Reflections on a quarter-life crisis: 5 lessons for my 25-year-old self

I turned 35 last month. There’s no official research on this, but in my mind, 35 is a turning point. From a young woman to, well, a woman. From “miss” to “m’am.” From the coveted 18-34 demographic to the demographic of the coveted peoples’ parents. 

I’m not sad about this. In fact, I like getting older. But I have spent time thinking about what it means to be 35. It’s in my nature to mark time and reflect on the past. I am, after all, the same person who cried the night before my tenth birthday because I would never be a single-digit again.

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I guess the crying explains the dark circles under my eyes. There is no explanation for the perm.

 My reflections include plenty of wistful nostalgia and, fortunately, only bits of regret. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about age 25.

To borrow from one of my favorite fictional storytellers (RIP, Estelle Getty): Picture it: Chicago, 2003. 

I was sharing the third floor of a three-flat building with two of my high-school pals. (Together we witnessed the birth of American Idol and the rebirth of Justin Timberlake.) My now-husband, Pat, and I had been dating for 1 1/2 years. I worked as a paralegal at an immigration law firm where I spent days in my office (with a window!) researching engagement rings and trying to draft H-1B petitions on four hours of impaired sleep. It was my fourth job since graduating college three years before.

I had a Motorola flip phone that was used exclusively for…phone calls. Dinner at least three times a week was takeout from Thai Village, which I’d pick up on the walk from the Division el stop to Pat’s apartment. My hair was short and styled with an Aveda pomade stick into what could kindly be described as “bedhead”.

Pretty much every free minute outside of work was spent at a bar, or a show, or a party, or a barbecue in someone’s backyard, or trying to get to Sunday brunch before it ended at 2:00. (I marvel at the last one any time we attempt to get brunch these days, as we tend to be standing outside waiting for the restaurant to open.)

At some point during all of that (probably while spending my lunch break at the Barbara’s Bookstore in the Sear’s Tower), I picked up the book “Quarterlife Crisis: Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties,” and promptly neglected to read it. (That didn’t keep me from taking it on a move halfway across the country, letting it sit on my bookshelf for ten years, and refusing to part with it during a recent yard sale purge. And I still haven’t read it.) As much fun as I was having at the time, I was also looking for some guidance. So, in the spirit of reflecting, I’ve decided to share some advice with my 25-year-old self.

Disclaimer: your 25-year-old self may require wildly different advice.  

1) You have so much time right now. Use it wisely. 

You’re so busy? No you’re not. Yes, you work hard at your job. Congratulations. But all the time outside of that belongs to…you. I don’t begrudge you wanting to spend that time at happy hour, or on a front stoop with friends and a case of Tecate, or lying in front of the TV.

But seriously, in the not too distant future, when your life is dictated by the whims and needs of two adorable but completely dependent little hurricanes, you’re going to look back on these days with equal parts rue and wonder and say, “What did I do with all that free time?!”

Go to the gym, read a book, take a nap, finish grad school, plan that road trip, call a friend. Take another nap. Really enjoy that nap. Just don’t make the excuse that you’re too busy. Because you’re not.

2) Appreciate your body.

I know you’re not crazy about your body. I know you’d like to lose ten pounds. And I also know that you’re happy enough with yourself that you’re not doing anything about it.

First, kudos on being pretty comfortable with yourself. There are people driving themselves crazy with a never-ending quest for perfection, and I’m glad that you don’t let a number on the scale determine your self-worth. (Ten years from now, you are going to adore Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham for, among other things, being comfortable in their skin on TV.)

That said…don’t underestimate how good it feels to take care of yourself. To feel in control of your choices. To cook and eat healthy food. And to be able to run a few miles, and more. I know when you see your friends lacing up their sneakers, you think it’s funny to say, “I only run if someone is chasing me.” But you’re missing out. (And, let’s be honest, you are probably not gonna get too far if someone is chasing you.) Not only are you missing out on the empowering feeling of being healthy and strong, you are missing out on the chance to do it when biology is on your side!

Take care of – and appreciate – your body before two bouncing baby boys punch a hole through your abdominal muscles and (literally) suck the life out of those lovely breasts. Enjoy what you’ve got, and make the most out of it.

3) Enjoy right now…

I know, it’s easy to wonder constantly what is next, and to want to hurry to the next milestone. New job: when will I get promoted? Dating someone: when’s the wedding? That unsettled, eager feeling drives accomplishment and improvement. But can you take a minute to be satisfied with exactly where you are, and what you have? And if you are craving an endorphin rush from something new and novel, maybe stop focusing on things that you want to happen to you (e.g., a proposal), and focus your energy on some short-term goals that you can achieve independently (see #1 and #2). That said…

4) …but don’t forget about your future.

Apologies in advance for the lecture. I know that you graduated from college with no idea of what you wanted to do. I think it’s cool that you’re trying out different jobs, and doing well at them, but what do you really want to do? (This question is a little unfair, because – sneak peak –  you’re still going to have a hard time answering it at 35.)

Still: aim high! (I know I sound like a cheesy inspirational poster featuring a bald eagle. But this is who you turn into.) It’s much more  complicated to chase your dreams when you have to factor a spouse, children and a mortgage into every decision you make. 

And while we’re on the topic of the future: ease up on the plastic. You do realize that eventually you will have to pay Visa back for all those bar bills, only at that point, each beer will have cost you about $15?

Please be wise with your meager income. Stop eating every meal out. You do not have the money to take a cab. That Laundry dress for which you’re going to pay $250 – the most you ever pay for an item of clothing other than your wedding dress – will snag the fist time you wear it, making it the last time you wear it.

And what gave you the idea you had $250 to spend on a dress, anyway?

5) Value your girlfriends.

You’ve found a great guy. You’re in googly-eyed love, and you want to spend every waking moment with him. Awesome. You’re going to marry him, and I’m able to report that at least the first decade of that will be pretty sweet.

But don’t let the intoxication of new love impair your judgement on the importance of old friends. Nothing can replace them. And ten years from now, when the highlight of your day is getting the kids to bed so you can have a glass of wine, watch “House of Cards” and fold the fourth load of laundry of the night, you will think fondly of the lazy Saturday mornings, gossipy book clubs, sweaty Madonna dance parties, and roommate  clothing swaps and fashion shows.

What advice would you give your 25-year-old self? And for those of you who have passed this milestone, what advice would you share with your 35-year-old self? Don’t make me wait another 10 years to learn those lessons.