Each week, I often ask the same group of people a cluster of panicked questions. On the worst weeks, it might even be daily (sorry, guys).
My standard barrage of inquiries flow out of me like a burst hydrant desperately looking to extinguish the existential flames scorching my brain. With love, empathy, and biting sarcasm, these friends humor this weekly ritual. They give me some encouragement, talk me off the ledge, and make some joke about me not being able to read cursive (I can) or being a little pig (I am not).
While the questions have (somewhat) evolved over the last couple of years, the ritual surely hasn’t. Through days’ worth of phantom of the opera inspired isolation for self-reflecting, and hundreds of hours of channeling my inner Tim Dillon ranting about life to anyone who would listen, I’ve been able to gain clarity on what questions I should be asking.
It’s also provided a rather simple realization: when asking seemingly difficult questions, particularly regarding your life, there are questions that need explanations and justifications, and one’s that don’t.
If you want to start a family? Well of course, that’s what people do. Leaning toward not having kids? Oh. Are you sick? A spinster? A loner? You’ll change your mind.
Feeling a little worn out at your job? Well changing roles or companies is a great move. In fact you should probably be doing that every 2-3 years anyway, right? Wanting to quit and do something else entirely or just take a step back to see what’s out there? Lol. Are you fucking nuts or just lazy?
Considering uprooting your life and traveling the world? Well life is short, that makes sense. You want to go after it alone, stay put, and see if a business idea or personal project can go somewhere? I don’t know, those big transitions should really come with an adventure. At least save more money before you try anything crazy like that. I’m not sure how much, just more.
Moving to a different major metropolitan area? Could be risky, but at least there’s opportunity and people there; it will be a good experience. And you can always come home! You want to move to an exurb or live in a more remote community to be near nature and away from the clutter of a city? I mean are you insane. What are you going to do for food? What if something happens to you? Is there even a Costco nearby?
Of course, you don’t have to actually explain yourself to anyone.
I do think this reveals a more important realization. While none of these existential questions (or any others) have a right answer, within everyone exists some beacon of untapped potential. A glimmer of hopeful possibility which is typically represented by any questions we feel compelled to ask repeatedly. Questions we inherently know the answer to because we’re even asking. Questions where when we go to ask others, we know a justification will be expected.
And it’s not up to anyone to decide for you. People understandably can’t give their blessing for things that are, on paper, crazy ideas. When you come clamoring back with your pockets turned out, no one wants the destitute finger pointed at them. That’s not their burden, and it’s unfair to place that expectation on someone else. But if some life decision keeps floating back into the forefront of your headspace and you like it, there’s probably something to it. It’s certainly something to explore further.
While there are no right answers, in fact there aren’t any answers, we all have those questions that are always top of mind. Questions which flash into existence a sliver of life cutting against the grain of society. Questions we have to endlessly justify to our friends, to society, and to ourselves. Because those questions, the ones that cut away from normal or expected, for each of us, those are the softly illuminated paths toward the great unknown. Toward the other side of life we only wonder about.
I have no answers or insights to offer other than we all have those feelings. We all have the questions which hook our mind and cause an obsession. The ones that result in endless internal rumination and frustrating external justification. These are the questions we have to ask more often. The ones we have to chase.
Chase the justifications in your life. The itch that you always want to scratch. The questions that always find you whispering “what if”.
What’s a better alternative to understanding what else life has to offer for each of us? For you?