Then & Now: Alicia Keys
When my friends and I talk about the “quarter-life crisis,” one thing that keeps popping up is undergrad. After some brief reminiscing and recollecting, I usually end up saying “I felt more together at 21 than I do at 27” and my friends nod their head in agreement. I think we feel this way because at 21, we were in the planning and dreaming stages of our lives and now that things aren’t going as planned or imagined in the execution stage, we’re asking ourselves “How did I get here? What did I do wrong?” Sometimes there’s plenty of regret. After asking several people what they would tell their 18 or 21 year old self, it was amazing how similar everyone’s responses were; they seemed to all break down in a few specific areas. This article is for anyone who wants to see if others share their thoughts and feelings, and most of all, for those who are 18 or 21. May what you read here reduce the chances of a nasty quarter-life crisis.
The self-esteem and confidence issues that plague you in high school do lessen in early adulthood, but their residue can grow and mutate into another form of ugly that will have you skipping out on opportunities, in unhealthy friendships or romantic relationships, letting fear keep you from things that will help you grow, stifling your identity, able to be easily manipulated and woefully indecisive. Not believing in myself enough has stopped me from pursuing my passions because I don’t believe my dreams are in reach. When I have great opportunities presented to me, I downplay my talents, thinking they’re not up to par. Who knows what advantageous ideas or details I haven’t and don’t think of because I go into things with a defeated attitude. I could be subconsciously causing myself to fail before I even begin. I don’t have any fire-proof anecdotes on how to overcome low confidence, unfortunately. What I can offer, however, is that comparing yourself to other people will make things worse, don’t beat yourself up too long for any disappointments or failures, and congratulate yourself for even the smallest things you do well or are good about you. Everyone is good at and good for something; the cliché` is true.
“…We often block our own blessings because we don’t feel inherently good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or worthy enough. You’re worthy because you are born and because you are here. Your being here, your being alive makes worthiness your birthright. You alone are enough.”-Oprah
I believe balance is the most essential key to a functioning, thriving life. Everything in moderation; operating in extremes is guaranteed to shoot you in the foot. When interviewing people for this article, many said there was either too much or too little of a particular thing. Don’t be all work and no play or all play and no work. Don’t spend all your time with your mate instead of your friends and vice-versa. Lack of balance has come to be one of the biggest problems in my life; being too optimistic, too cynical, all up in church, not going at all, all about one career, all about another one, too focused on the future, too focused on the present. Keeping myself in one spectrum works for a while, but eventually, it always ends up being a disadvantage.
Time flies and everything happens so fast to the point that you might not indulge in the simple things that great memories are made of or appreciate and respect the things and people that you should. Take time out to do that. Start a gratitude journal, documenting things that you’re grateful for each day or each week. It sounds cheesy, but when I feel like I have nothing and my life seems like it’s in shambles, I find hope in what I write.
When you’re growing up, you look forward to the day where your parents view and respect you as an adult and you can have an open dialogue where your opinions (or feelings) are not negated. I’m past 25 now, and that day has yet to arrive. I’m able to have conversations with my mother, but dare I challenge or disagree with her opinions or express exactly how I feel about her behavior or statements, I’m met with anger and accused of being disrespectful; no matter how polite I am. My mother suffers from what I call “parental egotism;” where parents hold the attitude that their children are completely and forever subordinate to them and therefore cannot speak against anything they purport.
If the situation arises where I’m upset with my mother, I’m told “I don’t have a right to be mad” at her. In other cases, she’s acts as if she’s above criticism. There’s a rationalization for everything she does and she’s always right, because “she’s the mother.” If I insist or continue to suggest that she’s perhaps wrong, she becomes defensive and sometimes attacking or belittling. For example, the topic of baby showers for teen mothers somehow came up. My mother explained that she was against the concept because when she was younger, giving a teen expectant parent a shower was viewed as condoning their sexual activity. When I argued that people should approach it as providing for a child who will be in need, versus support of teenage sex, she said “Oh, you’re just one of those people; any and everything goes with your generation.” When I asked her to explain what she meant by ‘one of those people,’ she wouldn’t elaborate, but she clearly meant it within a negative context. Not only did she make a negative generalization of my generation, she inferred there’s something wrong with my character because I had a different opinion than hers. As the conversation continued, the egotism rose as she reminded be that she’s been alive longer than I have, knows what she’s talking about and that I “don’t understand.” The “don’t understand” phrase is particularly agitating. To understand means to comprehend. I comprehend what she’s saying, I just don’t agree; its two different things.
The constant reminders of how old she is (“I’ve been around longer than you”) is equally agitating. I realize that I’m young and I far from know everything; I don’t propose that I do (my parents got lucky, because I never felt or acted that way as a teen either). However, I find it arrogant to assume that there’s no more room to learn because she’s reached her 50’s and the life-wisdom she’s acquired makes it impossible for her to be flawed or incorrect. Not to mention it’s invalidating to imply that my opinion has no value because I’m young. I’ve lost count of the times where she initiated a discussion with me, only to respond to my statements with “you’re just young” or “I’m right; I’m older.” Why start a conversation with me if my opinion is worthless to you from the beginning? I may behave the same way she does when I’m older, but for now I plan to start my statements with “In my experience” or “what I’ve learned in my years on this earth is…”
Parental egotism really rears its ugly head when the adult child tries to set boundaries or wants to discuss their childhood. Some parents find it appalling to see any assertiveness come from their offspring or hear the words “no” or “stop,” abusing the honorary title of ‘parent’ to take advantage of their children, guilt or manipulate them into submission. A friend of mine said he feels like his parents take advantage of his bountiful income, constantly expecting to borrow money after mismanaging their own funds. “If I only give them a certain amount, none at all, or tell them how frustrated I am, they find it insulting. They say I should willingly give them money no matter what because they gave me money in school. I sometimes can’t purchase the things I want or invest my money the way I wish because of how much I give them.”
Many parent's mantra.
Addressing the past or how you were raised can definitely be uncomfortable; A few parents deal with this discomfort with avoidance, denial or defensiveness. For those who have the discussion, some may inadvertently nullify their adult child’s feelings (especially if there are differing perceptions of the same event) or internalize their kids’ comments to the point of having deep guilt. If the conversation becomes a heated debate, the blame game can begin or going in circles about whether or not someone should feel a certain way. “When I talk to my mother about the things that upset me during my childhood, she always takes it as me trying to say she’s a bad parent. If it isn’t for worrying I’ll hurt her feelings, I have to deal with her telling me I perceived something wrong or telling me how to feel, instead of just accepting my feelings and hearing me out,” another friend said of her parental interactions. When dealing with disputing family members, talk-show host and former therapist Phil McGraw (“Dr. Phil”) frequently says “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” In familial disputes, I think some people get so focused on ‘winning’ the argument or trying to get someone to change their feelings or opinions, that they lose sight of the end goal, which is peace and understanding.
While some parents are chronic sufferers of parental egotism, others only exhibit it occasionally. Fortunately with my mother, it’s occasionally. There have been moments where my anger has risen to the point of disrespect; I typically apologize. Maybe when I have my own children, my mother will fully level with me. Until then, I’ll respectfully assert myself and hope I won’t need my boxing gloves.
When others can’t deal with YOUR life-change.
There are plenty of pros to having family and friends that have known you since you were young. The downside, however, is that these are the people least likely to embrace or be understanding of your life change(s). When you experience a life-altering event or go through a period of personal reflection, you are bound to change in some way, mainly in perspective or behavior. Whether the changes are positive or negative, great or small, those who know you well will notice them. Sometimes, seeing these differences will make them uncomfortable, concerned or treat you differently. This response only makes difficult life-changes that much more challenging.
My “quarter-life crisis” began with my career choice concerns, but it has slowly branched out into other areas of my life. I’m not as unsure about the other aspects of my life as I am with my career options, but I’m definitely at a place of re-evaluation and reinvention. As I have processed through this period of personal growth, some of my ideas and behaviors have changed, and those who have known me awhile have made it obvious that they are VERY UNCOMFORTABLE with this. Some keep reminding me of what I USED to do, say, like & feel in this disappointed and disheartened tone. Some are confused about how I’ve reached this point and why I can’t just “snap out of it.” Others are more encouraging and positive, viewing it all as natural and “a part of growing up and becoming wiser.” I agree with the latter concept. Yes, all of this change is frightening and stressful at times, but I firmly believe these experiences are beneficial to learn from.
I’m glad I have people in my life that will be honest and express their concerns with me if something alarms them, but its BEYOND FRUSTURATING to constantly be compared to who I was when I was in high school or even when I was 20 (I’m 25 now). If you don’t re-evaluate, reform or transform during your lifespan, you’re stubborn and not learning a darn thing. There have been so many moments since I’ve been in grad school where someone has said to me “well, you never do this…” or “you used to be this way” and I wanted yell “well, some things freakin’ change!!! There’s s a first time for everything!! What are you going to do about it?! You either help me deal with this, or get the hell out of my way!” When discussing my career confusion, for example, one person said to me “You’ve never been concerned about your career path. I’m not used to you being this way.” Well, guess what? I’m not either! It’s new for me too! You think it’s uncomfortable for YOU, well, how do you think I feel?! As far as I’m concerned, my support system has the easy part. They just get to listen and maybe give advice. I have to make the hard decisions and live with them.
“I’m not used to you being this way.” I think my friend’s statement explains why others freak out when you experience a life-change. In each personal relationship, we have a specific role that the other person comes to rely on. For instance, in a sibling relationship, the older sibling may be protective of the younger. The moment the older sibling isn’t protective, the younger one may take issue. In application to myself, my support system isn’t used to me being confused or discombobulated about anything. They’re not used to me having to rev-evaluate or reform. I’ve always had everything clearly mapped out and defined. I suppose that some of them have come to rely on my solidarity, particularly when they’re distressed. Now that I don’t seem as stable to them, maybe they’re concerned that they don’t have someone to come to for answers. Perhaps it’s just a fear of the unfamiliar, or a fear that my social dynamic with them will be affected by “altered” role. I’m not sure what the case is, but their assessments are only making my personal process more convoluted and stressful.