I believe there is a fierce and eternal struggle within all of us that becomes more and more apparent whenever we have the chance to remove ourselves from the daily grind. I often find it easiest to describe this struggle to others using a simple analogy:
Imagine that you are venturing around in your favorite library. You want to read a book, but you are uncertain as to which one you are going to choose. You have a vague idea of what genre you’d like to read, but there is no specific book you have in mind. So you shop around, looking for that perfect book.
After lots of time and energy deliberating among your final choices, you finally narrow it down to one. This - in your mind - is the perfect book. So you take it home and start reading. Halfway through, however, you begin to realize that this book may not have been the best choice for you. In fact, it is far from satisfying.
But seeing as you dedicated so much of yourself to the book’s choosing and read it halfway to completion, you are faced with a decision: do I tough it out and finish it to the end or stop and pick up something else?
Should I stay the course and allow myself to be defined by the path I have chosen? Or should I abandon ship and subject myself to uncertainty?
Now replace that figurative book with your major life decisions. For example, perhaps you are unsatisfied with your career choice, but are hesitating to make a switch because you’ve already invested several years of your life to get to where you’re at today. Or perhaps you decide to marry your partner, not out of love, but because it would be too difficult to start over from scratch. In such situations, I’d find it hard to believe that there aren’t things that would gnaw at us:
The tension between wanting to know exactly where we fit in the frame of the universe and realizing that we can change that understanding of ourselves at any given moment. The tension between wanting to create a cohesive story of our lives and realizing that our lives are really just fragments of different notions of our self.
These internal tensions weigh down on us every single moment of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. It is not limited to quarter-life crises, mid-life crises, or existential crises alone - these are just names given to periods of our lives where we tend to have more clarity than usual, usually as a result of being fed up by the daily grind. In my opinion, however, these so-called crises are not experiences we would ideally choose to have. Nor are they inevitable.
If we become cognizant of the unending internal tensions that comes with being human and make it a point to grapple with these tensions on our own terms, I believe we can prevent these dramatic and jarring experiences from taking us by surprise and paralyzing us from action.
While the context of each “existential crisis” may indeed differ between individuals, at its core I think we are really all asking the same questions. So why not open up? Maybe we should share our burning questions with a friend or a stranger or two. The more we tackle life’s difficult questions together, the more we can come to understand them. Then perhaps one day, the fierce and eternal struggle within ourselves will come to an end and we will learn how to live with such questions in harmony.