It's a typical Thursday evening when my friend calls to invite me to dinner at Soho House. "I can't come," I say to her down the phone, "I'm working". She then asks me the typical Los Angeles question of "what are you working on?". She doesn't say it in an aggressive way, more with a curious, panic-ridden guilt that we "unemployed actor/writer types" have when the other one has work to do. "I'm writing... I'm, umm, trying to finish this screenplay that I've been working on," I say, sort of lying. It's a white lie, which means it's only half a lie; I am sort of writing. The part I failed to mention was that I'd signed up to university online, and I was currently writing an essay for one of my classes. I didn't want to deal with her questions - "why are you studying to get a degree? What do you want to do? I don't understand why you're doing this?" - because quite honestly, I didn't understand either.
The idea of going to e-school and obtaining my degree all transpired three weeks before my 28th birthday. I woke up terrified following a nightmare that I was thirty-something, living at home with my mum, (no offense to her), single and working a job in a clothing store I hated. It wasn't so much the logistics of the dream, more the subconscious realisation that I was not where I wanted to be in my life. The fact I was turning twenty-eight in a couple of weeks - that's two years away from thirty - two years from my twenties being completely and utterly over. My mind went into panic mode, not exactly what one needs at 7am before breakfast, but the stream of mental vomit kept propelling my over indulgent breakdown. OMG, I'm going to be 28 in three weeks, and I'm unemployed, unemployable, unqualified, uneducated, unexercised and semi-single. This is not how I expected my life to be at this age. How did I end up in this mess? Before I know it, I'm going to wake up, be 50 years-old having never been fully employed as a writer or actress, unmarried with no kids. I'll end up on the dole and wonder what happened to my life. Then I'll have to work at McDonald's. That's if they'll employ me, which is highly unlikely because I don't have a degree, and you need a degree to do anything these days. Why did I choose this career path? I'm clearly insane. I need to get a degree, or I'm going to end up in a mental institute.
This wasn't the first quarter-life crisis panic attack I've had. I think I've been in a perpetual quarter-life crisis consistently throughout my twenties. I know you think that a quarter-life crisis is thought to happen when you finish college. Well, mine started around the time I was supposed to finish college. I met all of these "normal" 20-somethings with degrees, gap years and prospects. I felt like their paths were calculated, they had experienced the same things and entered the working world as adults in control of their lives and careers. I wanted to experience college and to travel for my selfish reasons. So I wrote a plan, kind of a "things to do before I die/life plan" list. It consists of things like: go traveling, get a degree, live with someone other than me. Then every so often, when I go into panic mode, mainly because I haven't worked in months, and I think no one is ever going to employ me, I tick one of these things off my list.
Before signing myself up to get an online degree, there was backpacking. The idea came about after a very boozy night in Chiltern Firehouse, London's newest hotspot I somehow got let in too. I was with one of my oldest friends Romy, a 27-year-old trader who I've known since school. We decided to go out and drown our sorrows in margaritas. Romy's reason, probably more illegitimate than mine, was that she'd dumped her boyfriend/fiancé of eight years. She hated her job and had no idea what she was doing with her life. Mine, more the result of flying back to London to audition numerous times for a part I didn't get - the story of my life. Three margaritas in, Romy and I came up with what we decided was "the best idea ever". We were to go traveling. We'd never been traveling - she'd been busy working the stock market and I'd been busy, well, being busy. We couldn't miss out on all of these things you were supposed to do in your twenties. One of us might get married, and we'd never be able to do this. It was settled, we would go to India and find ourselves. Romy would quit her job. I was unemployed or shall I say, "self-employed" because it makes me sound better, and could leave tomorrow. We toasted to traveling the world for four months with more margaritas, and when the room started to spin I ordered us an Uber. The night didn't end extremely well. I threw up multiple times. Romy fell asleep and ended up taking a detour to her old address because she couldn't remember where she lived. But it was settled, we were to go traveling, or at least I thought we would think that until tomorrow when we would realise it was a stupid idea. I can't possibly leave Los Angeles, my potential life-changing audition and my morning breakdowns... Or could I? The next day I couldn't move from my bed, Romy didn't go to work and on the following Monday she quit her job. We booked our trip. We're going backpacking.
In between pursuing a career, studying and preparing for my backpacking trip, I realised something. Even though I'm not where I want to be in life, and I may not have ticked any of the "boxes," I'm figuring it out, and that's okay. Because if there's one thing that having a quarter-life crisis does, it somehow forces you to live your life. The fear of not succeeding becomes replaced with the courage to pursue the things that interest you outside of the career you're trying to forge. Plus, if it's any consolation, having a quarter-life crisis can only be great preparation for a midlife-crisis.