Climbing Towers In Berlin Helped Me Overcome My Quarter-Life Crisis

I concluded that discovering an unfamiliar place was exactly what I needed.


In October 2014, I decided that it was time to stop making excuses and go somewhere new.

I was covered in cobwebs woven from unhappiness, stress, and anxiety about the future, and I concluded that discovering an unfamiliar place was exactly what I needed. I hadn't been anywhere far since I spent a semester abroad in France in 2010. So for the rest of 2014 and much of 2015, I scrimped and made payments to a travel group for a trip to Europe.

In September, I reaped my investment and traveled Germany and the Czech Republic. For eleven glorious days, I did not think too much, fall into a funk, obsess about the future, or feel stuck. I was not tired or exhausted, and I did not feel like I was putting in more than I was getting in return.

And it was perfect.

Victory Column in Berlin, Germany Courtesy of Alta Joseph

I ate breakfast every single day, unheard of in my nine-to-five life. To my surprise I even got a lot of exercise since being in Europe means endless walking! I huffed and puffed my way up 285 steps to the top of the Victory Column in Berlin and saw an amazing 360-degree view of the city. The climb stretched my thighs, and I was disappointed by how often I needed to take a break. Did that stop me from taking on the increasingly steep steps of the Old Town Hall Tower when I got to Prague? No! My “screw these steps" mantra did help a great deal as my ankles screamed during the long climb. Although I felt like I was the only one struggling so hard on the journey to the top, I told myself that can't possibly have been true and put my mind at ease.

In Munich, I looked up at the St. Peter's Church Tower, dreading the exertion it was going to take and already disappointed that it wasn't going to be a breeze. But I could picture what was waiting for me at the summit: a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the pride that came from pushing through and completing what I had set out to do. That was enough for me to pay and go. 306 steps later, I had no feeling in my legs, but I was proud to look out over Munich and see the Alps in the far distance.

After my tower-climbing crusade, when I was back in the States and jotting down what I'd taken away from the trip, it dawned on me that I had made it to the top.

During the climbs, I focused on my abysmal endurance and weak ankles, and I made silent promises to strengthen them, but hindsight helped me realize that even though I had climbed at a slower pace than those around me, I had made it to the top just the same.

In fact, I made it to the top three times. I also realized that even though some people passed me, I was in front of many.

So, what I tell myself now, when my brain wants to sprint into panic mode because it's focused on the fact that a double major in French and International Studies does not provide a linear career path like a major in Political Science or Information Technology, is that, yes, there will be people who are farther along than me, but there will also be those who are behind me--people who either started after or who need to take more breaks than I do. Yes, there will be those who surpass me along the way, those who will get ahead while I take the time to regroup. That is reality, and it has always been. It doesn't mean I won't get where I want to go. I don't need to be first, and there is no last.

View from Old Town Hall Tower in Prague, Czech Republic Courtesy of Alta Joseph

I've decided to shift my focus to answering my needs when they arise so that I don't stress about the climb. If I obsess about getting there at the same time as the people that I started off with, then I will eventually wear myself out and be forced to stop.

The most important thing that I learned is to take care of myself and to not worry about the pace of those around me. And that applies to all aspects of my life.

After all, looking left and right will only slow me down from reaching what lies ahead of me.

Alta Joseph lives in Florida and works in the non-profit sector as a Grant Writer, among other responsibilities. She's an avid Fanfiction writer, is currently working on a manuscript to enter grad school, and can be reached at ajosep11@gmail.com.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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