Sometimes, when I’m bored or feeling itchy, I like to go back through old journals and see what I was doing a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. As it turns out, it was almost exactly three years ago that I kinda-maybe-sorta set off a quarter-life landslide among my friends when I sent out the following email:
i’m sick of being worried and anxious and weird. i want to stop worrying about stuff and have fun, but it’s hard to help it cos we’re all supposed to have careers and social lives and husbands and casual sex and houses and travel and children and freedom and hobbies and interests and health and exercise, and we’re supposed to have all of it simultaneously and with good makeup and no body hair, by the age of 35.
it’s actually not fair on anyone, all the stuff that is expected of us. we are all still so young and have so much left to live and do, and i think we all sometimes think we’re approaching a wall and our choices are going to end at 30. which is just completely untrue. we put this pressure on each other too, and get too preoccupied with what we don’t have. i know i get jealous sometimes of how sorted out and settled many of you are, and those who are settled probably get jealous that those who aren’t can buy frivolous things and travel on a whim. and of course i’m sure everyone is jealous of my superpowers and magic spells, and honestly i don’t blame any of you for that.
society and peer pressure say if you buy a house you should have travelled, if you travel you should have bought a house… if you have kids you’re letting your career down, if you don’t you’re faulty as a woman. if you work with kids you’re a bad mother, if you don’t work you’re lazy and oppressed. if you have a husband you should have got laid more, if you get laid you’re a slut, if you’re single you’re just faulty. if you’re successful you’re not feminine, if you’re not successful then you’re lazy… if you work overtime you have no life, if you don’t you have no work ethic…
none of this makes any sense! we only get one life and one chance to live it, and we’re so busy trying to have everything, we’re not enjoying what we have, or even realising that we can’t live up to all this crap that’s spouted at us.
i think we all need a wake up call that life is for living and if we’re so busy trying to have everything that we don’t enjoy what we have, we’re going to waste it. it’s IMPOSSIBLE to do all the things that are expected of us, especially i think as women. whichever way you play it, society will tell you you’re doing it wrong, or not enough, or shouldn’t do it.
i honestly feel this huge weight on me from every angle that i should have a career, but i should also have travelled, and be finding a husband and preparing for babies, but simultaneously working harder and making more money, and i should pick up a hobby and go to the gym more and lose weight and dress better and go out more and get more sleep… it’s never ending and it’s INSANE!
and it makes me miserable. i can’t enjoy anything properly at the moment cos i feel like i’m not doing anything right and if i don’t do all the things i should, i’ll never be happy. when actually, it’s feeling like you have to do all those things that MAKES you unhappy. and i think we’re all competing so hard to get somewhere (where exactly? i have no idea, but i’m trying pretty hard to go there anyway!) we forget to talk to our friends about it, and to take the time to appreciate each other and realise that friends and family are the most important things we will ever have.
who was the bastard who said your 20s were easy? cos i’m going to punch him in the nose.
[Poor grammar left intact for authenticity, although I did fix my spelling mistakes.]
That was some good advice, past-Katie! I’m glad I took it then, and know enough to remind myself of it now.
In the three years since, the recipients of that email went through:
- 3 divorces
- 2 breakups
- 3 engagements
- 3 overseas experiences
- 3 busted friendships
- 2 babies
- 6 career changes.
All these things would have happened anyway, but before I sent this email out I had no idea that my friends felt the same way I did. I felt like everyone was succeeding except me, and I was slowly drowning in their wake. I was too scared to leave Wellington and unable to see how I’d ever finish any original fiction. A lot of my friends, it turned out, were stuck in relationships they’d outgrown or careers they no longer wanted, but no one felt like it was okay to say so — or to try and change it. We were doing what we were supposed to be doing — getting married, getting promoted. Drinking better wine, buying nicer cars. All of us, it turned out, felt like we were stuck on a conveyor belt we couldn’t slow down.
From this email, we formed what we called the Quarter-Life Crisis Forum — a group of girls who could meet for dinner and talk about their lives. A year later I was living in Canada, and a year after that I was planning my second novel. It’s still a work in progress (which is sort of the point, right?) but I think we’re all in way better places now than we were three years ago. I know I am.
Thanks, ladies. I couldn’t have done it without you.