  4. You should probably know (you should have already known) that, just by writing this, you aren’t average; you are extraordinary. And not just because you can put two sentences together without an acronym or squiggly red line (someone told me that it’s not just Americans who use Microsoft Word), but because you can introspect. I’m quite fond of you, Dan B.

    🙂

    1. My ears are burning.

      Anyway, I hate to disappoint you, but I’m a rather big fan of the squiggly red line. I’ve got a Mac though so it pops up everywhere, not just in MS Word. :-O There are just some words that even a genius like me can’t spell!

  5. Yeah, I hear you. I guess you never really feel like you’ve accomplished as much as you can. All very “Fight Club”.

    I’m 30, am married to a beautiful woman, have an engineering degree and good job, but I still sometimes feel like I should have done more with my life by now. I guess if we keep comparing ourselves to the Bill Gates and Zuckerbergs (sp?) of the world it can be hard.

    And btw, the people that fought two world wars did leave us with Social Security and a huge national debt. They’re not perfect either.

    Nice writing, btw. At least you’ve got that going for you!

  6. I’m having a quarter life crisis at 23…It’s definitely a realization that “wait a minute…i’m not going to be rich and famous and succeed in whatever I do and LOVE my job?”

    It’s a struggle, but I think writing about it makes you stand out and be different and have a purpose.

  7. At the grand old age of 45, I can reflect on what it was like to be 25.

    I think there is too much pressure on young people to have everything in place by the age of 25. Neuroscience now tells us that you can’t have it all together by that age. We also know that many people will have 2 to 3 career changes during their working life.

    I believe that life starts at 30. What frequently develops after this age is the capacity to reflect. For many people their childhood was less than ideal, and it takes time and experience to sort out all that stuff.

    I have done so much more in the last 15 years than I did in the previous 30. I now know who I am, what I want to achieve, and how to achieve it. I am content, tired but content.

    Now with 3 boys of my own, there is no way I am going to tell them that they have to have everything in place by a certain age. I don’t subscribe to the “you’ll ruin your life, if you don’t get/have/do (insert appropriate achievement here) while you’re young”. It forces kids to make hasty decisions.

    My best advice? It’s an oldy but a goody – follow your heart. There may still be disappointment or regret along the way with this method, but at the least you can say that you made the right decision at the time and given the same circumstances you would do it again.

    Best Wishes

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