I'm at a quarter-life crisis!

At 25, my plan isn't working out right

Published April 23, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Mr. Tennis,

Do you believe there is such a thing as a "quarter-life crisis"? I'm turning 25 next week, but I am so sick of waiting for my life to begin.

OK, background story: I decided very early in high school I wanted to be a nurse. I loved the idea of traveling and thought that nursing could translate across borders. So the life plan was simple: graduate from nursing school with a BSN, work two years as a staff nurse on a general medicine floor to get experience, then work abroad for Doctors Without Borders, return home and go to graduate school for my nurse practitioner degree, get married ... (you get the trend).

Well, Phases 1 and 2 have been accomplished. I'm currently working as a staff nurse at a busy city hospital and in September 2013 I'll have been working there for exactly two years. So September is the big month, time for me to move on, do something or go somewhere new.

But here's the problem. I am pretty sure I actually hate nursing as a career (to the point where I've started to throw up prior to work because I'm so anxious about having to go). I think I knew this in school, but refused to seem like a quitter and change majors. Despite these hesitations, I've decided this past year to apply to graduate school. I've found that without a graduate degree there is not much I can do as a nurse in a foreign country. So I  applied to several nurse midwifery programs. Even though I have almost no women's health experience, I've  read that midwifery is the most in-demand career choice for nurses abroad. As the acceptance/rejection letters are coming in, I've started to panic. Do I actually want to go to graduate school for a career I don't know if I even like?  But what else can I do? I don't have experience doing anything else. Summer jobs and school jobs all involved hospitals, nursing homes or the student health clinic. Ninety percent of the classes I took in college had NUR prior to the course number.

So I've been thinking. Not to ramble on but here are some other basic facts about my life right now. In an attempt to save money, I have been living rent-free with my extremely involved, slightly overprotective parents since college graduation. They are wonderful parents and extremely generous (they have completely paid for my all of my college tuition. In my defense, I went to an in-state school with a partial scholarship). Long story short I've been saving every penny since graduation. I currently have a little more than $60,000 in my savings account and no loans to speak of. I feel guilty for admitting this with the current economic climate, but I think it's important to this letter.

So finally the question. I have been seriously contemplating cashing out my bank account and seeing the world. But did I mention I'm extremely shy and very socially anxious, despite my overarching dreams? Not the best qualities for a solo traveler. Or should I sensibly use the savings for what I originally intended and go to graduate school? Or should I move to random city (I have lived my entire life, college included, within four hours of where I grew up, so I feel that it is important to change locations) and get a job in a different practice area of nursing to really evaluate nursing as a career? I'm sorry, I know I sound like just another spoiled, unsatisfied member of the millennial generation.  So do I shut up, stop whining, realize how incredibly lucky to have such supportive parents and a well-paying job, and stay put? I just don't know what to do. But I feel that I must do something, anything! I want to actually look forward to waking up each morning for once. Any thoughts?

Thanks so much.

In a Quarter-Life Crisis

Dear Quarter-Life Crisis,

First, let me give you my gut-level, immediate response: Please do not spend your life savings to go to graduate school to prepare for a career you are pretty sure you hate.

Seriously. You are throwing up in the morning when you have to go in to work! Yet you are contemplating going to graduate school to do more of this!

Stop it!

You have done a great job so far of planning and saving and completing what you start. But now you must take into account something that my generation stressed perhaps more than we should have, but which is nevertheless crucial to success in life: your own unique, individual personality.

Your generation has done a wonderful job of responding to the excesses, moral, economic and otherwise, that you have lived through. For instance, you were 13 when the 9/11 attacks occurred. You were 20 when the economic crash happened. At crucial moments in your life, events demonstrated that the world is perilous and that you must be careful.

Then you graduated into a world in which, because of the economic collapse, jobs are scarce. Given these signs, you did the smart thing. You prepared. You planned and you stuck with it.

But now, at the important age of 25, you find that the job you thought would be a route to happiness turns out to involve actual activities you can barely stand!

It is sometimes the case that we see an occupation as a route to something and then find out that the occupation itself is intolerable. When that happens, it's time to make a thorough, realistic assessment of who you really are -- not in any mystical sense, but in a practical, personality-based sense.

You want to help people but are exhausted by constant human contact. You do not respond well to the hierarchy in a hospital. You are extremely shy and socially anxious yet you have a strong desire to serve humanity. You plan well and finish what you start. My intuitive guess is that you are an ISFJ -- an introverted, sensing, feeling, judging type in the Myers Briggs sense. I could be wrong, and the Myers-Briggs is just one tool. But I suggest you consult a specialist, take some tests, determine your basic personality type, find out what motivates you and what your preferences are, and then base your career choice on that.

Why not, for your 25th birthday, have a Deciding What To Do Next party? Have a few friends over, have a cake, and announce that now, at the age of 25, you have no idea what to do next. But you are going to find out.

You have some money set aside. If you want to spend some of it, spend it on understanding yourself better so you can match your preferences and your motivational style to the career that will suit you best.

Take a year. Figure it out. The world will be a better place for it, and you will be a happier person.

By Cary Tennis

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