I had a plan. I put everything int0 this plan: my time, effort, and energy, and to no avail. The universe returned my efforts with a message: there is a greater plan you need to follow now, and it is not the one you were working for (and you know it).
I had put all of my effort into plan B, which did involve a lot of courage: facing fears, working through setbacks, and being honest with myself. However, Plan A is less comfortable, less secure, more of an unknown than Plan B.
It seems I have a choice before me: work towards the life I have envisioned for myself or make a new plan B. The decision seems obvious but, following plan A has me feeling lost, confused, scared, and courageous, brave and strong all at once.
Am I experiencing an existential crisis, or is it something else?
First, What is an Existential Crisis?
It is the realization of the individual that the choices they make must always define their lives. In essence, it is radical self-responsibility. But there is more…
Existential philosophy claims that the decision to refrain from action is equivalent to actions taken, and both are a choice.
By making a choice, we are also choosing for others: when we choose for ourselves, we are choosing for all human-kind. No pressure!
Jean- Paul Sartre the famous existential philosopher wrote that we are condemned to freedom and freedom is the burden of choice.
Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.
The individual in crisis, suffering from their own freedom, begins to question whether one’s life has any purpose or external meaning. This leads to a preoccupation with searching for the meaning of life and the dissemblance of one’s sense of reality.
If my crisis is existential then it is rooted in the choice I am now faced with: to put all of myself into realizing my ultimate goals and the life I have envisioned for myself, or make a new plan B.
But is a difficult choice enough to identify my crisis as existential?
What brings on an Existential Crisis?
An existential crisis is often brought on by suffering but can also be brought on by an extremely pleasurable experience.
Sufferers of trauma, Depressive disorders, insomnia, prolonged isolation or loneliness, dissatisfaction with status quo, new-found introspection regarding mortality accompanying the diagnosis of terminal illness in oneself or a loved one, death of a loved one, fear of aging, and many other personally significant moments bring about the beliefs associated with the crisis.
Pleasurable and transcendent experiences such as new love, psychoactive drug use and, or encounters with supernatural phenomena can lead to existential crisis. The very act of learning and studying philosophy itself can lead to crisis.
In my case, the suffering is directly associated with the loss of faith in the belief that if I put myself out there, if I asked for an opportunity and worked hard for it, I would be rewarded.
At the same time, I have gained faith in the same idea because I discovered that I didn’t get what I wanted because I actually wanted something else, something MORE.
How long do they last?
An existential crisis is defined as a psychologically repressive awareness and is, therefore, ongoing and recurrent. Think of it as a chronic thought condition, and when we project the responsibility onto anything but ourselves we are at risk of perpetuating future crises. Atmosphere has a song about this very human habit of ours: projecting responsibility onto scapegoats:
“It’s herpes, and it’s forever/It’s the virus that takes the lives of the weak and the strong”
Does it have to be chronic?
We can identify our scapegoats and take responsibility.
“There is no happiness if the things we believe in are different than the things we do.” Albert Camus
According to Camus, one way of emerging from a crisis is to rectify the difference between what we believe in and what we do.
I think the answer is that it doesn’t have to be forever, at least not the way that it hits you for the first time. It becomes a cycle you enter into and each time you journey through the cycle you have more wisdom and knowledge and are better at navigation and methods to cope.
What can an Existential Crisis do to improve our outlook on life?
Perhaps the benefit is that when we know we are free when we know that we have a choice, we can also take comfort in knowing we are on the right path.
This is how we learn how to be and give depth and meaning to our lives. Crisis gives us the opportunity to re-envision our lives, to re-experience, and to re-write the story of our lives.
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