A Quarter life crisis and a book about existentialism. (Day 2 of 21 days of quarantine)

I think I’m having a quarter life crisis.

Or maybe just an existential one. Or is it the same thing?

I don’t know! I’m at this weird impasse that humanity before, now and in the future has and will come too which is trying to figure out the meaning of life.

For the longest time I have just had these questions about life as a whole, it just seems like the older I’m becoming the more absurd the concept of existence seems to me.

The question I keep returning to and asking my self is “What is the point of it all?”, see from my perspective life is just an uncontrollable see-saw of varying degrees of suffering and happiness, as we flail around between these phases for some reason it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Now these thoughts haven’t just appeared due to this quarantine period we are currently going through but rather have been lurking in my subconscious since I was little.

This is why I decided to read “Man’s search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl as the first book to tackle during this lockdown period and I felt that maybe it would give me the answers I needed.

Here’s the thing though, it didn’t. It rather showed me that I have been asking the wrong question all along. While I have been asking “What is the meaning of my life?” I should rather have been asking myself “How do I make my life meaningful?” and in asking and moving towards answering the latter the meaning of life shows itself.

That is oddly simultaneously scary and freeing because this means that I’m completely responsible for actualising what the meaning of my life is and will be. I think before the manner in which I was asking this question was in such a way as if I was waiting for God to come down from the cosmos and show me a power point presentation on what the purpose of my life was. However, that wouldn’t make life quite fun and would negate the whole point of human beings having free will.

Ultimately how responsible we are at achieving the things we regard as worthwhile will determine how meaningful we perceive our lives to be. The quarter life crisis I’m experiencing is not necessarily confusion in the direction I want my life to go but rather a sort of shame and feeling of inadequacy in regards to the quality of my life and the passiveness I’ve sometimes had in actualising the things I want to achieve. So in allowing myself to drown in the myriad of thoughts on how my life isn’t where I want it to be instead of just pursuing the things that would make it better and in allowing procrastination to sometimes take a hold, allowed for this existential vacuum where because I wasn’t fully actualising my goals bred these negative feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness. I hope that made sense?

This book showed me that there isn’t a uniform meaning to life that applies to all humankind instead it’s something that’s very individualistic and on that level changes according to the will of the individual. It also showed me that one can only find meaning outside of oneself, as Frankl states “..the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche..”. So in finding ways to be of service to one’s family and community, the fulfilment of those tasks become a portion in the meaning of that individuals life. I feel the most happiest when I’ve done something for someone that makes them smile or has helped them in any way and this book made me realise that those very acts made me feel like life was worthwhile, that it had meaning.

Frankl further states that the meaning to life can be found in three aspects:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed (as previously explained)
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone (love)
  3. The attitude we take towards suffering

My feelings around love have also had me having mini anxiety attacks. Being a 29 year old woman you already start getting the questions from aunties and other older women about when I plan on settling down and getting married. When I say I want to take my time and just enjoy this period of singleness to focus on myself and really figure out what it is I want from a partner, you get these scared looks of concern from older women who act like the white rabbit from Alice in wonderland as they point to this biological clock that is apparently running out of time. I know the important role love plays in life not only that of family but that of a significant other, however its because of this understanding that even the book puts emphasis on that makes me want to be even more cautious of how I go about picking a suitable partner. See when done right and with the right person love can push a person to growth beyond versions of themselves they didn’t even know was possible, As Frankl says ” Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality..”. So even though I don’t want to make a mistake with regards to who I choose and while understanding that it’s also not fully in my control as you can’t truly always know the true nature of a person, I still don’t want to rush into that decision based out of fear to fulfil the wishes of others but rather cause I feel like that person is someone I can grow with whereby we can add meaning to each others lives as we grow older.

The last point is the attitude we decide to take when confronted with suffering also forms the meaning to our lives. Honestly, suffering/trauma is something that I still don’t fully understand the point of and find it a really absurd and sadistic part of the human experience. However in its absurdity I do see how it can reshape us and contribute to our growth. This growth can be negative or positive depending on the perspective the suffering individual decides to take on. In order to survive and have a meaningful life one has to adopt a sort of psychotic optimism when faced with hard situations, as per the serenity prayer we are implored to have the strength to change that which is in our control and to have courage to let go of what we can’t and to go further as is stated by Frankl when we can’t change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves. Frankl mentions that suffering isn’t necessary to find meaning but rather regardless of it one can still find meaning within it. This meaning is only found when the suffering is unavoidable, there is no meaning to choosing to persist through avoidable suffering. I may not always understand why bad things happen but I understand a bit more that it’s an opportunity to grow and to show life that you can persevere and that I think builds character.

Anyways this was a bit of a long post, but I just wanted to give an update on how the book impacted me, what I learnt and also document the little anxieties I have about life at the moment. I hope you get the time to read this book, I didn’t want to give too much away but it is definitely one of those books I will keep re-reading as I know there are many more gems of information I probably missed.

As for my quarter life crisis when speaking to my friends it makes me feel a bit better that I’m not the only one going through this stage. It’s a normal part of the human experience. Only thing is I’m now faced with the responsibility and question of how I plan to get over it, how I plan to make my life better and define the meaning of my life moving forward, those are some big questions to answer. In a weird thankful way I can use this period of quarantine to figure that out and work towards making that version of Selma a reality.

Hope you are all staying safe and indoors during this time. This is my Day 2 of 21 days of quarantine blabs, my next book I’m tackling for tomorrow is “Classic Tales of Detection and adventure” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Till tomorrow.

Never forget to carpe all the diems.

Love.

Selma

3 Comments Add yours

  1. What an honest and profound thought: “The quarter life crisis I’m experiencing is not necessarily confusion in the direction I want my life to go but rather a sort of shame and feeling of inadequacy in regards to the quality of my life and the passiveness I’ve sometimes had in actualising the things I want to achieve…”
    I have been reading a few posts on quarter life crises and the above sums up the origin of the (perceived) inadequacy.

    Like

    1. Selma-Penna says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my current crisis 😂. It’s a bit of a scary thing to go through and I’m not sure anyone really knows the right way to come out of it but all we can do is try.

      I hope you’re managing it ok!

      Like

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