How To Avoid The Existential Crisis Trap During Times Of Personal Growth

Bad things happen. They have always happened. There has never been a single day otherwise. Dinosaur laid its eggs; turned around, they were gone. Oog created a family unit. Lost half to predators, half to sky. Lightning. No clue in his primitive brain that the fire the lightning left behind was the world-changer he needed. Oog simply went away.

But we found Oog’s paintings in a cave. Oog preferred a mix of dark and red muds. He didn’t know why. The words “personal” and “aesthetics” hadn’t evolved yet. Oog saw the world and placed himself in it, and here, now, we see the world through his eyes.

Oog never had a single day that was not lightning, teeth or pain, but in every cave in which Oog huddled fearfully while the night chased notions of strength and bravery away, Oog made sure to find the time to paint, even if nothing more than a tired, muddied hand slapped angrily against stone to show that he had made it through another day.

There has never been a perfect day.

There has never been a day without trial.

And yet we don’t give up.

Octavia Butler, one of science fiction’s greatest writers, postulated this in her novel Parable of the Sower:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
is Change.

is Change.

None of us can escape the fact that life is a series of changes from one state of being to another. Our hopes are for beneficial changes, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case, and not having a guarantee of positive outcomes can cause us to doubt the very things that give us pleasure.

This is the existential trap. How does one break free of it?

Answer: we don’t give up. We will get kicked and we will get cut and we will die, but, by the gods, we shove aside each and every day to get to the next in defiance of everything that tells us “No!”

No matter how tired we get, we tell this world with each breath that it has not… won… yet. Those who are lost and striking out have not won. The lightning has not won. We remain. We have slapped our hands against the wall before fitful sleep, but the reassurance of that stinging is the reassurance of the tiniest, yet greatest, victory: I am alive right now! And let not spirit, nor animal, nor principality dare to intervene.

And yet…

There are times when it’s not some outside force that insinuates doubts into our moments of growth and change.

It’s us.

We create the existential crisis of “Can I do this? Do I have the right to? Should I even bother?”

In asking such questions, only honest answers will do.

And the most honest answer to all that we do is that we generally do it for an audience.

Sometimes that audience needs to be whittled down to just one.

My professional career as a writer features many days where I wonder why am I doing this. Is it for fame, money, or genuine enrichment for all involved? Would it make a difference to anyone if I didn’t, and does the act itself fulfill me or is there another goal in mind meant to serve that purpose? These questions translate to any type of personal growth or struggle toward a goal of becoming “more.”

In love we can ask why bother? We could be married forty years and still ultimately become just another tick on the divorce rate’s upswing. We could be promoted several times during our careers and still wonder what’s the point of reaching for the next run? More work, more responsibility, less joy? Why bother with that?

Short answer: Whatever you’re doing in life is for you to do. Become the audience of one, freed of infinite expectations. Our existential crises come from having infinite potential without ever being sure we have all the information or resources to move forward. Anxiety is a basic feature of life and, as such, embracing a degree of disappointment is actually one of the freedoms of the human condition, not a restriction or hindrance.

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Know the meme “Dance Like No One’s Watching”? If you’re a writer, tell yourself write like no one’s reading. Which they probably aren’t. Unless there’s a push behind your work, the odds are pretty good that at this very moment you’ve eaten more burgers in your life than your books have sold.

So dance instead. Mentally dance. When someone starts dancing in the middle of the block there’ll suddenly be a thousand eyes on ‘em. That’s you as you write the next book. That’s you for you. Be your dancer, be your audience, and enjoy the movement of your body.

Yes, you want your books to sell/relationship to blossom/career to prosper. Until everyone reaches Nirvana, that’s the model we’re working with. But always keep one in the hopper. Forward motion. Again, for writers (but this readily applies to everyone), an idea, a book, a story – something that excites you.

If you don’t, dread sets in. Dread and ennui. The moment you slow down, you’re in thrall to some nasty brain ants. Make yourself a moving target to those destroyers. The You’re No Good ants; The Why Bother ants; the Ants of Extreme Rancor: Automatic Negative Thoughts. You’ll even get some Aunts in there (automatic unnecessary thoughts; these are the ones that go round and round and end up absolutely nowhere). Every detrimental thought passes its message on to others until doubting everything about what you’re doing becomes routine. Smash that ant hill. Dance on it. How? No magic. No secret. Just you.

Do it. Write. Dance. Study. Create. Procreate. Risk. Reach. STOP THINKING ABOUT THE RAMIFICATIONS OR END RESULT OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND JUST BE. Existential crisis stuff? That’s like complaining about needing to clean up after sex. And no one is going to lie so large as to pretend to consider eschewing sex because they don’t want to shower afterward. No.

Enjoy the nibblies. There are times when the scope of what you could accomplish stops you from doing anything at all, and yet the odd thing about us humans is we instinctively know we’re living one of infinite possibilities that hinge on infinite interactions and infinite variables. This could be summed up as #daunting. But we don’t stop. No matter how layered in our senses of self we are, essentially, each and every one of us is naked and dancing.

Life, which is change, equals nibbly bits all over the place in a million different ways. Stop thinking about the marketing you’ll have to do, or the sacrifices, the hardships or the interruptions. That way lies madness. Don’t worry about the end result; that’s in the future. Be here now.

If nothing else, embrace being figuratively naked, and wiggle. With evolution, change, and personal growth always in constant motion, it’s hard to stay glued to an existential spot with the interesting bits of you wiggling around, be it in a cave, family den, art studio, or office boardroom.

Do the thing regardless of what might happen. Then do some more. When done, you’ll find you’re standing a little taller and you’re ready for new expression.

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