What am I doing with my life?!
As a deep thinker and someone who has been on a quest since a very young age to understand the meaning of existence and nihility, I have always struggled with intermittent phases of existential, and as a subset, identity, crisis.
An existential crisis is basically when someone questions, to varying degrees, their existence and the metaphysical, abstract concepts around them.
You know, the “What am I doing? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?” and “What if we are all just farts in a turtle’s dream?” questions.
I mean, if you aren’t haunted by that last question, there is something seriously wrong with you.
When I was younger (and actually still to this day) my father and I used to sit and talk for hours about these concepts. He would inevitably end somewhere along the lines of “Well, I probably won’t ever know with certainty but I’m sure enjoying this experience we call life!”
Meanwhile, I’d be on the opposite end of the spectrum thinking, “Well, I better figure this shit out soon because I’m NOT comfortable and there are questions that need to be answered!”
However, gradually, the dust would always settle and I’d get sucked back into the daily routine of life, leaving those fragmented thoughts and unanswered questions until my next bout of existential exploration.
From my experience, the piece that usually sets this whole “crisis mode” in motion is one loaded question. What am I doing with my life? This question almost always stems from uncertainty surrounding three subsets: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is this what I should be doing?
Most people rattle off disingenuous responses to these questions that are either knowingly or unknowingly, misrepresentative of the truth. People tend to be dishonest and covert about their answers because vulnerability is tough and in many facets of our society, we’ve been taught that uncertainty or emotion-based answers are not valid.
Which is unkind and misleading, not only because we are surrounded by things that we will likely never have an answer to- including our existential human experience- but also because we often base our decisions off of feelings and emotions.
Maybe people are in a period of time where they don’t really know why, they are doing what they do. Or perhaps they know why in a general sense, but it doesn’t align with their goals or how they view or identify themselves. This is large part of the reason why I believe so many people reach a point, or many points in their lives, where they feel they are going through some sort of personal “crisis” surrounding their existence.
At least that has been true in my case. After I made the bold decision to quit my very secure corporate job of 4 years to travel internationally, I found myself Milly Rock-ing between a state of fearful panic and blissful freedom.
During my trip, my friend and I developed the hashtag “NoJobsNoProbs.” This was one of those half truths that only partially represented what I was feeling…Because you know, gotta flex for the gram. The best part was the absurd irony associated with it.
Some nights I’d get a vicious pit in my stomach, worrying about the ramifications of quitting my job and not having anything else lined up, which, by definition, is a #NoJobProb.
Don’t get me wrong, I have never regretted the decision to quit. It felt and still feels like the absolute right decision. However, as with most big life changes, when something you’ve identified with for so long is no longer there, the associated sense of security and identity largely disappear as well.
This leaves you feeling vulnerable, confused, and lost.
I’d start to venture down the path of never ending questions, always starting with the beloved, “What am I doing with my life” and then I’d Nae Nae my way into the subsets. Then, I’d dissect those subsets into further subsets. And so on and so forth, until I started feeling like I was rehearsing for a role in the sequel to The Beautiful Mind. I mean you can really really get sucked down the wormhole of inquisition if you try.
Eventually, I’d be distracted by some pathetically normal, grounding experience, like a loud snore from a hostel bunk mate, a text message, or my personal favorite, a spider crawling on my leg. Yes, 9 times out of 10 it was a string from my bed sheets, or my long leg hair being blown by the fan, but that’s beside the point.
The point is, there is nothing wrong with asking yourself these questions. As a matter of fact, I think there is quite a lot right with it. Asking ourselves deep questions and challenging our beliefs and existence from time to time can lead to tremendous personal growth, security, and development. Let’s just not get crazy and absurd about it. I take issue with the pressurized, confusing, and solution-less way most of us go about it.
Thus, I’ve outlined 7 steps to help any existential crisis-ers, enjoy this experience we call life, as you explore what that means to you… in a non-pressurized, comforting, light-hearted, and compelling way.
1. First, Let’s Call It What It Is- An Existential Exploration.
Word choice can make all of the difference to our powerful and very impressionable minds. There have been countless studies demonstrating the immense value of appropriate “self-talk” and word choice.
When we use labels that are already associated with unfavorable feelings, like “crisis”, we are training our minds to put it into a respective unfavorable category. Whereas, if we use a term that is linked to favorable feelings, such as “exploration”, we are observing it in a different light.
Therefore, it’s an existential exploration.
2. Know Why You are Doing, Whatever It Is You do…and Write it down.
In both a general and specific sense, it’s a good idea to understand why you are doing what you do, for a couple of reasons.
1. The present. When we know why we are doing what we do, we feel more comfortable and secure.
2. The future. When we define, and write down, the reasons as to why we are doing what we do in the present, we will have an easier time reviewing it against any other future thoughts we may have regarding what we want to have done.
Meaning, this human experience we are having, comes with an ever-ticking time clock that applies limitations on the many things we’d like to accomplish. So whether it be 5 to 10 years from now or even right before you die, there will most likely be a time, but probably multiple times, where you take inventory of all that you have done and evaluate it against the things (at that current older stage) you might have wanted “to have done”. Thus, having a written and defined answer as to why, now, is helpful.
Also, Let’s be very clear- Everyone’s ultimate goal is to feel good. Therefore, understand that this is a perfectly acceptable answer.
3. Have a Set of Thoughtful Reminders and Affirmations Set Aside For a Rainy Day.
Even in the sunniest of climates, there are rainy days. This is one of the most powerful and helpful lessons that my father taught me.
There will inevitably be moments in life where we are in between optimal feelings. Moreover, this is almost expected during your existential exploration.. Well, depending on depth and your overall security and perspective on the subject.
During these, (as my father coined) less than optimal moments, it’s invaluable to have a reminder of all of the great elements of this life experience that you can reference. I like to write these down in the notes section of my phone, a google doc, or note pad. You can also write them on the back of a home depot receipt or Pala Casino napkin, like my father. I really don’t care how or where you write them, just that you, indeed, write them.
Remember- Life is good, things are interesting, and people love you.
4. Know How You Identify Yourself.
Is it your job? Your personality traits? Your experiences? I wrote an article on how we define ourselves that can provide some clarity if you are struggling in this arena. You can check it out here, but the two large points you’ll want to define are:
Your Values. What do you place value in? Thoughtfulness? Fitness? Challenge? Self-actualization? Community?
Your Higher Purpose. We all need to contribute to something figuratively larger than ourselves. Once we identify a purpose greater than ourselves, be it our global community, society, spirituality, values, or whatever other purpose that outlasts our human lives, we will have passion and true depth of meaning to our lives.
5. Understand You Will Probably Never Solve the Humanity Existence Conundrum.
It is highly unlikely that anyone is going to figure out why we are here or what we really are in an abstract and metaphysical way.
Many things make sense. Many things don’t. We are made of stardust for Buddha’s sake. One thing we can be absolutely certain of- Uncertainty. It doesn’t mean we can’t still ruminate, theorize, reflect, evaluate, re-evaluate, and ponder. It just means we don’t need to take it so seriously.
Let’s do all of those things with the running background thoughts of comfort, love, and exhilaration. Which brings me to my second to last step…
6. Enjoy The Process.
This is the most important step of all. We aren’t going to figure it all out, but we can sure enjoy trying.
Enjoy the conversations you have with your friends.
Enjoy studying Aristotle and Plato.
Enjoy the uncertainty.
Enjoy ruminating the metaphysical and abstracts concepts of life.
Enjoy latching onto ideas and then detaching.
Enjoy discovering your passions, values, and overall identity.
Then, immediately after, enjoy the irony of having to go back to your unremarkable duties of cleaning up the cat vomit on the carpet and repainting the kitchen cabinets for the 112th time because the tenants destroyed them again.
I mean, if we are going to do it, we might as well enjoy it. Or at least pretend to.
7. Go. Do. Something.
Last but certainly not least: Go. Do. Something. “You don’t have to do anything, but you have to do something”.
Don’t just lay in the sun all day, next to your cat, plowing through bag after bag of lentil chips, while you ponder the meaning of life.
Take action. Be proactive. Try new things.
Don’t get bogged down in questions you may never have answers to. Focus on what you can answer and improve upon that. Detach yourself from worry, fear, and the desire to know in totality… you’re not going to know and that’s perfectly fine.
Then again, what do I know? I’m just a proverbial turtle dream fart.