On the Anxiety of Freedom and Feelings of Inadequacy

The vanity of existence is revealed in the whole form existence assumes: in the infiniteness of time and space contrasted with the finiteness of the individual in both; in the fleeting present as the sole form in which actuality exists; in the contingency and relativity of all things; in continual becoming without being; in continual desire without satisfaction; in the continual frustration of striving of which life consists.
— Arthur Schopenhauer, “On The Vanity Of Existence”

We live in a time when most things we interact with on a daily basis seem... transient. We wait for articles around us “to be updated”—another new iPhone, a superfood of the year, social app, VR game, diet fad, etc… when destroying status quo is seen as the norm, maybe my anxiety and overtaxed mind isn't my fault afterall.

 “Progress” and “Development” have become the holy grails of our society. Not only are we taught to revere Change but we almost no choice but to embrace it, and to live it, day in and day out if we want feel accepted by those around us. To question Why is to challenge our own very existence in these modern times (ie. insert major existential crisis).

I’ve struggled with questions of identity my entire life; an inevitable consequence of being raised a Third Culture Kid (TCK)... never quite feeling at Home anywhere, at least nowhere physical. But today, my transcultural identity crisis isn’t the focus of my discourse. This is about the Other aspect of identity—one marked by Capitalism and captured in the lives of us who live in the so-called 'First World' countries.

anxiety-rock-yumi-sakugawa

To a certain extent, our identities are increasingly characterized by the gadgets we own, the social statuses we hold, and the professional titles printed on our business cards. A question we’re often asked, upon meeting somebody for the first time, is what we do for a living. As if THIS, above any other attribute, defines the person we are. I am an avid traveler, semi-nomadic, book hoarder and food enthusiast. I binge watch Game of Thrones and should stop obsessively eating ice cream for breakfast. How's that for a little snapshot of me? Of course, I am nowhere close to being the first person to bring this up (eg. [1], [2]) though I don’t think it’s discussed nearly enough. I am on a mission to contemplate these forces to I-don’t-know… unload some angst, unease and frustration, I guess? Haha.

The jobs and occupations we choose, inevitably, become a significant part of who we are.  For better or worse, they occupy much of our time and give us distinctive experiences, mannerisms, responsibilities and routines. BUT—society demands us to commit ourselves exclusively to one or two things. Changing career paths or jumping from job to job is reprimanded by Recruiters. You were supposed to pick a career path and stick to it! If you're one of the lucky few who've discovered a cause you tirelessly wish to devote your life to, congratulations. 

Yet, any given day or week, a number of us are likely to dream about what might have happened if we had chosen differently. Sure, there is no right or wrong answer, only choices, but how do we even begin to make such life-defining decisions "if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?” (Gotta love Kundera). I guess this is what Kierkegaard refers to as the anxiety of freedom.

My issue isn’t that I don’t know what my passion is or what sort of life I want to lead. "Finding" myself was never a conflict. In fact, the problem is exactly that—I have developed many interests and I hope to accomplish a variety of these distinctive milestones. I want to create meaning and stamp my steal in the realms of art, business, literature, photography, health and psychology. There’s always more I want to learn, more of which I want to experience… but as a girl living in the shadows of high familial expectations, I’m told that I’m too ambitious, too dreamy-eyed, too… idealistic. Mom says I cannot "waste” any more time dabbling in too many things, that I am too old to deviate to alternative career plans. Maybe she’s right, maybe she’s not, but either way I can’t help but feel selfish, guilty and confused for wanting too much. Perhaps... this is the Human Condition they speak of.

Grasped by conflicting desires, I have a mortal duty to pick and choose only the most important to be included in my life anthology, especially since bills are waiting to be paid and social expectations yet to be filled. No wonder I am forever gripped by a consistent feeling of restlessness and inadequacy. How do I make peace with myself and find fulfillment in my life knowing that one way or another I am going to neglect parts of my too-curious-and-too-fervent soul? One of my favorite TED talks “How to Make Hard Choices” by Ruth Chang (I spoke about it here) addresses this issue but it doesn’t absolve the the fact that I am confronting, everyday, the truth that I am doing a fraction of what I want to do. In this very moment, I am living merely a singular version of Me. Like Hannah Brencher, I want to be all the things.

But I can't be all the things. 

Muddling back and forth between acceptance and resistance, I am still learning how to live with myself for not being enough.

Regardless, don't get me wrong. I am extremely thankful for the things I do have. For the roof over my head and the food on my table, I am lucky. More than anything though, I am incredibly grateful for my family. Despite our differences and squabbles, I know they love me and have my back when I need more support. That fact alone is more than anything I could ever ask for. In terms of everything else, however, if it's any consolation... at least the freedom of acceptance is mine:

I can never conquer the mountain. But I can conquer myself.

I remind myself that there are books yet to be read, places yet to visit, and people yet I can help. The least that I can do right now is to stay aware of my struggles but continue to sail the seas of my creative and troubled soul. I assume that finding peace within myself is a practice of a lifetime. 

Okay. Peace for now.

Sincerely yours,
Alice @gofindalice


"When I am able simply to be with things as they are, able to accept the day’s challenges without judging, reaching, or wishing for something else, I feel as if I am receiving the privilege, coming a step closer to being myself." -- Katrina Kenison