Over the past few months, I noticed a trend of very weird stuff happening to me. I grew my hair out. I almost got a tattoo of the cartoon character, Stewie Griffin of Family Guy, the disturbingly homicidal but otherwise the coolest baby on TV. Then I got addicted to silly memes. Two weeks ago, dead in the night, I packed up for a three month long trek through the Sahara. Something was definitely off, but I wasn’t sure what was causing all this.
So I did the right thing and payed a visit to my ever reliable shrink, Google.
“What is wrong with me?” I asked her, staring at her latest doodle which is a tribute she’s done to commemorate Prince.
She examined me carefully, as only she can. She doesn’t look at me weird like doctors do, at least so far, with thick rimmed spectacles perched almost to the edge of the nose. She’s obviously seen real messed up shit. Since she’s meticulous, she considers every possibility, from herpes to dementia. I didn’t bother asking how getting addicted to memes was related to herpes. Just when I seemed to be getting a clean bill of health, she finally finds something.
“Wharrisit?” I ask, extremely anxious.
“You might wanna sit down, I have some bad news.”
So I sit, ready to hear the devastating news. In my mind I’m already half way through making a quick bucket list. I must go bungee jumping or running with bulls in Spain before I kick the bucket. How long do I have left? A few years? Couple of months?
She scribbles something unintelligible on a piece of paper, probably another doodle, looks at me oddly and then removes and cleans her thick spectacles. She’s in no hurry, just like your typical doctor.
“Quarter life crisis.” She announces her diagnosis.
“You are basically a messed up twenty something year old. Life’s one hell of a bitch to you. So you sulk like a baby.”
“So I’m not dying?”
“Unfortunately not just yet. Unless bingeing on silly memes and getting Family Guy tatooes can kill.” She says, as she goes back to her doodles. She is a heartless bitch, Google. I make a quick mental note to find a new shrink.
“That’s good news. Wait what do you mean unfortunately? Do you wish death on m–”
“Symptoms include dyeing your hair in bright colours, googling “quarter life crisis,” getting a cleavage tattoo et cetera.” She goes on, cutting me short. She looks at my chest for signs of breasts inked in Mandarin. I instinctively look down to confirm I haven’t magically grown a pair in the past few seconds. There is nothin perky and weird staring back. I’ve fallen for her booby trap. I thought shrinks weren’t supposed to be judgy. I only let it go because it was a boob joke and boob jokes are always good.
“How can I survive quarter life crisis? Is there a cure?” I ask.
“Well, what is it?”
“Grow a pair.”
“What? Grow a pair? Of what? Boobs? Balls?” She ignores me.
Quarter life crisis.
Here’s the thing. You always imagined your twenties would be a time of growth, opportunity, adventure, happiness and satisfaction. You thought your twenty something would be like a John Mayer song, sweet, steady and building up to a climax that you don’t want to ever end. You imagined it was going to be a carefree life without the toll of mortgages and marriage, without sick babies, school fees and hospital bills. Before fatherhood and fucked up social lives, before mid life crisis.
You imagined wrong.
Instead, your twenties have been shaping up to be the toughest time yet. A cloud of unnerving anxiety broods over. You get the feeling you’re shipwrecked deep in the North Atlantic, aboard the Titanic. Like Leo, you are holding onto a raft, trying to stay afloat, in pitch darkness, as unforgiving waves crash against you, trying to drown you. But unlike Leo, the waves in this case are not of water, but those of isolation, confusion, anxiety and depression. Your life is a vicious cycle of hurried breakfasts, late lunches, work deadlines, office politics, mental blocks, constant burn out, fucked up finances, doomed relationships, social pressure, and sometimes college loans.
This is clearly not the quintessential twenties you had imagined.
You hang your fancy well earned degree on the wall and start working on your cv and applying for any job opening under the sun. At this point, your cv only boasts the names of the numerous schools you’ve attended since you stopped wearing diapers. The only experience you have is years of sitting in classrooms. Your applications do not result in any interviews; employers want real world experience. Basically for you to get some experience, you need to have prior experience. Naturally, you start to be anxious.
At this point, your finances are in the toilet because your parents have washed their hands of being responsible for your existence. They’ve had enough. The reason being you are now an adult who can take care of themselves. You are bored and broke. You lazy around in pajamas all day eating junk and generally being unproductive. You’ve been reduced to a couch potato. The excitement wears off. You are now in the real world.
And reality sucks. You are an adult, and it stinks. When did this happen? How did I get here? You are still nursing the campus hangover. You can still taste the fun, fries and freedom on your tongue. Life was one big party. You had nothing to worry about, except where to get smokies or which joker to vote for as finance director. Life was simple and fun back then. It seems growing up is a trap. Can I go back to being a baby? Can I make it stop? When you were young and naïve, you’ve always wanted to grow up real fast and become an adult. For some reason, it seemed cool to be one. You could finally boss everyone around. You could have as many cups of tea as you wished. When you are a toddler, drinking tea from the thermos was quite something. You “knew” everything would work itself out, after all you’d be a grown up.
Childhood fantasies aside, it seems the ocean tides have changed, and not to your favour. It’s a new season of life, one that’s not all too familiar and is uncertain. Every decision you make at this point will affect how the rest of your life will turn out and it is stressful. Am I doing it right? Am I making the right choices? Or is it a dead end street ahead? When is life finally going to start? Am I in the right career? Is it too late to switch from law to comedy?
It would seem taking life by the horn on your own has its dangers and is very scary. Time moves too fast and your life just doesn’t seem to catch up. You feel stuck. Your career is not taking off. Your boss is not your favourite person in the world. You’ve strangled him over a million times in your head. He still doesn’t know slavery was abolished in 1865. You fight the urge to go Django all up on him, every day.
Your relationships are in the toilet too, or nonexistent. You don’t even have time for anything, not even yourself. Crafting a simple text seems like a daunting task all of a sudden so you delegate your phone to send pre-customized texts because you are too busy with work or reading memes. Can I call you later? I’m in a meeting. I’m on my way.
The problems do not stop there. Your relationship with parents and relatives is rocky because you rarely spend time with them, less time than they would want. They would think you are avoiding them, or worse planning to join a militia. They think you’ve got a good job and so they come with expectations as well. You mail mostly features invites to harambees for sending kids to studies or honeymoon in Australia. When was I elected Governor? Back home, mothers treat you nicely, giving you loud hints as if you are the best potential son-in-law north of Limpopo.
Social pressures. They only add to your woes. There are a lot of expectations from our folks, especially those of us who come from the rural conservative setting. The fact that you have spent so much time in school does not sit well with them; in their minds, you have spent an average of four years in each grade and that your peers finished school long ago and have kids who are already teenagers. Your peers are soon going to collect dowry for their daughters! Some villagers are already betting on their cows that Babu Owino is going to finish school before you do.
The other expectation is that by the time you hit 25, you should have a sizeable belly (it is considered affluent), a steady well paying job (it doesn’t matter what you do), and a wife! The problem is that during your whole school life, your parents’ core commandment has been very simple: no girlfriends.They repeated and reminded you in case you pretended no to hear. No girlfriends. Do not associate yourself with the opposite sex, you are not old enough. But as soon as you receive your degree, and before you hang it on the wall, you are expected to be married. What are you waiting for? You can’t find a good girl to marry? We can find you a nice girl if you cannot find one yourself. Otherwise the conclusion will be that you are impotent. It seems in African tradition, nothing you do will count until you get married. The day before you are married, you are a baby. The day after, a man. A mzee. You can’t be taken seriously until you do. The pressure for ladies is even worse. You can’t begin to imagine what they go through. They are reminded that every second counts. Every freaking second!
It seems nothing ever prepared us for this; nothing we were taught in school can help us tackle the angst of becoming a young adult. Those childhood platitudes do not have come in handy now. You remember those from back in the day. Winners never quit. Hard work always pays off. Good things come to those who wait. It seems you are not so sure about them anymore. You are also yet to use cosines and tangents to navigate through the steep tangents of your twenties. Logarithms only helped kill your brain cells. Besides, there’s not a lot of material on quarter life crisis. So you are basically on our own. Mid life crisis has been widely documented. It is considered serious. If you mention to anyone above thirty that you are going through quarter life crisis, they would look at you weirdly and say “Stop whining. Get a life!”
Our old folks are even worse. Our traditional African societies were very straight forward people. Folks were born, bred, initiated and got married or were married off. They had babies faster than you could say the word “stop.” They have never heard of quarter life crisis. It’s not even African. Such things are only attributed the white man. Things that are only depicted in Hollywood flicks. Their lives were very simple. Their roles were determined. There was no confusion or existential crises. They didn’t go off to Europe after high school to smoke weed under the Eiffel or make out with strangers behind the Louvre to “discover” themselves, like the Americans do. Quarter life crisis? Wharrayoutalkingabout? At best they will tell you to grow a pair and man up, and of course pray for you to dispel any bad spirits that may be “making you see things”.
But the thing is, even though their lives were planned out and simple, our old folks were not spared of this ordeal. They won’t admit it but they went through this stage albeit in different ways and intensity, judging from the stories my Awoow (grandpa) tells me about life back in the day. You guessed it. Of course he grew that afro that had a comb buried deep. It was sexy back then, just ask my grandma. She still blushes at the thought of it, even at 70. So grandpa has never given me a hard time for having a lot of hair. I mean he totally lost the moral card on this one. Of course he has been itching to say it but he knows he can’t. Plus I got this “afromania” from his genes. He’s to blame.
Anyway, he tells me he became rebellious when he hit 18, and quarreled a lot with his father, my great grandfather, Awoow Snr, who wanted him to man up, get a sixteen year old wife and look after the camels, like men did at the time. He knew what he had to do. But he didn’t “feel the vibe.” That was “like so mainstream.” This is where you roll your eyes and respond “Lol, ikr?”
Instead all grandpa wanted to do was wander off and play Somali dances (yes we dance, ok who are kidding, we think we do) called Saar or Diisow, where he could impress the hot mamis like my grandma, Ayeeyo with his “sick” moves. Quarter life crisis, no? His moves were “outta control.” And so he ran off, leaving the camels behind, for a life of adventure. I think he went off to “discover” himself or his inner Marvin Gaye. This of course got him into trouble with his father. Leaving also meant he wouldn’t get his share of camels, so he was broke. Depression. Quarter life crisis?
His relationships weren’t working too; he wasn’t feeling the whole commitment thing. He says dates were stressful even back then because he had to always look presentable. This meant he had to often buy a new pair of shiny rubber sandals with straps because arid lands are not designed for fashion. His kikoi had to be the latest too. He also had to carry a pocket mirror and comb to make sure his afro was meticulous. To make matters worse, girls were now asking for cold juice on dates! Chicks! It was expensive and difficult, he says. Quarter life crisis. (Side) Chicks had him confused too. To make matters worse, my Ayeeyo had him drooling over her and it seemed his play boy days were pretty much over. “Man she was smashing hot!” He admits he was whipped. Anarchy. Confusion. Quarter life crisis. The signs were many. I tease him about Ayeeyo a lot. “So did you guys sneak around under the acacia trees to make out? Must have been pretty romantic!” I tease.
But it all worked out and he “discovered” himself at some point. That afro and those sick moves are the reason I’m here. He tells me he got jaded with all the “turning up” and the chicks. But I suspect he only got his act together because Ayeeyo kaliad his ass. So at some point he went back to being responsible and settled down. I will chat him up for insights on his mid life crisis. Should be interesting. So if my grandpa passed through this period, then it must be normal and expected. I’m relieved to know that I have no serious existential defects.
Here’s the real bone of contention, now that we’ve established we have a problem; how does one deal with it? How does one get through this difficult time of our lives? Sadly there’s no standard manual for this. But that doesn’t mean I can’t offer a few tips on how I try to go about mine.
First of all, have faith in God. Do not join Harrison Mumia and his band of bored atheists. I repeat: do not become an atheist. Do not join a militia as well. Work on your relationship with God, and ask for guidance and clarity.
Then, accept this is normal. I know, accepting that getting a tramp stamp or going for a hike through the Sahara is normal sounds crazy, but it actually is. Accept that everyone goes through this stage at some point through young adulthood. With acceptance comes piece of mind.
You’ve accepted yes? Now, grow a pair. Seriously. Grow a pair, of balls or boobs or whatever and handle it. You’ve faced untold challenges throughout your life and you managed to overcome them. So why should this be an exception?
Give yourself a reality check. Part of the reason you are going through quarter life crisis is because of your unrealistic expectations. You want a great job, a great boss, a house on the hills et cetera. You deserve this because you finished campus. You are an achiever. But unfortunately we don’t always get what we deserve, at least not easily.You can lay the ground work for that life now. I t will come, at the right time, so have faith in the future. Unfortunately, this is not working for me so I’ve been practicing Summoning Charms instead. I’ve been spending a lot of time pointing anything I can find at the skies and shouting “Accio ” This is not crazy, I know what I’m doing though. I point at the sky because, with the right effort, at least one hot virgin will fall from heaven, in a sleek Aston Martin. None is yet to fall but I haven’t given up, I can feel I’m close.
Next step. Embrace change. It’s inevitable. You’ve spent your entire life in the safety of comfort zones and familiar shores, and suddenly you are trying to find your way through dark unfamiliar waters with no beckoning lighthouse to guide you. Finishing school means moving to new environments, new jobs, new friends and new everything. You have had to leave memories and pieces of you behind. Let that go and forge ahead. That life was meant to get you to this point. Maan, I’m getting good at this offering tips thing no? Should I start a helpline?
Take a step back and breathe. The speed of life at this stage of your life leaves you dizzy and out of breath. So slow down a little, step away from the craze and look at things from a distance and a different perspective. Visit your grandpa back in shagz, and listen to him talk about his twenties and how he overcame all that; how he met grandma and how she gave him a hard time falling for his lines. That should be interesting. You’ll understand what you are going through is normal, thought a little more intense. Identify what you might be doing wrong and where you need to put more effort.
Get rid of things that may be holding you back. Unclutter the spaces of your mind and heart. Think of your mind and heart as your house. Clean them like you clean your room, getting rid of the things that are cramping your space. Negative thoughts, unreasonable expectations, “the one”, crazy exes, stalkers, whatever it is. Shrinks advice us to rid ourselves of Obsessive Comparison Disorder (OCD), basically comparing our lives to those of others. Everyone on Facebook and Instagram seems to be doing way better than you are and they constantly remind you that you need to get the iPhone 6 or a fluffy Chihuahua. Don’t feel pressured to have a baby just so can post pictures of your own baby shower at Kempinski. What are baby showers anyway? *Rolls eyes* They are lame anyway. Ignore this, it could all be illusory and it doesn’t help you in any way by comparing yourself to them. It will only make you think you are failing in everything.
Do the things you love doing the most. Remember that silly meme about Sport Pesa that you couldn’t stop laughing about? Or that one about Uhuru telling kids their laptops disappeared with the Malaysian plane? Go back to it. Read it. Frame it. Whatever. Or grab a book, sit by the fireplace and read. Go swim, or sit in the sun, jog, play that instrument you love playing, listen to Lemonade or a Ted Talk, but not Justin Beiber. Or go for a movie by yourself. Learn to make a recipe and enjoy your offering, even if its ndumas or matoke.
Pay attention to cliches. There is a reason they are repeated. They hold powerful truths, I assure you. Do not dismiss them just because they are repeated and out of fashion. The idea is to master the basics. Actions speak louder than words, the grass is not always greener on the other side, you cannot please everyone, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, hello from the other side… They are many. Just remember, do not be a cliche.
Hang out with yourself. Avoid harambees. You are not able to send newly weds to honeymoon in Ibiza. Avoid that auntie who reminds you to get married now. Stay away from baby showers like the plague too, they will only make you feel that you are a failure. Seriously. You are the best company you know right? It’s not narcissistic. Don’t be afraid of solitude. Only spend time with folks who whose company is better than your solitude. So enjoy your own company, reflect on where you are and where you need to be.
Work on those connections that will get you where you need to be. Make deep meaningful connections that are in line on the direction you’ve decided to take on life. With patience and persistence, you’ll get to the life you imagined. See? Cliches are cool.
Oops, I’ve run of tips and cliches. I hope you will sail through this period and make it to mid life crisis safe and sound. The grass is not greener on that side too. For now,we can only console ourselves that this is normal. It is just a transition. You are exactly where you need to be. You are more privileged than many. God speed. See you on the other side.