Skipping the Quarter-Life Crisis, Looking Forward to the Future

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

It’s a little surreal to think that, as of today, I’ve been living in Florida for three years. I came to Florida with the intention of staying here one year as part of my fellowship at The Poynter Institute. Then, life happened.

My fellowship turned into a job that I love. When I think about where I am in life right now, at age 25, I realize that I’m in a good place. I’m getting to write a lot at work, and I feel as though I’m still being challenged to grow not just as a journalist but as a person. I’ve gotten better at forming and articulating my opinions, speaking up in meetings and disagreeing appropriately. There’s still a lot more I want to do and more that I want to learn, but all in due time.

My social life in Florida is going pretty well, too. I’ve made some great friends here in Florida, most of whom are journalists. We’re between the ages of 21 and 40, and yet despite the wide age range, we share many of the same interests and passions. As far as my living situation is concerned, I have an apartment that is just my style and that feels like home.

I’m happy, but I still have days when I freak out about the future. I want to live in a big city. I want to meet a guy. I want to get married. I want kids. I need to go to grad school. I need to figure out my next steps. I want, I need, I want, I need …

Slowwww down. I had to remind myself to do this last weekend when I turned 25 and started thinking about all that I still want to do in life. I’ve always thought 25 seemed old, even though I know it’s not. Up until I was in my mid-teens, I pictured myself being married with two or three kids, owning a house in the suburbs of Boston or New York City and working as a “famous journalist” by age 25. But alas, life doesn’t always work out as planned, or as society suggests it should. Sure, I can now rent a car, but I can’t say I’m in my “early 20s” anymore. I have to say I’m in my “mid-20s” — a change that’s not all that significant but that still makes me feel older.

I’ve been thinking more lately about why the idea of getting older can seem so unsettling. There’s the practical issue of not wanting your health to falter, but it’s often more complicated than that. Growing up has always scared me. After my mom died when I was 11, I tried to stay a kid for as long as I could. I braided my hair in pigtails, I wore kids’ clothes into my teenage years and I tried to stay the same weight I was when my mom passed away.

By trying to halt my growth, I was hiding from the reality that my mom had died. I was afraid that as time passed, I would forget more and more about my mom. I figured people would stop caring for me as I got older because they’d figure I was old enough to take care of myself. But 13 years have passed and I haven’t forgotten Mom. I still have vivid memories of her, and I still have people who care for me, even though I live 1,400 miles away from my family.

I don’t think we ever lose the desire to be loved and cared for, no matter how old we are. When we don’t find that sense of comfort we’re longing for, we look for other ways to fill the void and gain control. We fall for artificial substitutes like food or material goods, or we try to stop time. The reality that you can’t control the future — or other people’s role in it — makes aging scarier. And yet, that inability to control what lies ahead presents us with the opportunity to see the beauty in serendipity and in letting go.

I’m learning to slow down and not worry about the uncertainty of the future. I can criticize myself for not having it all “figured out” at age 25, or I can recognize what I’ve accomplished and what I’m lucky enough to have — a job, friends, and a place I can call home here in Florida. I may be a quarter of a century old, but that means I still have another three-quarters of my life to live. And for that, I’m grateful.

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