The topic of meaning is becoming one of my favorites to write about. I guess that is reflective of my young, barely not-teen, age, by some characterized as the peak of the most forming years of one’s life, when the question of meaning looms over as an ever-present dread that refuses to offer a clear answer.
But as I talk and listen to more people, existential questions seem to loom over a person for the entirety of their life. Although not everyone ponders whether there is some grand meaning to their existence, almost universally, regardless of age, we ask, what should I do with this life? Have I chosen the right path?
So, what should we do? How do we answer this nagging question with so many options, so many paths to choose from?
Can you imagine? We live in such prosperity, with heaps of opportunities and scant responsibilities, that the only real problem we have to face is our inability to choose a path forward.
But maybe it’s not the prosperity, maybe it’s the human condition. After all, even Søren Kierkegaard spoke of the human inability to choose 170 years ago and characterized it as the ‘dizziness of freedom’.
As if we stood on a cliff with the complete freedom to throw ourselves down, shaking in terror of how free we are.
In the likeness of that, we stand on a cliff looking over life, with all its possibilities heading in different directions, full of angst and dread of the freedom to choose.
It is here, at the cliff, where I think we can find the answer.
The ability to set out somewhere, to make the metaphorical leap towards one of the possibilities is at the root of finding the answer to the question of meaning.
The best solution, the best answer, the best course of action to overcome that fear, that paralysis, and indecision is … action. The best way you can win over your inability to choose is to just choose something and reassess later.
I know this sounds too simple, but that is the best solution I found thus far. Just make a choice, even if you suspect that down the road you will find that it wasn’t the right choice.
Tell you what, it surely was a better choice than no choice at all. Choosing gives you the option to reassess later, and even if you find that it wasn’t the right match, you now at least have greater clarity of what the right match might be.
Indecision never brings a better vantage point. Indecision nails you to a place of inactivity, vegetation, and although it can be salvaged as a time of soul searching, after some time you reach a point where you have enough inner and outer clarity. After some time you know yourself and the world enough to know what might be a good way to spend the rest of your life.
Alright, alright. No need to skip a heartbeat. I didn’t mean to say the rest of your life. Alright I did, but I didn’t mean to say what you choose the first time seals your destiny. You can always reassess and tweak the final course of your life’s voyage. Especially when you start with something vague.
Life is a game, it’s fun. No, seriously. Just think of the absurdity. We, humans, are possibly a completely random speck of dust in the middle of an ever-expanding universe that couldn’t care less about our problems, so small that our body makes up 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000007% (that should be 54 zeros) of atoms in the whole universe, and we fret over what we should do.
Why not just take that leap, say yes to life, try something, and see how it turns out?
Kierkegaard would add: “For if I have ventured amiss—very well, then life helps me by its punishment. But if I have not ventured at all—who then helps me?”
From my experience, the initial fear is the hardest thing to overcome. But when you muster up the courage to choose a path and make the first step, you will find yourself standing on an invisible bridge, right next to the cliff, like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, that might just lead to the final destination. But you will never know if you don’t try.
When you look at the people who seem to have their life all figured out, first of all, they don’t, and second, there probably was a point in their life where they chose to make the first step. Maybe they weren’t sure they are heading in the right direction, but they made the first step that got things going. Probably only later they discovered that this is what they want to dedicate their life to.
If you are stuck, paralyzed by all the possibilities, my best advice is to just choose, choose what seems and feels the best, and then if needed make use of the unique option to reassess.
Hope this helps.
P.S.2: If you would like to read some other essays in the same vein click here. I especially recommend the two essays titled In Search of Meaning.
P.S.3: This is a follow up to my last essay which you can read here.