This letter writer doesn’t have a big dream. Is it OK to live day to day?
Those are existential questions, says our elder. But start with the small things and your purpose might reveal itself.
I thought I’d be happy once I graduated, moved out, or finally got a job to support myself financially. I did get happy for a while, but then I got anxious again. It’s like nothing I do is ever enough. I always want something else or even more. Maybe it’s human nature, greed, or just the way I am. It’s hard for me to know what I value in life, what I live for, and why I should wake up every day. It’s like I don’t have a dream anymore and am living on autopilot.
Lately I’ve been talking to a friend when he mentioned we should be responsible for ourselves first before anyone else. Meaning it’s important to have dreams, goals, and things you want to achieve so you don’t get attached to other people and cry out to them when they leave to chase their dreams. That’s when I realized I’ve been living that way for my whole life. I don’t have a dream or a big goal that’s the ultimate reason why I do what I do. I just live day by day and cherish the people I’m with. But I found myself, like he said, getting attached to people and crying when they leave. Sometimes it’s unhealthy. I feel like there should be a bigger reason why I do what I do, for example work. but my heart feels empty afterwards, and interacting with people drains my energy sometimes. How do I find what I value in life and make my life more meaningful? How do I accept sadness and move on? How do I find balance between socializing and not draining myself?
You’re going to be shocked by this, but I don’t believe I will be able to answer all your existential questions with this response. But I will share with you some thoughts that occurred to me after reading your letter and my hope is that they help you formulate your own answers.
The first thing you need to know is that not many people have a clear ‘mission statement’. What I mean by that is they don’t have a pre-packaged answer to the question of why they are alive, what’s their reason to be (raison d’etre, in French). And, my guess is, that most of the people that do have a mission statement, it isn’t because of years of careful and extensive self-evaluation, but because they have bought into a religion or cult or conspiracy theory that has given them a pre-packaged answer. That’s not what you want, of course.
So how do those billions of people manage to get up every day and brush their teeth? The answer is they accept not having the whole story worked out and set their sights on the day-to-day pleasures and victories and struggles to define who they are and why they’re here. It could be your curiosity about astronomy, the time you play with a child or a sibling, nature walks listening for the forest sounds amidst the quiet, heated political arguments with your best friend, etc. If you look for those smaller individual passions and concerns, you might find if you add them altogether, they actually make for a pretty clear picture of what makes your life meaningful, even without a grand unifying theme.
Another way to approach the question of what’s important to you, what is your direction, is to approach it through the back door. Instead of sitting down with a blank piece of paper and trying to figure out what floats your boat/fulfills and lifts you, start from the other direction and list things that are absolutely not you, or you never would want, or make you sick to your stomach, or scare you. That way is like filling in the background of a painting not knowing where you’re going but at some point, when all the background is filled in, you find a distinct image in the foreground. In other words, the place where the background isn’t turns out to be the subject of the painting. Because you’re not focusing on the outcome, you might be surprised at what’s left when you eliminate all the things you don’t want and find you can see what you do want and that it’s actually been there all along.
That’s all I got, on this lovely September day in California. I hope this finds you well and you continue to ask those existential questions. Feel free to write back as to how it’s going, if this helped at all or it just sounds like so much hot air. Either way, I’m rooting for you.
Article #: 490721