When I was younger, I would spend every Saturday afternoon at my good friend’s house playing Sonic the Hedgehog on her Sega Genesis. We never tired of collecting rings, trying to get to new levels, and laughing about how Tails was more or less useless.
I remember how, as Sonic made his way through the levels, he would occasionally pass these little checkpoint poles. As he passed, the pole would rotate in a circle, there would be a happy dinging sound, and my friend and I would rejoice. Because once we passed those poles, no matter how many times we died in the future, we would always come back to that point instead of having to start from the beginning of the level.
I kind of wish we had this in real life, too. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that once you reached a certain point on your journey to a particular goal, you would never have to start back at square one? It might take awhile to get to the point where you hear that sweet dinging sound, but once you do, your progress becomes permanent.
Unfortunately, though, there’s no permanent progress in the quarterlife crisis. Not only that, but sometimes there isn’t even a “ding!” or any other positive sign that shows how far you’ve come.
While I’m certainly making strides towards not being in this state of QLC anymore, sometimes I feel like there’s no real evidence of my progress aside from the fact that I know it’s there. There are no rewards, no gold stars, no tangible achievements to give me that “HELL YES WATCH OUT LIFE BECAUSE HERE I COME” feeling.
Take my unemployment, for example. I’m constantly sending out resumes, crafting cover letters, and going on interviews. My job search, as a general rule, is fairly productive. But you know what?
I still don’t have a job.
And until I get a job, none of the cover letters or interviews I’ve gone on really matter. No one says, “Congratulations, you’ve interviewed at 14 different companies in the last 5 months! Only 6 more until you’re a level 4 Job Seeker! 11 more to receive the coveted Job Offer medallion!”
I wonder if my desire for rewards is a mark of immaturity. Since when are we entitled to a medal just for doing something that may, one day, help us reach a goal? I went on that OK Cupid date I was so scared of, and though it was unremarkable, I’m proud that I did it because it was an important step towards opening myself up to dating, men, and being more vulnerable in general. Since that date I’ve had this attitude where I’m like, “Okay, now that I braved the one date, guys should be lining up for me, right?” Except…no. That’s not how it works. So I’ve realized that not only do I not deserve a prize, but since I had no chemistry with this guy, I am officially no closer to having a love life than I was before.
So here’s what’s plaguing me: In a system with no rewards, how do you stay motivated? When reaching a goal is an all-or-nothing deal, how do you prevent burnout when you’re struggling in the nothing part? I’ve put a ton of work into improving my life and even though I’m not quite where I want to be yet, I just want it to be like it was when I was little and a teacher would give me a sticker anyway. You know, something motivating like “Good job!” or “A for effort!” or “Super!”
I think this is one of those instances where I need to quit my whining and just remember that sometimes life is hard and stickerless. Since no one is going to reward me just for making teeny tiny improvements, I need to count on my own strength to keep me going. Because even though I’m so fed up with writing cover letters that I nearly start twitching every time I have to write one, giving up and bitching about it isn’t going to get me any closer. I just need to power through it.
Or, as Dory would say, “Just keep swimming.”
It might be kind of nerdy to adopt a mantra from a kids’ movie (even though, let’s be honest, Finding Nemo is amazing), but I’m going to try to keep reminding myself of this. Whenever I get in that frustrating place where I feel like I’ve come so far yet I still have insanely far to go, I’ll think of it. There may not be any checkpoint poles or gold stars along this journey, but that doesn’t mean I’m not getting anywhere.
Just keep swimming.
Photo credit: morag.riddell