It’s no secret that today’s 20 something’s face a social reality more shocking than an episode of Geordie Shore. In fact, in my opinion, the conundrum encountered by this age group is enough to create an entire generation of borderline schizophrenics. I feel like one of them. We live in the limbo between the giant pressure cooker that claims to be ‘real life’ and the online, fancy version which is susceptible to making yourself (and of course others) both paranoid and jealous.
A Quarter Life Crisis is a genuine and frightening phenomenon. It must be, there’s a whole website and a bunch of self-help books out there. There also seems to be a common consensus that this generation has it worse than former ones. Excellent news. It’s very encouraging to hear that the most daunting and challenging years between 20 and now 30 are even worse than they were before. Even my dear mother, faced with an unwashed and frantically pacing daughter, cut out a newspaper article on the subject and felt the need to present it to me at dinner. I know it was an attempt to make me feel better but I just reacted in my usual dramatic way and asked why she was implying my breakdown was just like everyone else’s? Wasn’t it just me that felt this way? How many other recent graduates felt as if their lives were already teetering over the edge of despair? See, I told you; I’m dramatic. The odds are that if you fit the age bracket and the constant pressure and expectation hasn’t got to you yet it probably will at some point soon. Buenos Suerte.
This first entry is an account of my own mental pile up and how it led to my life rummaging around on beaches in Central America making things out of driftwood and pretty shells. Driftwood is a good descriptive term for many people in this generation. I drifted into this little beach town in Costa Rica just as the many others have drifted through the first quarter of their lives, ready and waiting to wash up and see what happens.
So the lowdown on my life before I started pretending to be a beached mermaid? I was a recent law graduate from a prestigious University in the North of England. I then worked as a Paralegal for 10 months, which I know was lucky as many people never even get that far straight off the back of their undergraduate law degree. However, for me, the process of becoming a lawyer in England was like slowly pulling each individual hair out of my head and assigning it over to someone who might want to make it into a wig someday. It’s long, painful and expensive.
I know that if you truly want something then pain and competition shouldn’t put you off. I guess it should drive you, but there is no way I can say that I was even remotely passionate about sitting in the same office seat for 60 hours a week. Forcing information into my brain that just did not interest or stimulate me. Working in the law firm made me the most paranoid I have ever been. I was miserable. I did anything and everything to distract myself and I worried obsessively that I wasn’t good enough.
My peers at University were (and still are) exceptional, driven people who are so intelligent I often felt l like a rigid sack of potatoes when sat in lectures with them. Many of my friends will go far, many of them are already the most successful people I know. But for me, I always felt like a bit of an oddball, a bit lacking somewhere along the line. I once had a seminar where we were asked ‘what do you want to be in the future?’ The replies from the others were exactly what you would expect a group of highly intelligent practising lawyers to say: ‘I’m interested in Corporate law”I want to be in politics’ ‘I want to be a top Barrister’ ‘a Judge’. However, my reply was a little more unorthodox… ‘I want to live in a house by the sea and grow my own vegetables.’
Yes, you can just imagine the faces. Paying thousands and thousands of pounds for my education and I’d said that. I know now that I said it because I had no idea. I was terrified. I loved my degree, filling my brain with that sawdust of knowledge and experience. I did well in my exams, was annoyingly into extra-curricular activities and I still managed to rave. I knew I wasn’t going to fail by any means, but I didn’t actually have any clue what to do with myself.
And anyway, everything ‘sensible’ thing I applied to do in law rejected me from doing it and anything that seemed like a fun thing to do appeared to harm my future as a serious lawyer. How could I justify travelling? Doing a season? I needed to work, be successful. Buy shit.
In part, Facebook is to blame to my QLC. Those of us that have an addiction to it, which let’s face it, seems to be the majority of the world, know that the more you use it the worse it gets. Every day some online friend gets married, buys a house or a dog, meets a famous person, goes to an exclusive gig or, the worst in my opinion, travels to somewhere incredible. The real twist of the knife is if they have pictures of themselves surfing in water temperatures above 15 degrees. That really breaks my heart.
Cut to me after an awful day at work combined with my third training contract rejection of the week. I scrolled through my timeline to see two facebook friends smiling from Bali. Mascara dripping down my face, wine in hand, I stared at a flight on Sky Scanner. I just did it. I booked a flight and I downed my wine.
It makes me laugh now to think that the bravest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point was to book a one-way ticket to Mexico. Why? I have done so many things since; jumped off bridges, volcano boarding, caving, surfing in an area home to crocodiles, fallen in love in paradise, riding horses through the jungle. Hell, I lived and worked in one of the most dangerous countries in the world (El Salvador has the most homicides of any country not at war – please go though!! The people have the strongest will for their country to overcome this, the land is beautiful) I guess what I am saying is: life cannot be experienced until you get out of your comfort zone and stop worrying about where you will end up. Try something a little different.
I’d been travelling since May 2014 throughout all of Central America and I came to the rather scary decision to settle for a while in Costa Rica, in a small but wonderful town called Samara. Lonely Planet describes this place as ‘The Black Hole of Happiness’ and I can attest to that. I was not shy about showing off my new home to the online world.
I lived in a town with no more than 3,000 people. Mainly local Costa Ricans lived there but there were Europeans and Americans too. I think the reason I loved it so much was that I was one of only 3 British people not just passing through. On the Central American surf loop it’s hard to find a spot that’s not overrun with a) gap yah kids b) Australians/North Americans who are far too good at surfing c) locals who are far too good at surfing who don’t want to kill you whilst you attempt to get better at surfing. Samara had bad waves on the main strip but better, secret spots just 15 minutes cycle away. Nothing huge but consistent and there was often no-one in the lineup. I knew I had found my paradise. Where I could surf and think and get away from the pressure cooker.
People from home posted that they missed me and they wanted my life. My life? Sure, it was beautiful but my life felt no more real than it was before. I was just happier and knew how to relax. So when you’re happy I guess that’s how life plays out on the internet; it almost appears unattainable regardless if other people are also doing cool shit.
Millions of people have all seen the YouTube Clip of the Alan Watts’ ‘What if Money Didn’t Matter’. It’s inspiring. However, most humans cannot help but worry. All I know is, once you stop thinking about money or career success, come to think of it anything that worries you, it’s like a weight has been lifted.
Survive your quarter life crisis by embracing it. It will work out.
In May 2014 I travelled to Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica. In total, I didn’t return to the UK for over a year. As my mum will certainly tell you: I was not supposed to be away that long.
I learnt another language, lived in a beach shack with no roof, got barrelled and caught Dengue fever. I also volunteered countless hours of my time to help some amazing causes. To say the experience was unforgettable would be an understatement.
Here are a few snaps along the way.