When the “right” thing is actually the worst.
For the first twenty-five years of my life, I was a goal-setting, box-checking freak. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s important to note. My first clear memory of this is at age 11 in the fifth grade, I wrote an essay and won a contest to be the Principal for the day. I did that not for the joy of false authority, to skip the lunch line, or to have the honor of doing the morning announcements for the whole school to hear (although that was pretty dope.) No, I wanted to win that contest because I assumed it would be a great addition to a resume that I hadn’t yet written. It was the “right” thing to do.
As soon as I got to middle school I eagerly filled out the application to run for Student Council, and had my mom gather all necessary supplies to make as many posters as each candidate was allowed to post (FYI - never put your picture on a poster, especially in middle school.) I won that election, as well as the next two, becoming Vice President in seventh grade and then President of not just Student Council, but the National Junior Honor Society in eighth grade (they made me choose just one, which I’m still indignant about to this day.) Again, did I do this for the honor of representing my fellow adolescents? The thrill of planning the school dances? No. I did this because I assumed it would look good on my resume, and because, you guessed it, it was the “right” thing to do.
One might assume that as a teenager this over-achieving behavior would wane as my interest in boys, driving, and illegally downloading music (RIPLimewire) grew, but one would be incorrect. If anything, my insatiable need for accolades increased as the days until college applications were due decreased. During one year of high school, I was an active member of eight extracurricular activities at once… eight. And I wasn’t a passive member, I was President, Editor, and Captain, in addition to being in the International Baccalaureate Program, dating, and having a part-time job as an “SPG” (Smiley People Greeter - you can’t make this shit up) at TGI Friday’s.
It was all about how impressive I could look to someone or someones who I didn’t even know, all with the hope of getting out of my hometown of 15,000 people as quickly as possible and proving to anyone who would pay attention that I was going places.
And I did go places. I got a full scholarship and then some to attend the University of Florida (go Gators!) during the glory years of Tim Tebow, where I graduated Magna Cum Laude while (surprise surprise) being over-involved in extracurriculars while holding down a nearly full-time job at The Swamp Restaurant, and having an internship. My resume was getting STACKED.
I did the “right” thing and spent my entire final semester of undergrad working a 40-hour per week, unpaid internship at the Tampa Convention Center, because I had made up my mind that I was going to get a job as an Event Manager there after graduation. I forwent my last four months of college because I thought it would ensure that I’d get the job I wanted, because why wouldn’t it? I busted my ass that last semester, managing over 40 events on my own, eventually being asked by the Director of the Convention Center to remove “intern” from my name tag since they didn’t want clients to be upset that I was running their massive events solo. A compliment in disguise, I thought. Worth it, toooootally worth it.
Side note: I graduated college in May 2007. Raise your hand if you remember this little thing called “The Great Recession”… and this is where my life got flip-turned upside down.
Long story longer: I did not get the job. Turns out government entities are some of the first to cut positions, and although they loved me, there was no job to be had. I ended up working at a student loan consolidation company (oof) as a Workforce Administrator (double oof) where I typically completed my work within the first 45 minutes each day, and was told by my boss that I should just play the games on my computer to pass the time (FYI - no version of Solitaire can pass 7+ hours.) Not to worry, that company went under just six months later due to tax evasion. Oh! A fun story element to note: I bought a house three months into working at that company, because, again, it was the “right” thing to do. Ever seen the movie “The Big Short”? Yeah.
Hey, no big deal! I couldn’t control the economy, but I could control my personal life. Less than a year after graduation I married my boyfriend of 6 years, because… do I have to say it? It was the “right” thing to do as a newly-minted adult. (It should be illegal for anyone under the age of 30 to get married, in all 50 states… and maybe the world.)
A couple of years go by, and there I sat at the age of 25, with a husband, a home, a job that was significantly better than the first one (hallelujah), and a resume like you wouldn’t believe. Success! Right? Success? No? Well shit.
I’m now clearly able to identify what happened next as a “Quarter Life Crisis”, but at the time I assure you it felt very unique to me and my experience. I can’t say for sure when it happened, but all I know is that one day I woke up, and no longer wanted any of it. The husband, the home, the job, and that stupid, useless resume.
Despite my best efforts to do everything “right”, impress as many people as I could with a sick resume, check all those boxes, cross off every goal, etc. etc., I was… unhappy. Unsatisfied. Unfulfilled. Unexcited about everything I had accomplished and anything to come.
So I quit. All of it.
The years and years of living my life for some unknown jury and leaping from one goal to the next without ever stopping to appreciate the journey or even the successes had finally taken its toll. I assume this is what most psychologists would call a mental breakdown, considering I went from the Type-A-ist of all the Type A’s to behaving like a 20-year-old on Spring Break who’s practically daring people to tell her not to do something. I’ll save my recap of 2010 for a different post, but I assure you it’ll be a hell of a lot more entertaining than this one (shout out to South Tampaaaa.) Let’s just say it culminated in me deciding to move across the country to LA at the suggestion of a tarot card reader (which actually, is still the best decision I’ve ever made.)
It may have taken me a Quarter Life Crisis and mental breakdown, but I finally came to realize:
A) There’s no point in having goals if they’re all for other people, especially when you don’t even know who those people are.
B) If you’re always rushing from one achievement to the next without looking around and enjoying the process, you’ll forever be chasing something and never actually arrive.
C) This isn’t a race. Everyone’s journeys are unique, and we’re not all sprinting toward the same finish line. Take your time, keep checking in with yourself to make sure what you’re going after is still something you want, and notice the million tiny moments along the way (hint - that’s where the happiness is!)
D. It’s okay to quit things - it means you tried something! You’re not a failure if you come to find out that something you thought you wanted isn’t actually right for you. Had I not quit my life at 25, I wouldn’t have the life that I have today, which is SO much better suited for me and brings me a level of happiness that I didn’t know was attainable.
Whether you’re currently in high school psychotically filling up your resume, graduating from college feeling lost and confused, a twenty-something suffering from your own Quarter Life Crisis, or just a normal human being who can’t help but feel like things aren’t working out the way you planned, I urge you to do me a favor:
Chill. The. Fuck. Out.
Nothing’s forever, good or bad, so relax, enjoy the ride, and do things that make sense for you that bring you happiness. Past Baily could have reeeeeally used that advice, but honestly I wouldn’t have listened anyway. Just ask my mom.