I just got off the phone with a friend who is going through an Enormous Life Event. It’s one of those rites of passage most of us will experience—the passing of a parent—with all its attendant emotions, requirements, and mind-splattering world alterations. In short, it’s an effing lot.
“I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” she added shortly before we ended the call. I was standing in the park at this point, bare feet stubbornly planted on the dry grass despite those little flying things that persist in dining on my ankles.
“I know what you mean,” I said after a short silence neither of us tried to fill.
Her confession seemed simultaneously related and unrelated to the Enormous Life Event. And though I told her that I understood and felt precisely this same way at times, I also said I didn’t think this could be chalked up to her mother’s passing or a simple midlife crisis, that most convenient of ELEs. There was something else afoot.
I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.
I wonder how many times I’ve said this to myself as I’ve navigated our radically shifting world these past few years? Maybe it’s always been shifty, our world, but even that notion isn’t particularly relevant. What seems relevant now is that we’re noticing the shifts in real time. It doesn’t matter if it’s always been that way because it now feels this way: like awareness on steroids, in stereo. And I just can’t imagine a single person I pass on the street isn’t wondering… What on earth is going on?
These used to be existential questions, the kinds college philosophy students and doppio swilling coffee shop beatniks discussed in their intro classes. Now these questions are spilling out everywhere.
Maybe I’m generalizing here. Maybe your life and the world and any tidy idea of the future you might have had is still very comprehensible to you. Maybe it’s filled with streamlined purpose, meaning, and profound understanding. Or at the very least a jolly good time on your lake house jet ski.
This isn’t meant to be snarky. I’ve wished for the kind of existence that is a jolly good time on a lake house jet ski almost as many times as I’ve thought I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. So if that’s you out there cruising then I say truly, Brava!
But I’m not that girl, and I’m not quite the doppio crowd anymore either. What I am is someone searching in an almost addictive way because dammit how does one settle on the life of purpose and service and growth that is all neatly spreadsheeted, calendared, and worked out?
It has taken me some struggle years and the advent of recent Enormous World Events to rip the covers back on a couple of these delusions.
Delusion #1: I must work it out and add it to the spreadsheet.
Delusion #2: I will be able to figure out what to do with my life.
This is not depression or some Morissey-fueled angst talking. It’s actually relief. I really won’t be able to figure it out. God knows I’ve tried eight-hundred-million-and-three times from Sunday and I’m no closer. It’s not even stimulating anymore to pretend I can make proper life plans, execute them, and then repeat as needed. So how about no more pretending.
After ending the call with my friend I turned to walk home up the hill and got one of those little nudges that sometimes comes when I’ve allowed some bone-marrow-deep self honesty. Ask for a different way the nudge suggested.
Ok, here goes.
Please show me, Life. I’m ready for something else beyond the thinking and efforting and worry. I’m sure there must be something else.
And maybe I don’t know what I’m doing with my life can be kind of exhilarating if you jump in on this one with me. Maybe you’ve got some ideas on all of that, and I can take a load off for a while.