I always thought quarter life crises were the most self indulgent first world problem of all time. And they are. But that sure as shit didn’t stop me from having one.
I'm a spontaneous person. I struggle to put off until tomorrow what can be done today. So it made perfect sense that I would fixate upon a rag-tag "I need to flee Melbourne and adventure around the world" pipedream from the moment it crossed my mind. What surprised me was my commitment to actually realising it: forsaking a fantastic job, deferring the decision-making process that comes with general "what will I be when I grow up" strategy, and becoming more than a little cavalier about my love life. Such a concentrated fixation upon an actual goal was surprising, even to me. I worked six or seven days a week when I could swing it, saved my little butt off, and peaced out of Australia in less than a year after making the decision to go.
With the arrival of my 24th birthday, I can't help but giggle at how, even factoring in the few months that I offset my predilection to act upon impulse to ensure I was comfortable enough to do this trip, I have jumped the gun. The notion of a midlife crisis is simple: we become existentially terrified we have not lived the manner in which we want and act immediately and aggressively to compensate. A quarter-life crisis is much the same: taking stock of the path upon which we are walking and orchestrating a massive pivot towards something radically different. And me, being me, started mine a year and a half earlier than the projected age. Classic Scarlett.
I'm not ashamed to admit it: quarter life crises are the bread and butter of the self-indulged, the excessively wealthy, the ones who have no greater problem than "finding themselves". I accept that judgement, with the addendum that choosing to utilise my resources in such a manner is not a negative reflection of my character. Success is different now from what it meant to our grandparents - it's not found in the staple of owning a home (in Melbourne, who the heck can afford to?), nuclear family structures are ever-modernising, and to carry a commitment to one job is not necessarily the strongest personal reflection on one's resume.
Now, employers want to know where you've gone, what you've seen. Your high-school sweetheart is the last person you'd ever want to marry. Our CVs boast the experiences we've had more so than the position descriptions we've filled. And I fucking love it.
There is an outdated assumption with protracted travel that people like me are "running away" from our problems. In my experience, those with this opinion are at least polite enough to generally not posit this suggestion to my face when I explain that home is wherever I want it to be and whenever I find it. And that's the best thing about a quarter-life crisis: you don't have to be running from anything, you just have to be openminded when it comes to doing something different. This not a defensive measure, but an active one. I love my home city, but not so much that I don't want to see all else that is out there before committing a degree of stability to it. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, but it looked poorly on me. I was comfortable, and bored, and boring.
I didn't need a departure from home to save me, and that's exactly why it has.
I've walked through rebel-occupied towns in rural Shan state, been invited to eat lunch with Burmese people who speak not a lick of English in the shade of a golden pagoda in Bagan, been taxied across town by strangers too kind to take money for their generosity in Hpa-An, watched the sun rise on sandy beaches holding a friend's hand on Koh Phangan, nearly slipped to my death caving (Koh Lanta) and then genuinely slipped my way to a busted elbow and a cancelled diving course (Koh Tao).
I've dived off pontoons in Kampot and lived the moniker "whatever can Koh Rong will Koh Rong", slammed my latest poetry in Vancouver and started my next novel. I've partied til five in the morning in Hong Kong and left for the airport only four hours later. I've struck up friendships with American bartenders and eaten every kind of inappropriate cuisine for breakfast. I've done things Melbourne-me would be horrified by, and had no regrets at all. I've had lovers I would never have met if I had sat still and friends I'll never forget from any number of countries. I have made promises to travel companions that I would visit them when they returned to the worlds from whence they came, and followed through on it, nestling happily into couches that immediately felt like safe places and paid my way with kilos of bolognese pasta.
I've picked up language and quirks and mannerisms from those I've met on the way, rendering myself a beautifully haphazard collective of all the best parts of others. I've shifted plans, priorities, and preferences to wind up in places I never expected, and snubbed others that I'd always anticipated visiting. I've been sick and jetlagged and dehydrated and fevered and still loved every damn minute. I've reinforced ties with my amazing friends back home, and used Tinder as a proxy tour guide service because cute boys love to show off their towns to foreign girls. Every Skype call with my family is pure joy, concentrated to the force of a bullet from a gun and that sprouts flowers upon impact.
And it may seem unfair, but a life on the road has only made me happier. Every day is a personal mission to go out into the world with sharp eyes and sensitivity, and try contribute at least some small positive aspect at the culmination of the day. It's amazing to be deep in the throes of a so-called crisis, which has so much flak loaded upon it... and yet, I feel no pangs of distress whatsoever. In fact, I feel more like me than I have in years.
Today is my twenty-fourth birthday.
I am in Portland, Oregon, with a heart inflated with happiness and a body that no longer shivers in 25-celcuis sunshine from withdrawals from the humidity and pollution of Asia. My desires are more of a shifting concept; amazing opportunities emerge from the ether every day. And it's hard to reconcile the notion of a what I am doing with free-falling through the great unknown, with the wind rippling in protest around my form. My adventures are unstructured and unplanned and impulsive, but not reckless or self-destructive.
I may be deep in the throes of a quarter-life crisis, but to my mind, it feels more like self-actualisation.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.