A Q U A R T E R O F A C E N T U R Y
Last week I turned twenty-five.
Do I look twenty-five? Is this what twenty-five looks like?
To my child’s mind, twenty-five was a big number. An adult number. Not a still cutting your own hair and having ice cream for dinner kind-of-number.
Whether realistic or not, I think I expected to feel a bit more settled or established by this point. Perhaps with a home of my own (whether rented or mortgaged), a car that wasn’t too rundown, a “proper” job that made my parents proud and perhaps something resembling a skincare routine. Instead, everything feels a bit in-between; neither here nor there. I almost always feel that I should probably have more to show for myself than I currently do. Perhaps this is down to perfectionist tendencies, but a very deep and genuine fear I hold is that my single, sacred time on earth is passing me by and I am not living it to the extent that I should. I’m afraid that right now I might be missing some magnificent possibility.
For my birthday, we spent the day at Trelissick House and Gardens. As always when out for the day, my camera swung from my neck or off my shoulder. And I captured, as I always try to, so many of the small things; the easily forgettable details (and a not so forgettable birthday cake) that build the memory of a day. And this is something I find great pleasure in. I find it evermore difficult to go on days out or to particularly beautiful places without my camera. And it makes me question myself; do I find an intrinsic enjoyment in photography, documentation and story-telling? Or is my enjoyment found in a feeling of mild accomplishment? Of having something to show for my time, my day, myself?
Since graduating three years ago (circa July 2014) there have been many moments where sat on the sofa, wine in hand, on a Friday night, I have considered myself to be having something akin to a quarter-life crisis. Pervasively feeling like time is passing me by at a dangerous speed. That I’m not certain what I’m meant to be doing with my life; where it is I want to be. Let alone how best I dedicate my time, energy and resources to get there. But if I don’t realise it soon, it isn’t going to happen. The question of “where is it I want to be” is almost always gnawing on the back of my mind. At 30, at 40, at 50? I’ve heard it said that your twenties are about becoming, but what exactly is it I’m trying to become?
Growing up, I thrived in the education system. At the end of each year I felt like I had something substantial and quantifiable to show for myself; certificates, exam results, proof my hard work was paying off. I grew up with parents who worked as professionals; high-achievers who raised my sister and I to be high-achievers ourselves. Yet it feels impossible to follow their route into the world of work. Or onto the property ladder for that matter! Now untethered from school and the home of my childhood, I feel almost uncomfortably free. Figuring out my own path as I freefall; somewhat paralysed, amidst the overwhelmingly limitless possibilities.
It seems instead, when it comes to my generation entering the workplace, we hear a lot about hustling and having side projects. We can expect to work for free doing what we love, before someone will pay us to do what we love. And maybe that’s the clincher. What is it we love? What work is it we want to dedicate our lives to? What is it exactly we find fulfilling or meaningful? I cant speak for us all, but on the whole, I think we see work satisfaction as more important than salary, status or climbing any career ladder.
In my twenty-five trips around the sun, I’ve (maybe, just about) figured out a few things. Particularly with regard to finding meaning or purpose or at least purposeful work…
Firstly know what you believe. Write down your values, your principles, your core beliefs. What are your personal philosophies? Your work needs to be aligned with this; with what authentically overflows from you. Work won’t be fulfilling or meaningful if you find little value in it; if you don’t believe in it.
Next look at your gifts, talents and particular areas of interest or curiousity. Again write these things down. What are you naturally drawn to? What is it you do in your downtime when no one is watching? What do you not need to be asked to do? Don’t worry if these things aren’t established or recognised professions, write them down all the same.
Fear skews our judgement, so for just a while suspend your thoughts regarding money. Forget about paying bills for just a few moments and really study your subtleties, however far-fetched, unrelatable and niche they may seem. Then with these lists in hand, look at the needs in the world. Look for the places of overlap, where your aptitudes intersect with real-world needs.
Finally, I feel I should slip in some kind of disclaimer here, that this stuff takes time. It would be completely normal if you needed years to think this through. And that after your life changed course a few years down the line, you’d need to think it through again. Personally, I’m reflecting on this stuff every day and still don’t feel like I’ve got it down to a T just yet. But I’m getting there. Maybe by twenty-six.
“Every man has a vocation to be someone: but he must understand clearly that in order to fulfil this vocation he can only be one person: himself”- Thomas Merton