15 February, 2011

The Mid Twenties Crisis: When Your Best Friend's Turning 25....

"All the crazy shit I did tonight, those will be my best memories” – David Guetta

This weekend I’m going to be celebrating the 25th birthday of one of my very best friends in the whole wide world. And I am excited. Not just for the event itself, but because of the significance the occasion holds for me. Niall, said birthee, is someone who I have known from the very first day I left home and moved into my university flat, just a little innocent (ish) 19 year old, full of expectation and high hopes for my life. I’d seen the movies, I’d read the magazines, I knew how it was all going to pan out, and I was excited then too. Niall moved into the bedroom next to me in halls and that was the start of two unyielding friends beginning an incredible journey, one that continues today and will carry on for hopefully a long time to come.

Since that day in September 2005, Niall and I have been through more, done more, seen more, cried more (mainly on my part), laughed more (mainly on my part) and changed more than I ever could have imagined we could in 6 years. We’ve had birthdays and graduations, holidays good and bad, festivals in the rain and barbecues in the sun, we’ve travelled across Europe via train, tried unsuccessfully to get drunk under-age in New York and we’ve watched the sunset (slash narrowly avoided a Tsunami) on a perfect beach in Sri Lanka. We’ve seen each other reach the highest highs with new jobs, opportunities and relationships, and we’ve helped each through heart-wrenching lows, when sometimes life has thrown a bullet. We’ve learnt to treasure our lives as we’ve sadly known two friends pass away and we’ve at times had to remind each other how lucky and blessed we are to have all the opportunities that we do.

So next weekend feels big to me, Niall’s big 2-5, because I look back at everything we’ve been through since we were young(er) and fearless, with all the other friends who have passed through our lives in that time, and I realise how exactly nothing today is as I expected it would be back on that day we first met. And for the past few weeks I haven’t been able to help wondering if the decisions I’ve made since spreading my wings have been the right ones, and I’ve often asked the resounding question “is my life as it should be?”. I have recently and reluctantly come to know of this time in my life as The Mid-Twenties Crisis (MTC), the Quarter Life Panic, the Half Way to Thirty (well, fifty) state of SHEER ALARM.

“To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid”

My 25th birthday will follow Niall’s in a few months time, and I have to admit I’m finding it daunting. At nearly-25 do I feel like I have done everything right or have I missed opportunities? Should I feel more like an “actual grown-up” than I do? Should I still need my parents as much as I do? Should I have seen more of the world? Should I stop reaching for my dreams and compromise with reality? The ‘25’ land mark has for me drummed up so many questions, a hint of regret, doubt, wonderment and a heart load of fear.

Interestingly, approximately 99%* of my friends who are my age have voiced to me the exact same thoughts over the past few months. I’ve friends doubting their career choices, their relationships, their decision to travel, the fact that they remain living with their parents, their plans for the future, their plan to not have a plan, their ever-changing friendships and even their hair colour. “Am I doing it right though Han? Are you SURE I wasn’t better blonde? Or mahogany?!” I’ve friends abroad wondering if they should move back to England. I have friends wondering if they should be travelling “while we still can!” Because apparently at 25 you just STOP LIVING.

Christ. It’s like the quarter-life crisis tidal wave is sweeping its way across my contemporaries and we’re powerless to avoid it. The irony is, all of us are doing such diverse things and are at such different places in our lives, yet none of us feel 100% sure we’re where we “should” be. And those who are so sure – when did you get so cocky?

“Without parents to defy, we break the rules we make for ourselves” – Meredith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)

I blame the crisis on the lack of “should” ness about being 24, 25, 26…Up until around the time we leave university, our society generally gives us a really strong sense of what we “should” be doing. At 16 we “should” be studying for our GCSE’s, at 17 we “should” be taking A-Levels or pursuing a vocation at college, at 18 we “should” be fleeing off to university or starting our first job. Obviously the “shoulds” of your life depend largely on your up-bringing, heritage and culture, but for me and most of my friends we took the university ticket (and what an expensive night that was) and had 3 whole years to fester in our own alcohol sweat until kicking out time. We’re turfed out all too soon from student universe, bearing still no understanding of real life and a massive stamp of expectation, we realise we “should” get a job or go travelling and we most likely did one or the other, or both. 

Now here we find ourselves, mid-20’s, having done all that we percieve we “should” and wondering…what next? What should we do now? Hello…? Is anyone there…? Muuuummmm….! Daaaaaad...! But unfortunately, although they may still have ultimate control over the biscuit tin, our parents no longer have the answer for us.

I have realised during my few weeks as a sufferer of the MTC, that there definitly is no “should” anymore and there's definitly no limits. For, at 24, I have friends who are married, I have friends who couldn’t think of anything worse, I have friends who are still travelling like hobos, I have friends who are quickly and successfully hitting goals in their careers, I have friends who have moved literally to the other side of the world and I have friends who haven’t left their childhood bedroom. None of them are wrong, because the mid-twenties are the limbo years. The world is at our feet, we only take on as much or as little responsibility as we like and we know that every choice we make now will drastically shape our future. This is why we’re all of a sudden running around our pens like headless chickens, trying to do everything, anything, to avoid the dreaded nothing. We’re like a school of sea-life frantically swimming upstream having suddenly lost out guiding light, the tide takes us off to different shores and we’re just not all in the same boat anymore. And that’s scary. Is it any wonder that we’re all of a sudden questioning everything?

“As we grow better, we meet better people” – Elbert Hubbard

For each of my friends who have expressed their own doubts and fears to me over the past few months, I have had a different but real answer. One friend has questioned if she should continue to live it up abroad, where she’s been for the past few years, as she feels maybe its time to join the “real world”. “What’s the 'real' world?” I ask her. “Surely you’re living your life there just the same as I’m living my life here, you’re just seeing more of the world as you do it. That’s real.” On the opposite end of the scale, another friend isn’t sure she should stay put in the hometown we grew up in, with the boyfriend she’s been with her whole adult life, in case there’s “more.” And I tell her she has everything, hat most people couldn't hope to have before they're 30, and she should just enjoy it.

I’m not lying to either of them, alhough they're such extremes, they are both doing what’s right, because there is no collective “should” for us now. And the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can stop panicking/panic-buying/over-committing/booking one way tickets around the world out of some kind of fear we’re not on the right track, forever running after something that actually has to come from inside.

For it isn’t where you are, what you’re doing or how much you earn that validates whether or not you’re going in the “right” direction. Anyone can sign a contract to live anywhere, anyone can within reason put their mind to any job (I am not for one second assuming I could be a neurosurgeon. I accept that I probably could not) and anyone can up sticks and go off around the world in search of completion, touching as many landmarks as they can along the way.

But I have realised from speaking to each of my friends (and sometimes to myself – more so since the MTC) that these aren’t the things that make our lives ‘successful’ or worth our own weight in gold. It is the people in our lives who are testament to how successful or happy we are. It is the people we meet along the way and their ability to support us, love us and validate our worth – they are what reflect the value of who we are. And I can’t help looking back on my life to date and feeling extremely proud of the amazing friends I have recruited along the way – a circle that grows and grows with each new move that I make (although there have been some painful filtering processes!) – and the wonderful relationships I have built with my family.

It is these things for me that show me who I am – I could be anywhere, doing anything, being anyone, but these are the people I will care about, come back to, call when something amazing happens and run to when the chips are down. So what if we haven’t a clue what we’re supposed to be doing from one day to the next year, right through until the day we die? We have a permanent home in the form of the brilliant people in our lives (if you’ve earnt it!) and that is what it’s all about (to answer Alfie’s resounding question.)

Happy Birthday Niall x

It is friends like Niall who make my life full, colourful and as valuable as I could ever have hoped it would be. We will continue to have different jobs, homes, relationships, trials, obstacles, successes and set-backs, but Niall and my other good friends, along with my family, will remain a constant. So (mid-twenties crisis permitting) I will be buying Niall a drink on his 25th birthday, wishing with all my heart for him to have a happy day and wondering where we’ll be in another 6 years. And I am so, so excited for the journey ahead. Hopefully my experiences have made me better equipped than I was back on that scary, exciting day aged 19. But if I’m not? Bring it on, I will no doubt give life one hell of a challenge in return and with any luck I will have a mid-life crisis to write home about.

So stop having that crisis my mid-twenties friends! Go out there and be who you are and do the things that make you happy every day, forget about “should”. I’ve healed you in one blog post.

*made up statistic