My good friend The Flat-Footed Adventurer recently wrote a very thought-provoking post that asked some very big questions. I’m in no position to answer any of them but thought I’d add my voice to the questioning, too.
Adventurer was talking about faith, free will (or lack thereof) and, basically, whether anything means anything. I hear you, buddy. Human existence and our understanding of it seems – ultimately – to be reduced to a belief in some variety of godly oversight and/or a handful of time-worn statements such as ‘it never rains everyday’ or ‘when one door closes another one opens’ and lets not forget that old faithful ‘God works in mysterious ways’. Dress it up in as many philosophies as you want but basically it boils down to the thought of, “boy, today sucked – hopefully that means tomorrow won’t”. I guess that makes us, as a species, perennial optimists (who knew?!).
Recently, humans have been infected by the idea that only a lack of enough positive thinking (self-actualisation? focussed goal realisation? whatever the new buzzwords are?) stops us from having Everything That We Want. It’s a seductive philosophy – power, free will, choice, having it all. In fact, I loosely subscribe to this kind of thinking. However, it also presents two problems:
- we actually have to figure out what it is that we want (not as easy as it sounds), and;
- how to manage the confusion when we don’t get it. Were we not wishing hard enough? Not focussed enough? Not choosing the right goal in the first place?
I spend a lot of time thinking about these things and why life is the way that it is. Mostly because I’m just arrogant enough to think I’m only an insight away from Getting It (and then global domination will be mine! Mwah-hah!). Of course, if you ask me, I’ll protest that I have no idea how life, the universe and everything works. But, deep down, I suspect my psyche is working under the assumption that if I just think about something hard enough, get enough information on it, mull over it long enough, the mystery will be revealed and I’ll succeed. I use this approach in all aspects of my life (resulting in chronic worrying), so why should existence itself be any different?
It’s only as I get older that I’m starting to relax with it all. Not relaxing as much as I’d like – maybe even as much as I should – but certainly letting go of the reins a little, as bitter-tasting as that is for control freaks like me. The reasons are threefold (and this gives me an excellent opportunity to use more bullet points, which I do so enjoy):
- It’s exhausting. Trying to figure everything out? Not possible, babe. Trying to anticipate everything? Plan for it? Pre-emptively work out how you might react to something? Please. Unless I work out the secrets of time travel (which I presumably do not because I know Future Me would have visited Present Me by now if she had), then it’s a big waste of time. Not to mention, you can’t prepare for what you don’t know that you don’t know. You know?
- It’s self-defeating. By trying to work everything out, I’m expecting – hoping – that it prepares me for every opportunity and, therefore, makes me more likely to have opportunities (and succeed). I’m growing to realise that it doesn’t seem to work like that. For some people it might but, for me, what tends to happen is that I think about an opportunity/goal I might like. I then think of what I need to do to get there. I then get bogged down in small details and anticipated problems like how I would be able to pay for this course or that hobby or where I would get the time. I then get disillusioned and despondently think that it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway and then I put the idea away. So, not only does this stop me from achieving my stated goals but, while I’m all-consumed with the process, I’m actually closed off to anything else that might come along. Less likely to take a chance on something left field.
- It’s actually ok not to be perfect at everything, including life. For perfectionists like me, that statement is anathema. Even today, I read Adventurer’s post and rather than sympathising (although I did), I wanted to answer his questions. To solve the problem. To give that winning piece of advice that would get everything to make sense. But, actually, I have no idea what the answers are. There are so many contradictions in life.
So what’s the point of this all then? No point, just another person trying to figure it all out. Who’s trying not to compare herself to others, who tries to make the best decisions with the best information and resources available at the time, who tries not to regret past decisions (because she did the best she could with the information and resources available at the time) and who strives to be positive about the future. Because the only alternative is to be sceptical about the future and I least know that path doesn’t lead to happiness 🙂
Update: I have stumbled on a very worthy and relevant post by Eclectic Camel, which has some great advice/insights.
Secondary update: You could also take Melbourne Metro’s approach to risk management, which is completely hilarious (PS this is a genuine, officially-sanctioned safety video from Melbourne Metro on how dangerous trains are. Lesson I learned? I may suck at life sometimes but even I ain’t that dumb!):