It was 1am on a random Wednesday in April 2003. Tears were streaming down my face, my hair was sticking out at all angles where my frustrated hands had raked through it far too many times. My mum's sleepy eyes looked across the kitchen table at me with a mixture of sympathy and despair.
I was 13 and attempting to make a life changing decision.
What options was I going to take for GCSE?
I didn't have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I wanted to be a kid's rep for a summer and to work for Disney one day, but unfortunately my school didn't offer a 'work in the sunshine' qualification, so I was stumped.
What if I made a decision then in five years found that I couldn't do my dream job because of the options I'd chosen when I was 13? That's a lot of pressure for a child. Pressure from adults who thought they knew best.
What I'm leading up to here is a confession.
My name is Rebecca and I am having a Quarter Life Crisis. (I would like to thank Sleepy for putting a name to what I am going through right now. It suggests that I am not the first to go through it and I can't tell you what a relief that is.)
I am 24 years and 11 months old. It's 11 years since I sat at that kitchen table crying because I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grow up. I have not, I am pleased to tell you, found myself back at that table in tears just yet.
Instead I have found myself reaching for a pen and notepad to write all of this down to make sense of it.
Because right now I feel exactly the same as I did in 2003.
I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
And there's pressure- well-intended pressure- maybe even unintended pressure, coming from adults all around me to decide.
I am aware that a lot of that pressure is coming from me. The majority of these adults are just making conversation with me- asking me what I want to do next and making casual throw-away comments that they don't realise I will internalise and continue to repeat over and over in my head.
A family friend recently told me that she didn't think her daughter would ever have children because 'she's already 28 and hasn't got pregnant yet.' Oh. No children for me either then?
A man on the train was telling two fourteen year old girls that they need to have decided what they want to be when they grow up by the end of this year otherwise they are guaranteed to be failures.
(I should explain that he followed this by serenading the entire carriage with Why Do Fools Fall In Love? before declaring in his strong London accent that he'd got on this train by accident- he didn't live here at all, but in Phoenix, Arizona. He then gave his business card to the 14 year olds, suggesting they called him for work experience, and stumbled off at Shenfield muttering something about being in the dog house. So maybe he wasn't the most reliable source for life advice but it bothered me all the same.)
Somebody else told me that there comes a time when you have to stop prancing about having fun, and take some responsibility for your life- start considering other people and the future.
Other people are so certain that I'm going to be a success that I'm overwhelmed with the need to discover exactly how I'm going to manage that.
Then there's the look I get when I explain that I want to be a writer but I'm working in a theatre just now.
You know when that woman walks on stage during the early rounds of the X Factor? She normally works as a dinner lady at her local school but has swapped her dreary tabard for a white skirt that is far higher than socially acceptable for a lady born in the late 50s, paired with a bright red top featuring one too many sparkling diamantes. Her hair is platinum blonde with super sexy dark roots, and she toddles onto the stage in white, diamante-clad heels she can't walk like an adult in, declaring that she truly believes that she is 'the next Whitney'.
You know when she's finished the weird, high screeching noises that made up her cover of Mariah Carey's Hero, and she still insists that she could win and go on to be the Next Big Thing?
Still with me?
You know that look that the judges all give her? You probably do it at your TV screen too.
That's the look I get when I say I want to be a writer but I'm working in theatre just now.
And it's soul destroying.
In that single look all of the faith and confidence that my nearest and dearest have instilled in me suddenly has a question mark hanging over it.
Maybe I can't do this?
The truth is that I have never had any plans to solely be a writer. I want to be lots of things. I want to have a career and write, and be a mum and a wife and a sister and a daughter and a granddaughter and a best friend, and to do all of these to the best of my ability.
But nobody ever asks about those other things. People want to know what you're doing with your life. And by doing they mean being paid to do.
And maybe because I've just returned to Essex for what's looking likely to be a substantial amount of time for the first time in a long time, people are particularly interested in what I'm going to do.
But I don't know.
I don't know whether I want to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future. If I do, I need to grow up.
But I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
I've thought about being a midwife, or a speech therapist, or a researcher, or a psychologist, or a guest service expert, or a travel agent, or a teacher....but I still feel like that 14 year old, looking at these jobs blankly as though they might be for me in ten years but not yet. I'm far too young.
But my three best friends have it together more than anyone else I know. They all have beautiful houses, wonderful fiancés, glamorous wedding plans and high flying careers. They go on holidays, to shows and concerts, parties and clubs, can always make family occasions and make all the weekend plans that they can fit in because they know that they will never be working on a Saturday.
On the other hand, I'm currently working in a theatre with performers. Performers who have spent their lives studying, working towards and building up to the career that they're in now. They're all headed toward big things and are excited for them to happen. They miss family occasions, can never make plans at the weekend because they probably will be working, and have to book anything that involves tickets at the last minute because they never know where they'll be more than a couple of months in advance.
Then there's me.
Somewhere in between.
Possibly ready for the settled routine life (?) but with no idea where to start. Enjoying the random, unpredictable scene but not heading in any particular direction.
In my attempts to make sense of my Quarter Life Crisis I have talked to anyone and everyone who will listen, and have found some interesting answers in the minds and lives of those around me...
1. Don't listen to everyone.
Firstly I talked to my best friends. Who revealed something so unexpected that I did that annoying thing on the train and made a noise at my own phone (very irritating in other people but actually unavoidable if you get a juicy text on public transport.)
They get told that they are too young to have it this together. For every 'Ooh but you should settle soon, biological clock and all that', that I get, my wonderfully together friends get 'you're far too young to be settling, you've got years in you before you need to worry about that.'
I know I shouldn't be happy that my friends get a hard time too, but I felt so much better after this conversation. It put all my worrying into perspective and reminded me that people just want to have their say: chances are it's the same people that are telling me to hurry up that would just as soon tell me to slow down. People just talk. They like the sounds of their own voices. They like to envision themselves as wise. They aren't necessarily.
2. Stop taking everything so seriously!
Then I talked to a lad at work. Who, when I poured my heart out to him about all the pressure I feel, and about this whole Quarter Life Crisis disaster, said 'sounds to me like you've got Peter Pan Syndrome.'
Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a big problem anymore.
3. Be Yourself.
I always think I'm very good at being happy. I'm happy 99.9% of the time and am rarely seen to be in a bad mood. So normally when I read those online quotes or Buzzfeed entries about how to be happy I nod smugly, roll my eyes at how obvious they are and continue with my day. But today as I was writing this post, the following quote popped up, as though to remind me who I really am and how I normally think:
The secret of being happy is accepting where you are in life and making the most out of every day.
I have always, and still always, see the magic in everything. I see magic on my journey to and from work, I see infinite amounts of it during work and am lucky enough to experience it every time I see any member of my family or my friends.
But recently I have uncharacteristically taken my eye off of the present and directed it toward the future, mounting an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself.
Last time I found myself worrying about the future so much was when I chose my Options at age 13.
I now know, of course, that it didn't matter in the slightest. The only real difference I imagine it made to my life was that because I chose Food Technology I was forced to work with Cruella Devil- the Regina George of my school who set out (wearing more makeup than the entire cast of TOWIE combined and fashioning unfathomably red hair) to make every nice girl's life miserable.
With fourteen year old me- you may be surprised to know- she came up against an unlikely barrier.
When she came over to my cosy corner of the classroom I imagine she planned on briefly embarrassing me then returning to her cronies to have a good laugh about it. What happened was that I politely (because I never would have broken a rule in school and I rarely get angry enough to forget my manners) shocked everyone (not least myself) by telling her where to go.
I can't remember exactly what happened, but what I do remember is being overwhelmed with adrenaline, seeing a flash of red, then watching as everyone's shocked eyes moved from me to her as she skulked back to her own table, confused, no doubt, as to what had just happened.
Cruella did, of course, proceed to attempt to continue to make my life hell for the next couple of weeks before she got bored of watching me and my relatively quiet, unassuming friends stand up for ourselves, and moved on.
What if I had taken History instead?
History had been my first choice- the subject I wanted to take more than Food- but because of a flaw in the system (which they decided to fix the following year) I had to take my second choice. If I had taken History, would it have changed the entire course of my life? Would I now be an archaeologist, fulfilling a passion for studies of the past until my heart's content?
But I also probably would not have had a run in with Cruella, and would not have discovered on that day of that year that I possessed this fierce ability to stand up for myself.
That, actually, was probably a far more important lesson for me to have learned to prepare for me for adulthood than the order in which Henry VIII married and disposed of his wives.
So maybe this is where I'm supposed to be right now. Maybe I'm learning far more important lessons bouncing through life somewhat haphazardly than I would be in a sensible, straight-laced profession. Maybe I'm meeting the people who are shaping me into the person that I need to be to be a success. Maybe I was destined not to be a huge success, not to change the world, but just to be happy. Which I am.
As I was mentally writing this post on my way home from work two nights ago, I walked off of my Central Line train and stepped onto an escalator, watching a man setting up to sing as I did so. As I decided on the last few words I would use when writing this, he broke into a song that made me change my mind.
He started singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.
Turns out I was right. I was where I was meant to be :)