Here Natalia shares the story of how she overcame her quarter life crisis by planting veg, dancing to Elvis and embracing uncertainty.
On a sunny weekend in September 2012, I drove to a plant shop and walked out armed with two bags of soil, plant pots and nine assorted vegetable seedlings. My parents had left me alone that weekend, albeit reluctantly. And understandably so, given my being at home at the time was a result of an aching sadness and debilitating anxiety that had set in some 4 months prior, and most days, I dreaded the thought of being alone with my thoughts. My buying those vegetables marked the first day of my recovery from what I might jokingly refer to now as a Quarter Life Crisis, but at the time felt like a very real – and scary – decent into overwhelming uncertainty.
In 2012 I was 24, and it was the year I had returned from travelling overseas in order to begin my postgraduate studies in Clinical Psychology. I moved to a new city, not knowing a soul, but I had romanticised the place and my future there: In my head there would be parties, my studies would inspire me, and I would be lost in a whirlwind of new people and experiences. But instead I wound up alone, disenchanted with my degree, and the city I had thought would bring me All The Things broke my heart.
I remember a moment in which I sat staring out the window. My hair clung to my cheeks, which were sticky from tears. My hands gripped a cold cup of tea and outside a ferocious wind howled. Were it a movie, I imagine the scene would be somewhat romantic and poignant – black and white, perhaps – but in reality, I felt pathetic, sad and horribly lonely. What do I do now, what do I do now, what do I do now?
This singular question was the cause of so much of my anguish: why did I feel so uncertain when I had been promised a linear path to success (and so, I assumed, happiness) so long as I ticked the boxes (go to uni. Get A’s. Make contacts. Move forward). What do I do now? I don’t know, became a chant that mocked my days: it taunted me when I was made to answer, “what are you up to these days?” and when I was confronted with everyone else’s happy, filtered faces on Facebook. The world started to seem to me a dark and broken place, and where once I had dreamed of ways of trying to fix it, I now felt broken myself.
The day I planted my first courgette was the day I gave myself the license to be ok with not knowing what was meant to happen. It seems a simple solution, but for someone who had announced how she planned to retire at the age of 15, this was a revolutionary and liberating move. I decided that I might know diddly about what or how my week would progress (let alone the coming year); but I knew that the tomatoes needed to be planted at a depth of 15cm, and that the coriander liked the shade. And maybe that was all I needed to know in that moment.
Summer rolled in and the sun drenched my garden- it blossomed and grew and I relished the fat strawberries that came as a result. And I grew too: with certainty that not knowing has the potential to be as great as specificity, and with confidence in my ability to navigate doubt. The people I have met, stories and opportunities that have accumulated since are testimony to this growth. There are days that all I know is that I have friends, family and a cat who loves me, and that dancing to Elvis songs makes me happy. And I have to – and I do! – believe that that is enough.
If you’ll allow me to take up the position for a moment as someone who can share advice – or at least an opinion – on managing impending Quarter Life Crises, then I have this to say: please don’t be afraid of uncertainty, and embrace change if it comes, whether that be changing your dreams, goals or ideas about who you are as a person. It really, truly, will be ok in the end.