While reading a book called ‘The Path: What Chinese Philosophers can teach us about Life’ by Michael Puett, I found out that this book was inspired by a charismatic Harvard professor’s class on “Chinese Philosophy”- a subject which drew so many eager undergraduates that it became the third most popular course in the university (after introductory economics and computer science, of course). It tells us a lot about the changing attitude of youngsters towards learning. They don’t just want to learn subjects for the sake of it. They want to know how they play a role in the broader context of life itself.
Today’s existential questions don’t start big- “What is life? Why do we live? What is the purpose of life? Why so much suffering?” No, they start small. They start when you feel like you need to realign your priorities to move forward.
They start when you’re in your first year and you have no clue what you like.
– meme with “Don’t know if I can do this shit for four years” –
But that’s still okay. The people are new, the subjects are not intimidating, there’s still hope. Right? The count down begins.
It happened to me when I sat down to make my first resume. It might have happened to you at some other point in time. A dam of if-onlys break open in your mind. If only I’d been a bit more outgoing and taken part in more extra curriculars, if only i’d had better grades, if only i had improved my technical skills, if only I’d taken up more informal projects, if only I’d learned coding, if only I could write better, if only I’d applied sooner, if only, if only, if only.
It’s third year and you want to fix things. You want to do everything you hadn’t given time to so far. Except…why does it feel like the burden of college seems to be concentrated suddenly on your delicate shoulders?
It doesn’t just have to do with your career or academics though. In each phase of college there’s a different sort of question that makes you want to re-evaluate life. Some questions are highly personal. They have everything to do with your friends circle, your romantic relationships, your family, your teenage experiments, your mistakes.
But too often we treat these questions as if they have nothing to do with anything else in life – our interactions with people around us, issues of the world within and outside the campus walls that affect us, our tryst with nature, or with our art, or our understanding of our own selves. But is that really so?
Stuck in a Rut.
You know you’re in an existential crisis when you’re constantly dissatisfied with yourself, or your life seems terribly uncertain, or you’ve lost all your usual motivation. It might result in-
- a sense of being alone and isolated in the world
- a fear of not being accepted the way you are
- a lack of confidence in your capabilities
- a belief that one’s life has no purpose or external meaning
But there’s one thing common to all these things you’re going through. The feeling of being stuck. Of not being able to get out of this god-awful, dark, depressing, scary place. It helps to understand that there are people who’ve gone through what you’re going through, and there are people who’ve found a way out of it. But how do you get out of it?
Quest For Exhilaration
We’re simple creatures subject to the unsteady winds of our emotions. We want to derive a high from our social life, our academic pursuits, our extra-curriculars, our (sometimes reckless) actions. But there comes a point when there is no exhilaration in life, there’s no fun of the chase in our pursuits, there’s no charm of newness in company, there’s no sense of adventure in learning.
You’ve hit a wall.
This can cause you to feel angry, depressed, discontented or lost. You blame the people around you for it, you blame it to the way the subjects are taught, you may even blame yourself for not being able to have fun like the others. You can’t wait to get out of college to newer avenues of possibility. Is it nothing but a case of lost love?
If you get what I am talking about perhaps it is time for you to open up your world to newer experiences. In the small confines of this campus which has the same few faces and the same old invisible boundaries drawn by yourself or by existing norms, this is not easy. So fighting your own private battle drains your energy until you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom.
It helps to read about something completely new, to do something that you didn’t think you would do in college, to find the art within you that opens you up to emotion, to get out there for a breath of inspiration. Anything to break the pattern.
There’s a lot to learn from college… the people around you, the subjects you’re exploring, the experiences you’re living. But we should not forget that within the safe space of college life we can find avenues to pursue novel topics that can provide the context that we’re all looking for during the classic existential crisis.
So, yes, go to an interesting humanities class, try finger painting, or go for that morning run. Discover philosophy, history, and science fiction all over again. Invest in yourself and in the world. Instead of closing yourself up to your private world, find a better perspective so that you can re-engage with life on better terms.
It might just give you the break you’re looking for.
– Meghana Yerabati