“What Should I Do With My Life?” – it’s something we all ask ourselves, whether we’re 10, 25, or 87. More often than not, this question can create a lot of stress, anxiety and unnecessary confusion. None of us wants to make the wrong choice or miss our highest calling. But what if it was the wrong question to ask in the first place?
I have heard it time and again. “What Should I Do With My Life?” or “Right now, I’m just figuring it out.” These statements are especially notable to me because I am on a similar journey.
It took me a long time to figure out why it was that I am clueless about what I should be doing with my life. My upbringing was not perfect, but it was not nearly as brutal as some stories that I have heard. This is what was so perplexing to me.
I often observed people who seemed to “have it together, or figured out.” I wanted to understand why they looked so confident, calm and collected. Most of all, I wanted to know, how did they figure it out and I did not.
For some time, I wrote it off as everyone has their issues, even those who seem like they are perfect are hiding deep flaws within. Now, this may be the case. However, if you ask someone if they are happy, content or fulfilled (all very different questions by the way), does it matter what flaws they are hiding if they can answer yes?
The scientist in me was still unconsciously seeking out a justification for why I struggled for so long and hard to figure out what I should be doing with my life. For decades I lived my life for my parents. It was not until I graduated with my undergraduate degree that I realized this was not the best path for me. However, this momentum was and is still playing out in my life. I also used this as an excuse for not pursuing what I know deep down that I should.
All people if they are brutally honest with themselves, know what it is that they should be pursuing.
There is a certain period in our lives where we need to listen to our parents. We need their guidance. For almost eighteen years of our lives, we are extremely weak, vulnerable and naive creatures. If we were left to our own devices, we would most likely die. However, there comes the point in time when we need to step up to the edge of the nest and take a leap. This is when we go from living for our parents to living for ourselves. If this step is not taught, it can take quite a long time if it happens at all to achieve.
It has not been until relatively recently that I figured out the why under this phenomena. There seems to be a plague of, especially males, who do not know what it is that they should be doing with their lives. We have a society where most members with minimal effort can be comfortable. Being comfortable is deadly. The only way in which we are driven to large, and lasting change is to be transformed by fire, or in other words pain. We must experience discomfort and pain to be propelled to change. A relevant aphorism here is something like “no pain, no gain.”
Now, why is it that so many people fall into this purgatory of comfort? Since the day we are born we are sold the notion of doing well in school so that we can get a good job, buy a house, car, etc.
We are sold that this notion is the golden ticket to happiness. Now that is not to say that some level of income is not necessary for a basal level of happiness. It has been proven that some low level of income is required to fully manifest happiness. However, being forced down the road of performing and conforming is not good for us, our family or society at large.
Within each one of us, especially men, there are two pieces: the animal side, and the cultured side. We need to follow some rules of society not to be rejected from it. Society is beneficial in that it allows for large-scale cooperation.
At the end of the day, society is still a network of individuals. When each node in that network is fulfilled and pursuing their most meaningful life’s work, then the entire network benefits. If any of those nodes is sinking into a real-life hell, then all of the nodes around that person suffer the consequences. To function correctly in this network, we need to take at least some lessons from the overall order of it. This is where our parents come into play.
Our parents are representatives of society. They must teach us enough to understand ourselves and the world. They show us broad generalizations and about some of the systems abreast in the world. However, they are human, and they are flawed just as much, if not more than we are. When this teaching flips over to the notion of tyrannizing, and oppression, that is when things take a turn for the worst.
We must take lessons from our parents so that we understand the social, political, and economic hierarchies in place. This allows us to properly orient ourselves in the world. This is the fundamental of cooperation.
We must also have the freedom to explore, to make mistakes and to overcome fears. If we become coddled our whole lives, then the animal side of us is being repressed. The animal side wants to explore, to hunt, to go and find the chaos and bring it back as ordered. The animal is the warrior. The warrior follows the hero’s journey.
We must have enough freedom to act out the hero’s journey in real time. That is to say; we must be able to form social bonds and connections all the while being ready to go off on our own and face the unknown (fear, pain, loss, and struggle) to discover knowledge that our parents could have never imparted upon us as children.
We all need a purpose in our lives. If we create space (freedom) and are honest with ourselves, we can get in touch with that purpose. This should be an intrinsic part of life, but parents and society often cling too tightly.
Everyone has their flaws, but some people’s issues seem to hinder them less than others. However, we cannot compare ourselves to others. Comparing ourselves to others is the gateway to being bitter and harboring resent. We can only compare ourselves to who we were yesterday and try to improve in intelligent and small ways.
The pursuit of being comfortable is the entryway into purgatory. Life is hard, but being complacent is harder. No one is going to come and hold your hand. The world does not care about you, but it also does not hate you.
We must take lessons from our parents, but lessons only (not gospel). We must realize that if our parents oppress and tyrannize us that it is not by malicious intent, but it is our job to move toward what we fear in the pursuit of the hero’s journey.
It is only by facing our fears and trying new things that we will be able to figure out what we don’t want to do. Only by figuring out what we don’t want to do will we be ready to slowly start to fill in the picture of what it is that does bring purpose and meaning into our lives.
picture source | Lesya Li
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