The Quarter Life Crisis Project: Living the Dream?

It was a chilly day in December, the kind of blistery afternoons that make Ohio winters infamous. I was in a reflective mood as I thought about the first semester of my senior year of college drawing to a close during my walk across campus. I gingerly buttoned up one of my plum convertible mittens, braving frostbite as I flipped through songs on my iPod to find something to make my stroll a bit more bearable.

"I rent a room and I fill the spaces with wood in places, to make it feel like home, but all I feel's alone. It might be a quarter life crisis, just a stirrin' in my soul. Either way, I wonder sometimes, about the outcome, of a still verdict less life..."

I listened to the smooth rasp of John Mayer as he crooned out "Why Georgia." Something clicked from my ears straight to my heart. A quarter life crisis? Is that me? At the time, I was lost. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, only knowing that I didn't want to trade the safe confines of my amazing collegiate life for graduation. That song gave me hope in knowing that maybe, just maybe, someone else could get what my 20-year-old self was thinking. I was a walking gray area of a venn diagram, stuck in between trying to enjoy the moment and hoping the future would figure itself out.

Fast forward three years to last week. I'm sitting in the parking lot of my first grad school summer job, both dreading and anticipating another day of working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. I'm sweating, because there's no air conditioning in my 1992 Chrysler LeBaron, the only car I could afford on my laughable budget. My mind is jumbled with a mishmash of thoughts, such as wondering if I'll ever pay off my student loans, trying to create something witty for a Facebook status update, hoping that Obama's healthcare plan will help me before my insurance runs up at the end of the month, and figuring out what shows I'll catch on the DVR that night.

Get me my 2009 self on the line. I'd like to tell her to that she has no idea what she was thinking on that chilly afternoon. At the age of 24, I now know that I'm living my version of a quarter life crisis every day.

I used to think that I'd have it somewhat figured out by now. I'd be working at a job I love, in a successful relationship, living in a nice apartment in a big city while surrounded by my best friends and looking forward to visits with my family. That was my clear definition of success.

Comparatively, by my somewhat-old-but-not-really-because- I'm-still-uber-young-and-have-no-idea-what's-happening standards, I'm a failure.

I'm spending a million dollars (not really, of course, but it definitely feels like it) to go to grad school to figure out a path to hopefully land a perfect job. My relationship history consists of failed online dating attempts, peppered by laughable 20-something interactions at the bar. I've traded the big-city solo apartment for my childhood home for the summer. I haven't spoken to my best friend in two months because time and different circumstances, sprinkled with some indifference, had made us strangers, and I was completely estranged from my family.

My 20-year-old self would be shocked. But I have to admit, even with the current state of affairs, my 24-year-old self is pretty happy. Not all day, every day, but I'm happy.

The biggest lesson I'm trying to consistently find the answer to is very simple -- how to live. I want to feel every moment from my head to my toes. I've surrounded myself by people who might not be blood relatives, but have shown me more support and stability than I've ever dreamed. I enjoy the moments of laughter and find solace in the tears. I appreciate the independence and admire my own determination to look forward to the future. I know that life has a funny way of working itself out. And for now, that's all I need.

Each person has a unique definition of success. But to me, quarter life crisis or not, that's my winning combination right now.