I’ve been struggling a bit lately with a sense of mediocrity and a feeling of confusion about what I should be trying to do with my life. I can’t seem to shake the belief that I owe someone something for my existence. That I need to make it worth the while. But I don’t know what that even means, and it’s too easy to look at myself and find fault with how I’m doing.
Part of the answer is to see that I am just a phenomenon that this universe has produced, not a true ‘self’ with unlimited agency and free will. To judge myself negatively for being anxious or unfocused or socially challenged is as inappropriate as judging a tree negatively for growing tall. Recognising my limitations, I’m always left with just disappointment that I’m not someone else, someone that would seem better to me. But that’s ego, identifying too strongly with this temporary, emergent self, as if there is some ‘I’ at the root of it that could be held responsible for its quality as measured on some arbitrary scale.
The other part of the answer, I’ve now concluded, is that the best and most meaningful way to live is to constantly look for what good you can do and do it. And I don’t want to limit ‘good’ to some worthy, moralistic sense of doing charitable acts. Years ago on another blog I wrote about how multicolour, paradoxical, surprising and amazing goodness can be when you stop trying to squeeze it into simple and legalistic boxes. It’s worthwhile to remind myself about that. Goodness is anything that brings anyone joy, or that lifts anyone higher. Including you yourself. And you have to feel into that to know. It can take the form of overcoming a challenge; following a passion and pushing the limits of what you can do (watch Until The Wheels Fall Off for a stunning example of that); sharing a vulnerability and making a connection; creating something beautiful. Not everyone can make large-scale contributions to stopping wars, fighting corruption and injustice, developing solutions to complex global problems, etc. But I think we all have ways available to us of turning towards the good. Maybe we just need to stop and look for it every now and then.
For me one of the biggest things keeping life bleak, mediocre, and meaningless is excessive fear. It turns things into black-and-white absolutes (i.e. X would be absolutely bad, and absolutely must not happen), which is not accurate. Sometimes embodying or achieving something good incurs a risk of bad things that can be worth it. Sometimes bad things even bring unexpected good, or can be made to produce goodness. (Absolutism about that has always been much harder for me to swallow, funnily enough. I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill you always makes you stronger… if this was true we should wish non-fatal calamities on everyone we care about. Similarly, always had issues with “suffering is a choice” and circumstances being indifferent with regard to wellbeing. Maybe another post some time.)
I guess I wanted to live a life that was about something more important or impressive than a struggle with anxiety. Of course, my life is more than that. That thought itself is another distortion. But that struggle chose me, even if I didn’t choose it.
Excessive fear is a big road block but it’s a potential gift, in a way, because it’s a huge mass of potential for goodness, for meaning, for joy. There is nothing quite like that heady feeling of freedom when you conquer your fear.