I survived! 11 Life lessons learned during a quarter-life crisis

I’m turning 27 in a few days and, I’ll be honest, I think I went through this crisis nearly all 20-somethings are going through, have survived, or are just about to start.

I didn’t realize it, but a few months after I turned 25 I started to experience symptoms now labeled as the “Quarter-Life Crisis” which are secretly or not-so-secretly devouring the souls of 20-somethings across the country. This enigma is now plastered all over the internet (on Huffington Post, there are 26,900 posts tagged “quarter-life crisis” alone!), but when I was starting to experience it, I hadn’t a clue others were going through the same thing.

I don’t know why exactly it is happening, but it is, and hey, so be it.

Regardless, at 25, all I knew was that I was unhappy and I was searching for something more, something greater than what I was experiencing… My job was good, my friends were good, my income was good… Life. was. good. But, I just couldn’t shake the desire to rip my hair out and run free, starting with quitting my job and moving to the jungle 🙂

Just days after I turned 26, I did just that.

However, I didn’t do it recklessly — I’d spent months saving and selling my things, weaning my body off prescription drugs, going to therapy, and tying up loose ends and breaking up with my boyfriend (a couple times). I was doing what any responsible, young professional would do while secretly FREAKING THE FUCK OUT.  I was scared — I didn’t know really why I was doing what I was doing, but I knew I had to do something. I seemed calm and collected enough, and could very eloquently tell you why this was a good decision for my future (“learning natural ways of caring for cows and taking care of jungle plants will look great on my design resume!” yeah…).

Despite having a semblance of a “plan” (Costa Rican permaculture farm where I would blog about learning to be a “good person”, about figuring out my purpose and how to take care of myself and the environment better, followed by a move to the Pacific Northwest where I would surround myself with “good people” and get to work on living my purpose), I really had no clue what was waiting for me.

Regardless, in the middle of my crisis, I took off.

Over the past year, this 27th year of my life, I lived in the Costa Rican jungle and worked on the farm (where I did surround myself with “good people”, and I did kind-of-sorta figure out my purpose and how to take care of myself and the environment better), but then I changed course and traveled to Nicaragua and Guatemala and dove into yoga and spirituality, and then (long story short), I came back to Michigan, moved to the ever-hip Royal Oak for a month and nannied for a rich suburban-Detroit family with twin boys (weird life choice on my part), then moved myself to a big farmhouse outside of Traverse City and worked at a winery for a month (good intentions, bad execution), and then, I took a safe, career-style job with Traverse City’s newspaper (where I’m still working) and I recently moved downtown next to a local food co-op.

Life. Is. Good.

I can honestly say that I think (and hope!) my quarter-life crisis is over and that I’ve survived. More than that, I’ve grown and I’ve learned many things that I hope to keep with me as personal truths for as long as I live.

This year wasn’t easy, though. The 27th year of my life was probably the most difficult year I’ve ever had. But, I’m grateful for it. Through this year, filled with sky-high mountains and extremely low valleys (literally and figuratively), I’ve learned many valuable lessons. I want to share each of them with you so that regardless of your stage in life, regardless if you’ve ever experienced a life crisis or not, maybe these lessons will resonate and you’ll decide to incorporate an idea or two into your lives. And maybe, just maybe, we will all have better, richer lives because of them.

Life is AMAZING. And full of lessons. Here are eleven from my very own quarter-life crisis.

11 Life Lessons from my 27th Year

1) Stop asking for your purpose in life.

Let go of figuring out what you should do and just do the things that make you truly happy — THAT is your purpose. Things that bring you bliss will help spark your inner fire and will guide you closer to your dharma, your unique path in life that will enrich this world.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been asking God, and anyone who I trust enough to really listen, what I should be doing with my life. “What is my purpose?” “What is my gift?” “What am I being called to do?” These phrases have been written countless times in every journal I’ve owned, and if God has a catalog of my prayers somewhere I’m sure this is a theme that repeats itself more than any other.  This was one of the first lessons I learned after turning 26 and, although I’ve asked for my purpose again since coming to this realization, I am BEYOND GRATEFUL that I now know this to be a truth for my life.

When I decided to move to the farm pre-Portland, I told myself I’d use this disconnect from the first world to really, really focus on what my purpose is in life. Four months away? Easy peasy. I’ll figure it out then I’ll move to the west coast with a clear vision for my life and I’ll relentlessly go for it, whatever that purpose is. And I’ll never have to ask “what should I do?” again!

Well… I moved to the farm and spent a couple weeks asking myself, god, the trees, the waterfalls, the animals, and probably hinted at it to every person I met. It was obvious this was my goal.

But then, during an amazing massage session one night, it came to me. Clear as my best friend’s voice.

“Stop asking! Just do! Do what makes you happy. THAT is your purpose. Now go.”

And wow, what peace came with that revelation. I realized that the things I genuinely love to do and that make me happy ARE helping the planet and her people, and for now at least, that is purpose enough. So, I’ve stopped asking and I’m making an intentional effort each day to do things that bring me joy and fill my cup. I’m done with should. For now 🙂

2) Don’t be them. Be you.

You can never be anyone else but yourself, who YOU really are. You’ll always be disappointed and unhappy if you keep comparing yourself to others, envying the attributes of others, and trying to be anyone but yourself. Each of us are blessed with our own unique strengths, with gifts that only WE can share, and loves and likes tailored to our own special being.

And, let’s be real, we’re each pretty awesome. So, enough wishing you were anything other than YOU. And… JUST BE YOU!

I think I did a number on my self-confidence through years of trying to be like others. For whatever reason, until late this year, who I was just wasn’t enough. I wasn’t preppy enough, or pretty enough, or graceful enough, or yogi-enough, or hippie-enough, or tough enough, or brave enough, or travelled enough or… the list goes on. Every time I entered a new social situation, I immediately compared myself to everyone in the room. And then, I’d judge myself. “Oh no, I don’t have the right clothes, or I don’t know enough about x and y to be here,” etc. Silly things. We each have a right to be wherever we are, and we are PERFECT just the way we are, and, always, we HAVE ENOUGH and we ARE ENOUGH. And that’s all the matters.

So, let it go and just be yourself. All of yourself. Live you as BOLD as you can!

3) Let your voice speak the loudest!

Everyone has an opinion of who you are and what you should do and why, but really, the ONLY opinion that has any weight on these issues is YOURS. Only you know just who you really are (and if you don’t, take some time for you and make it a goal to figure it out — I’m still learning each day), and ultimately only you have to live with your decisions.

So, starting today, MAKE YOURSELF PROUD.

Most people are only trying to help by offering advice and, like I said above and many times before, it’s normal to want direction and sometimes getting it from others is easier than getting it from ourselves. But really, our hearts know just what to do, so listen. And then do. And it’s ok to tell the other voices, “Thanks but no thanks. I got this.”

I have so many people in my life, most of whom I love, who like to tell me what I should do — this past year was filled with this. I’ve gotten everything from “you should take yoga teacher training right now” and “just don’t pay off your student loans — live here in the jungle instead!,” to “you’re meant to be a writer, so just start writing your book” and “I know in my heart you need to be a missionary — you need to go to seminary school.”

All of these may be great options for somebody, but for ME, for my life right now, none of these are what I should be doing. Only I can decide that. So thanks, but no thanks.

4) Choose to be choosey.

This is YOUR life so live it how YOU want to. If it makes you feel good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Simple. Choose how you spend your time, with whom you spend it with (even if that person is YOURSELF more often than not), what you wear, what you eat, how to exercise, where to live, etc. The list goes on and on, but ultimately, each day we’re faced with choices and if we’re not choosing for ourselves, who is?

I have wasted so much of my life trying to make others happy or going with the flow, sometimes to appease others and sometimes because I couldn’t decide on a better option so why not? Well, this year, I’ve learned to take a step back and ask if something will enrich my life before making a decision. This is a newer one for me, but so far, the quality of my life has increased and I’m more focused on what I want. I also feel more at peace knowing the decisions I’m making are getting me closer to where I want to be.

5) Move! Physical motion is magic.

Our bodies aren’t meant to be sedentary. We have muscles and joints, we’re flexible, we’re strong — we’re ALIVE! The health of our bodies and minds is directly connected and we must make sure to take care of each. For our bodies, the best thing we can do is move. Walking, running, dancing, yoga, swimming… It doesn’t matter the activity, it only matters that we move.

If you’re feeling down, try going for a walk and let yourself be IN that walk. Be present while moving your body and you’ll be amazed how quickly your mood may change. It’s magic.

I am a dancer by nature. I love to move my body, to twirl and twist and leap. Yeah, maybe I’m too old to dance like a toddler in a tutu, but you know what? It makes me happy and I love it, so I’m going to continue doing it until I stop loving it. When I dance or practice yoga or swim, I feel my body releasing tension and I feel light and free! I’m just that little bit closer to the highest version of myself because I’m putting my body to work in a way that brings me bliss.

6) Spend time outside. Every day.

We’re part of the natural world and, to connect more with ourselves, we need to spend time IN the natural world. Be outside, observe the plants and animals, hear the wind in the trees and water lapping on a shoreline, smell the flowers or hayfields, feel tree bark with your fingers or grass between your toes… Just BE outside. This world is pretty amazing, and observing the natural way of things can help put our lives into perspective and calm our overactive, production-focused minds.

I’ve spent a lot of time outside this past year which helped me reconnect with this fact I’ve always known — nature is where we belong. I’m so thankful for Costa Rica and the farm which kept me immersed in nature all day every day for three months, but I’m also grateful for the big lonely house in northern Michigan and its couple hundred acres of woods and fields, and for the beautiful bodies of water in and around this state, and for the trails and hills and trees constantly calling, inviting us to visit. Whenever I find I’m agitated, stressed, heavy, or just off, I’ve learned that if I can drop everything and go outside, I feel better.

7) Listen to your body.

If we listen to our bodies — to our energy levels, to our cravings, to our aches and pains — we’ll gain a lot of insight into what we need. If we honor the body’s intuition we’ll feel better and reclaim balance within. Sometimes we need to take a day off. Sometimes we need some extra protein or water or fruit. Sometimes the way we’ve been exercising isn’t right or we need to adjust our posture. If we listen, we’ll know.

We push ourselves so much, often to unhealthy extremes, and this is only going to wear us down. On the other hand, many of us don’t push ourselves enough. We need to rest, but we also need to recognize that we may have more energy than normal so we should use it!

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to always do as much as I can — I’m a hardworking American girl who can do anything I put my mind to, at any time, right? Well sure. But really, why is this “achievement” important? If my body is tired, then hey, I’m going to take a break and relax. And, if my body is craving sweets (which it does, all the time), this signals to me an imbalance either in my nutrition or in the way my body is processing food. I’m only just starting to tap into my body’s callings, but it’s really fascinating how much I’ve learned already. So… take an evaluation of your body and see what’s speaking to you. Then do what you can to help it out.

8) Prioritize your pleasure points.

What brings you joy? Think about it. Write it down. A few things that REALLY make you happy. Then, make it a priority to incorporate these things into your life and into your daily routine. Each day, don’t go to bed unless you can say you’ve done at least ONE thing that gives you pleasure. Make it happen and trust me, you’ll feel better.

A friend of mine shared this with me a few months ago and ever since, I can honestly say I’ve made sure to include at least one of my pleasure points into my day, EVERY SINGLE DAY. And, I’m a pretty happy gal these days. My happiness has always been important to me, but what really makes me happy? Until recently I knew somethings did and somethings didn’t, but until I thought about it with the goal of identifying actual topics or activities, I couldn’t tell you. Now, I know, and my things are written on little colored notes next to my alarm clock. Each night I see them and each night I can go to bed at peace knowing I’ve done something intentional for my happiness that day.

(Curious what my five pleasure points are? I have five that I can, without a doubt, rely on to bring me joy. 1- Nature. 2- Yoga. 3- Creation (writing, cooking, art, etc.). 4- Sweat (vigorous exercise of some sort). 5- Travel (discovering a new place even if that’s in my home city).)

9) Make peace with your past.

Guilt gets you nowhere, and regret and shame are big roadblocks to self-love and living fully. This is a tough one, but it really is important to accept your decisions, regardless of outcome, and move on.

There are many things in my past I’m not proud of — many times I did the wrong thing, let something go on for far too long, made a decision with costly consequences, and many times I probably sacrificed too much or gave too little. Today, I am thankful I can say, I’ve accepted each event for what it was and I’ve moved on.

And, I’ll be honest, I feel a lot lighter and much more at peace with my present because of this.

10) Happiness happens but so does pain.

Everything is cyclical and our moods are not exempt from this truth. Regardless of circumstance, we will experience bliss, but we will also experience sadness. We can try to contain feelings we enjoy but no matter what, emotions are fleeting and every day will not be a good day. However, there is peace in this truth because, just as happiness fades, so does sadness.

We must be cautious not to get attached to one emotion because although we love feeling pleasure, we must remember there is something so raw, so human and beautiful, about feeling pain. There’s no way around our emotions, and the only thing we can do is just let them be.

I experienced so many highs and lows this past year. I even journaled about what nirvana and enlightenment may feel like because, at one point in the jungle, I could truly say I’d never been happier! It was like a took a bliss pill and was in the middle of a high lasting several weeks straight — happiness without any effort. No sadness or worry or anxiety or pain. Just joy.

But then, sure enough, a mere month or two later I lay face down in a field, sobbing, asking for some relief from the pain and sadness I was feeling. Asking for a way out of the dark place I’d gotten to. I spent days confused, sometimes openly lost and sometimes outwardly collected, while torn and writhing with pain inside.

Regardless of emotion, I can now say I’m grateful for the act of feeling and for the assurance that after every gloomy day or week or month, a good one is sure to come.

11) Manifestation works! 

Think of what you want to happen, what you really want to bring into your life, and ta-da! There it is! Maybe this is mystical stuff and too much for many of us to believe but hey, it seems to work!

I don’t remember exactly when I was enlightened on the power of manifestation but I do remember first putting it into practice this past spring. It sounds silly but so be it, I’m still a 20-something. I was in Nicaragua spending a few days on the beach with my girl friends and I decided that night I wanted to meet a tall, attractive, surfer boy who would sweep me off my feet and treat me sweet all night. I planted the idea in my brain, and then I envisioned and believed it would happen.

Then, I’m not even kidding, a few hours later just as my friends and I were about to leave the the bar and head back to our hostel for the night, up walks a tall, GORGEOUS, Canadian surfer (yeah… God makes these apparently), who says, “Como estas, señorita?,” to which I reply excitedly, “Estoy bien! Y tu?” He tilted his head and said with a half-smile, “Yeah I don’t speak Spanish. Would you like to dance?” And then, we spent the rest of the evening dancing, drinking, laughing, and loving. It was exactly what I wanted.

Each time since, whenever I’ve been able to verbalize exactly what I want and actually start to see it in my mind, IT HAS HAPPENED. Craziness I know. But wow. From people I’ve wanted to meet, to a job I wanted to get, to a place I wanted to live… It’s all happened.

So, dream! Dream big dreams, little dreams, whatever. Just start thinking of what you really want to bring into your life and get practicing — let me know how it turns out for you 🙂

All of these lessons symbolize my 27th year. Thank you for being part of my journey, and here’s to turning 27! Cheers.

Below are some shots of me at 26, doing my thing and learning some lessons. Most smiles genuine 😉 And my oh my, what a year it’s been.

IMG_1720 IMG_2236IMG_2157IMG_1682 IMG_1431

15 thoughts on “I survived! 11 Life lessons learned during a quarter-life crisis

  1. Pingback: Tie-dye leggings and gray dress slacks. A note on bending before breaking. | Honest Green Jeans

  2. Love this . It’s strange or I guess is more common than I thought. But I also sometimes wander ‘ what should I be ding with my life’ Like really I wake up with this thought in my head but then I drink a cup of coffee and it goes away. One time I was interrupted in my thoughts ( i am not sure ) but I also felt peace like; relax, you are already accomplishing your life’s purpose’.. I hope so.. 🙂 XX -J

    • I’ve been asking and searching for “the greater goal” and purpose for my life as long as I can remember. We (free spirits/millennials/everybody??) put so much pressure on ourselves to do something grand — to use our talents in a profound, life-changing way, but really, if we just live EXACTLY as we feel most genuine we’ll inevitably be living the greater goal for our lives. Our hearts and souls are designed for one unique lifestyle, for projects and people fit just for us so really, it’s exactly as you said! All we need to do it just relax — to let life flow and stop fighting the current — to wake up each day and do exactly what we feel — to ask ourselves what would make US the most proud and do just that. THAT is our purpose and that will lead us where we need to go.

      I remember feeling so much peace when I realized that and honestly, over the course of the past year since I did, my life has blossomed! I am accomplishing big BIG goals and dreams, and I’m helping people recognize their strengths and passions — I’d say that’s close to a greater good 😉

      Keep on keeping on, sister. Live life fully and don’t worry about a thing ❤

      So glad you like the site — keep following along!

  3. Pingback: Gratefulness, letting go, and… the Ganges! [video + text] | Honest Green Jeans

  4. Hi Robin! I think what you did was awesome! Also currently planning to go away for a few months or until my money lasts. May I ask what made you decide to go back to the US and take the normal safe career style job? 🙂

    • Hi there! Thanks so much — it seemed a bit nuts to most, but it made sense to me, so thanks!

      I actually did NOT want to go back to the states at the time and drug my heels through the airport I’m sure. I had commitments in Michigan in the spring and fall so I decided to find work that would hold me over and help me save until afterward. I didn’t want to go back to the cubicle, so that’s why I tried a few new things — nannying, bartending, wine pouring, freelancing — but then I realized my life costs more than I thought (student loans, pets, rent… life as a 20-something young “professional” isn’t cheap apparently). So, I went back to the cube but found a way to keep creative expression in my life and get paid for that, too!

      In a month I’m quitting my job and packing my bags again — I’ll be in India and Nepal for 10 weeks (maybe more — who knows!?), and then we’ll see what’s next. I love life in the US, and I have a great support system here and we, as a society, are blessed with many things that travelers don’t have when abroad, so if I have to come back and settle down for a little while that’s fine.

      I have peace in so many areas of my life now, so whether I’m living out of a backpack or living in a house far too fancy and big for one person, I’ll still be a free spirit and I’ll still find ways to express that side of me. So… we’ll see!

      Thanks for following along and make sure to keep commenting and letting me know what you think! Thanks so much 🙂 Knowing that I’m reaching others makes this all worth it. xxoo.

    • Thank you for commenting! I myself lately have been too overwhelmed (or sometimes numb, it seems…) and haven’t been able to write more than a few sentences at a time myself. It’s all cyclical, and when inspired it’s time to let it out! So if you are, please write. Share and let the world (or just yourself) know what you feel. Thank you 🙂

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