Monday, September 24, 2012

The Quarter-Life Crisis, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Failure

The plan is coming along nicely.

We've identified the city (check), come up with a business plan (sort of) and started tucking away savings (erm...yeah. I am putting that shoe fetish on hold, as of next week. Promise). We've sorted a date to leave our London flat. In February we're moving in with my mum for 6-8 weeks while we squirrel away our rent money. (Eeep.)

All that remains is to get driving (ok, so that's a fairly large undertaking, but my 19 year old cousin has  already beat me to the wheel in Wood Green, so I should bloody well be able to apply myself). It's getting embarassing. My US family members already think I'm some kind of idiot-savant who just about manages to hold down a job and feed myself without being able to drive to Walgreens. Not that we have a Walgreens to drive to. But you get my meaning.

Oddly enough, even with all this change coming, there's a strange feeling of calm about my future washing over me. Even though I have absolutely no idea what the next year will hold, I feel like I'm really working towards something. And even if it turns out to not be a sustainable business, at least I will have tried something independent, and been my own boss. It's not quite 'do what you love', because, as this very clever lady rightly says, what we love changes all the time. So I'm taking what I consider to be some very good advice and doing what I am. What I am is someone who needs a challenge. Someone who has always wanted to be fluent in another language, and do something I feel passionate about. Passion is everything, after all.

I spent this Saturday at the Nordic Study Abroad Conference, as a speaker alongside some very learned professors from the Universities of Cambridge University, Brown, Georgetown, and Copenhagen. 250 young Danish, Swedish and Norwegian students assembled at PWC's Copenhagen offices to hear from those who had done something different, and were all the better for it. I was possibly the least senior person on the billing, with no letters after my name, no ivy-league degree under my belt, and a mere 6 years' experience of working in the field of international student recruitment. To tell you the truth, I was pretty petrified of putting on that little microphone headset and owning the stage in the way some of the more seasoned professors had. Many of the other speakers had been truly inspiring, and they had managed to captivate the audience in that way that only those who have inbuilt charisma, and a true passion for what they are speaking about, can.  But watching the talk preceding mine, from Professor Sudhanshu Rai at the Copenhagen Business School, I was impressed by some home truths in his speech, which was all about not being afraid to make mistakes, or "fail". I was struck in particular by one statement he made, which put the whole 'failure is not an option' culture into a new light. He simply told the audience of very high-achieving, driven students that when we succeed, we experience a state of euphoria, but that when we fail, we experience a state of reflection. It's therefore only with reflection, and true consideration, that real successes are born.

Hearing that actually helped me to make a better presentation (I suppose the pressure of failure was lessened a bit!). I spent the rest of the conference being pretty inspired just being able to speak to these young people, who had such big plans in their sights. I'm not much older than many of them, and they were so committed, so eager to do something memorable, to chase their dreams that it made me stop for a minute to consider why I'm feeling something very similar now. I might be a little late to the party, but I've realised that we all need to do something that scares and exhilarates us once in our lives. 

A tiny me, onstage (bricking it).

I guess now that I'm not as scared of getting up and presenting alongside the great and the good, in front of an audience who will achieve more in their 20s than many of us will in our entire lives, I'm on the right road. There's still loads that I am scared of: getting a phrase completely wrong in my fledgling new language; running out of money; having to live at my mum's again for a few weeks, or months. I'm scared that I might really miss the security of an office job. I might miss London terribly. And I think I still have a lot to learn, even from those 18, 19 and 20 year-olds who haven't figured it all out yet. And basically I think, if I were younger, I'd run at the opportunity to gain new experiences and try out something new.  I'm not getting any younger, so today is the youngest I'll ever be. So I'm going to bloody well do something cool before I'm old.

Maybe it's a bona-fide quarterlife crisis. But hell, I'm enjoying it.