17 years. That’s how long I had been able to avoid the question of meaningfulness in the world. Even as I watched danisnotonfire’s video “Existential Crisis”, I was able to dodge the questions of our existence and individual place in the world that were cast towards me. I always considered it to be pointless to dwell on things such as the meaning of human existence, things that we most likely will never know the answer to, as this will only trouble us and make it difficult for us to live our lives to the fullest.
For 17 years, I was able to avoid an existential crisis. A few weeks ago, an existential crisis hit me like a train.
This year, I am supposed to figure out what I want to study at university. Sounds terrifyingly exciting, doesn’t it? Of course, this does not set the course for my entire future. What I decide to study does not determine what I become in life. That’s what my parents say whenever they find me in a puddle on the kitchen floor, radiating hopelessness and confusion about our world. They tell me about neighbours who have become doctors at 40, after realising that they were not supposed to work as economists.
They tell me that I have the choice to become whatever I want to be; that I have great opportunities in life.
And yes, my life is most of the time wonderful. I go to a great school, have pretty good grades, am active in different clubs and have a plan for the future. For 17 years, I was happily floating through my opportunity-filled life, unknowing of the existential crisis that was slowly creeping up on me. Then one day, suddenly, completely out of the blue, as I was looking at potential universities, a huge WHY hit me.
WHY am I doing this?
Why am I doing anything at all? Will it matter when I lie on my deathbed? What is my place and meaning in this seemingly absurd meaninglessness that is the universe?
From having this great dream of studying medicinal science – helping people, saving them from illnesses – I now questioned whether that had any meaning at all if the world was going to end anyway.
At the worst possible time – in the middle of lab reports, the extended essay, internal assessments (because IB) – the fun topics of the meaning of life and human existence booked a long-stay room in my mind, and they were not considering leaving. I no longer felt any sort of meaning in studying any more. Sure, I did all my homework, but as I was constantly questioning why I did them if they weren’t going to matter in the end at all, reading about homologous chromosomes seemed rather unimportant to me.
Why read this ancient piece of literature that makes me enjoy afternoon naps? Will my lab report about osmosis in carrot slices mean anything to the survival of our world?
This is what scares me the most. Wasting time on meaningless things and regretting my choices when I lie on my deathbed – or even worse, wasting time on meaningless things and doing nothing to promote the survival of our world. What are my goals in life supposed to be? Will I be happy when I die if all I have done is work towards a better world? Will I be happy when I die if all I have done is have fun?
The world most definitely does not benefit from me binge-watching TV-series and writing lab reports about osmosis in carrot tissue that tens of thousands of people have already written, but it gives me personal happiness and growth. Is that the meaning of life? Happiness and personal growth?
Am I wasting precious time in my terribly short life by writing the English essay that I have no interest in whatsoever, but that I’m writing because my teacher tells me to and I know that it will contribute to a growth of my intellect?
Will I end up spending several years in a pointless job that should not even exist, only to realise that I can become something else?
Of course, in order to even slightly understand these questions, we need to learn. That’s what I’m going with for now. While the tests we do in school will disappear, while the essays we write most likely won’t have any meaning whatsoever in the universe, while everything will eventually end, we have the opportunity to make the best of our life. Why dwell on things that we most likely will never understand? I think that in order to not regret everything as we are laying on our deathbeds, we need to do what we as an individual finds fun and important in this moment. If we change our minds about these things, while we might think that we have wasted time, we can still look back and see that at least, in that moment, we were happy.
To be honest, what else can we do? Sit in our house, not doing anything because we don’t know what the meaning of human existence is? That’s what I call wasting time.
Amelie Rosenlöf, DP1