A few months ago, as I stood in front of my senior class, teaching existentialism and ‘No Exit’, I realized I was in my very own existential crisis (You can read the post HERE). And, as I am sure you are all very anxiously awaiting, I can now say my existential crisis has come to an end.
To be brief, an existential crisis occurs when a traumatic event causes you to re-think your purpose in life. Some begin with a midlife crisis, others with some kind of loss. My existential crisis occurred when my high school/college boyfriend dumped me, and I had to re-figure out my place in the world. I had to figure out things about myself, and about the world, that I was never faced with before: What do I think about moving in with someone before marriage? What kind of long term career goals do I have for myself? Where do I want to raise a family?
For me, the end of my existential crisis was actually very turbulent, very catastrophic, very painful. It began, one May day, as I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to my freshmen class, and I started tearing up as the courtroom stands for Atticus when he walks out of the courtroom. For a long time, since the breakup, I was in fight or flight, survival mode–a walking zombie, hardened and emotionless, unable to let anything potentially damaging in. But, as I read to my class and my eyes started watering, I realized that emotional part of what is so fundamentally me was back.
A few weeks later, I woke up, completely distressed; hair out of control, bag under my eyes, panic in my voice. I called my mom, met a friend at the dog park, sat in my room for a very long time, listening to my sad song playlist to puzzle the distress out. While there was a plethora of stuff leading up to it, the root of the panic stemmed from a realization that I might have to give up the innocent construct I have built of the world in order to live in the harsh reality of society. But, then the next day, I hiked a Colorado 14er, and I discovered that I can indeed keep that construct, because that is what makes me, Me, and that, without it, I would not be living an authentic life. As I came down that mountain, I felt the existential crisis averted.
I learned so many things about myself during this existential period. I learned that I have an incredibly acute sense of smell, and that I love traveling, meeting new people, doing new things, and am really, really bad at singing. I learned that I am extremely competitive, and that I value my alone time. I learned that I can’t date two people at once, and that actually, I don’t really like dating altogether (SEE: I Hate Dating).
Of course, being a 20something, dating was a huge component of my existential crisis. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want out of dating, out of a relationship, out of a marriage, and am now pretty sure who my future husband will turn out to be: the former boyscout, country boy, Christian type. He is smart and witty, compassionate and nerdy, humble and childish. He will get just as much joy out of stomping on the fallen leaves as I do. He knows how to do the things I cannot, such as fix the shower when the knob pops off, put windshield washer fluid in my car, and start a fire. And, he lets me navigate the world and exist as I am; he lets me read my book on the deck for hours at a time. He reads my blog and supports my writing. He doesn’t complain when he steps on a rhinestone and allows me to send him corny love letters in the mail. I am not sure who he is yet, but perhaps the coolest part of my existential journey has been accepting this fate that I do not know. When I look back on it, I have had to hit specific checkpoints. First, I had to decide what a marriage meant to me, and how I wanted that to look for me. Did I want a big, fancy wedding? Would I uproot states for my husband? What kind of wife did I see myself being? (Not a cooking one, that is for sure; SEE: My Tiff With Cooking). Next, I had to realize how dysfunctional my last relationship was, and how I would fix those dysfunctional tendencies (SEE: Roots & Dysfunctional Tendencies). And last, I had to learn how to put God first (because the most successful marriages always put God first). Interestingly enough, after each checkpoint, I always felt ready, like, “Ok, I learned that lesson, so NOW Prince Charming can show up”. And, still he is absent, because I apparently have more checkpoints to hit. While I cannot predict the future, and I have no idea how close I am getting, or how many more checkpoints I have, I do know that, when Prince Charming DOES show it, it will signal that I have hit all the checkpoints, and that I am finally ready, and I know that it will be so worth the wait.
I also discovered my purpose in life is three fold: to uplift other people, to make other people laugh, and to make other people think. Prior to my existential crisis, I defined my purpose in life through my job. I thought that I served enough by just educating the 180 students I get a year. And, when I got home, because I thought I did enough in my job, my life became purposeless. However, I realized that my purpose in life can actually transcend my job, and that anytime I get called to uplift someone else in times of tragedy, to make an unsuspecting patron laugh, or to ask an individual to think and question the world, I must always show up. If a friend needs support while a family member has surgery, I must show up. If people are bored during a meeting, I must show up. If a person is questioning which Redbox to pick, I must show up. Knowing that this is my purpose, and knowing that my purpose envelopes all aspects of my life, makes my life that much more invigorating, that much more full, that much more meaningful. It makes it easier to look at all the available options in my life. That, perhaps I do not necessarily need to live in the same suburb and teach in the same school for the rest of my life, because I can do those same things in many other places, and in many other ways. That, no matter where I am, what I am doing, who I am with, as long as I have opportunities to uplift, to laugh, and to think, I will be happy and fulfilled.
I knew my existential crisis was officially over when I stopped asking other people for advice, and started dishing out my own. When friends started asking me for my advice: “I saw a questionable text message from another girl on my boyfriend’s phone, what should I do?”, “I am so unhappy in my job but don’t want to quit”, and, “Why do I seem to attract all the douchebags?”, I knew that all this introspection, research, and observations of the world around me was worth it, because I could now share my wisdom and experiences with others in their own existential crisis’.
While I loved every minute of it, because I learned so much, and while I believe I will never stop suffering and learning, I am very happy to say that my existential crisis is officially over, and now I can get on with living.