Four years ago, I completed high-school. I was thrown out into the grown-up’s world, with average grades, no career-plan, and minimal resources. What came next, nobody had prepared me for.
I had no idea of what I wanted to do, so I chose something safe and mildly interesting. A two-semester course in athletics. I only took the first semester, in order to have complete freedom (at least what I thought was freedom at that time) in the second.
In my second year after graduation, I moved to another city and started at a university-degree. I had no idea what subject I wanted to study, but ended up with geography.
This wasn’t quite the right fit either. After some months, things started to get a bit shaky. In addition to an uninspiring degree, several minor problems occurred. I started to feel lost, hopeless, and I like had no meaning in my life. I was filled with existential pain, and slowly spiraled into depression.
The period after high-school was supposed to be filled with joy and new experiences. Instead, I ended up having the worst period of my life. I wasn’t prepared.
That’s a brief version of my story. Part of it happened because I was young, ignorant, and unprepared. Part of it happened because I didn’t know these ideas:
Figuring out who you are, and who you would like to be, should be a balanced endeavor
We all know the cliché of “finding ourselves”. Many view the time after high-school as the right time to do this. Although I think it’s important to investigate ourselves, I wouldn’t bother spending too much time on it. At least not in a “frame” between high-school and a possible career.
Here’s why: You might never find out who you really are. And that’s ok. No one, ever, has figured out all that they were. Besides, it’s hard, and it’s a gradual process that’s probably going to last most of your life. You’re constantly developing, and may only see parts of who you were, by looking back at life.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
— Soren Kierkegaard
We’re not objective creatures. We’re humans, and therefore all our interpretations of ourselves are highly subjective. What I would suggest however, is to get a rough picture of your strengths and weaknesses. You can take personality tests, and engage in self-reflection.
If you’re anything like I used to be, clueless of what you should be doing, you know how frustrating it is. So instead of spending all your time trying to figure out who you are, figure out who you want to become. And in order to do this properly, you need to set goals.
You’re lost without a goal
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
— Tony Robbins
If you set goals, you know in which direction to go. If you do it properly, you’re more likely to end up at your destination.
The act of setting goals will provide your mind with direction. You know how your thoughts seem to enter your consciousness out of nowhere? Well, a lot of these conscious thoughts are provided by a stream of unconscious thoughts. And your unconscious thoughts are affected by your goals.
This makes it clear that goals are important. Make them specific, and your unconscious will assist you towards them. In addition to have them be specific, goals should be emotionally meaningful, and have a deadline.
A meaningful goal is a compass to life.
When I took a semester off, I thought of myself as a free man. Looking back at it now, I realize that although I didn’t have any responsibilities, it was not very enjoyable or fulfilling.
And that’s exactly where I went wrong. I had no responsibility.
“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”
— Viktor E. Frankl
Without responsibility, you’re lost. You wander, tangled in your own misery and existential pain. You may have time on your hands, but you don’t know how to use it. You’re spending it, but not making any use of it. What good is freedom when you’re lost?
Find something to live for. Adopt responsibility, and you will be free.
Prepare to suffer
This is a big one.
The school-system may have kept you safe, but now that it’s gone, you are subject to the raw conditions of life. You’re left to your own, and you will discover how hard things can be. Life isn’t as easy and straightforward anymore. People around you are going to die. Tragedy will strike you. Pain will emerge. You are going to suffer in one way or another. That’s an inevitable part of life.
In order to minimize it, you need to figure out who you want to be, what goals you’re reaching for, and how to best adopt responsibility. A meaningful life is an antidote to suffering.
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
“We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything.”
— Jordan B. Peterson