What to Do When You're Having an Existential Crisis
I have no idea what I'm doing with my life! And worse, I don't know what I even WANT to do with my life. I don't know what I'm doing next week, or next year, and it's making it hard for me to make any decisions. I'm just stuck with an overwhelming feeling that the wrong move could ruin everything.
Take comfort in the fact that no one—seriously, no one—knows what they’re doing with their lives. No one can predict what’s next, except maybe Susan Miller, but even she can’t see the entire future of the whole wide world. And if someone insists that they do indeed know exactly what they’re doing today, next week, and/or in five years, understand that carefully mapping your life out, minute by minute, will only leave your full potential unrealized. Things are too unpredictable to earnestly follow a path you imagined for yourself when you were 15 years old. Your interests, aspirations, and priorities are constantly evolving. This is a good thing! It's also a confusing thing.
All of this means that it’s up to you to figure it out, at your own pace. Whether it’s deciding where to go to college or which career to pursue, you’ll never know what makes sense for you until you explore your choices. Visit a bunch of schools and do your research; meet with everyone who’s working in an industry you might be interested in; and, most importantly, keep in mind that the world is changing (fast!) and so these will too. Your dream job right now might not be the dream job you have five years from now—take Snapchat, which didn’t even exist a few years ago and now staffs hundreds of people.
It’s easy to become crippled by choice, because, well, there are a lot of choices. And the longer you live, the more choices you'll have to make. But rather than succumbing to the paralyzing fear, take tiny steps toward a particular path and be confident that even if it’s not the path for you, at least you’ll learn what you love (or don’t) in the process. That’s the thing: Life is a process. There's really no such thing as quitting; there's only switching gears.
As clinical psychologist and writer Meg Jay puts it in her book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now, “Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next.” She’s not talking about getting money, either. It’s about pursuing life experiences (traveling around the world, trying a weird hobby, blind-emailing people you wish you knew, or applying to a far-flung college) that can help you move in the right direction. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is almost always a good thing. The teenage and twenty-something existential crisis is a universal one—which is why there are so many good memes, books, and websites about it. But instead of scrolling through “F*** I’m In My Twenties” for an hour (as tempting as it may be), get out there and start exploring. You might find your passion, and you'll probably mess up a few times, but you definitely won't regret it.
Know what else you won't regret? Putting yourself out there and figuring it all out (failures along the way, included!). Trust us—we speak from lots of failure-riddled experience.