You might think that being free. And the endless possibilities available nowadays are all virtues of the modern world. Unfortunately, it’s quite the contrary. Too much freedom is unhealthy and unpleasant, to say the least. Instead of guiding you towards a clear path, freedom blurs the way and it makes you want everything around. Instead of wanting to go to a specific place, you want to go everywhere, to have it all. But that’s virtually impossible as you already figured it out. Unable to satisfy our appetite, we end up dissatisfied no matter how much we acquire, which leads to a life in constant agony.
One of the perks in the 21st century is that we can become whatever we want. To pursue what we’re fancy. If this is so, we should have a clear answer to the following questions:
What’s your drive? What makes your heart beat like a teenager in a strip club?
Is it God? The desire to make money? To be rich and famous? To buy something specific?
Or, you’re one of those who believes that we are created with some sort of purpose? That we have a certain destiny that is predefined before our first breath and it’s up to us now to find it and follow it? If we still don’t know what it is though.
We all crave for a sense of meaning. Is quite normal. Since everything around us is created for a reason, we also want to believe that we’re here, on this planet, for some higher purpose. Not just to sleep, eat, and watch funny videos online. We all need a reason to get out of bed every morning.1
Unfortunately, we all struggle with finding meaning. A higher purpose that should guide us. Even if there is some sort of a higher purpose, we can’t seem to find what it is for some reason. There are so many options available and so little time. The freedom we have in our choice is our biggest virtue at the same time our biggest curse.
The Essence of Things
In philosophy, essence is the property or set of properties that make a thing, that particular thing.2 For instance, the main function of a pen is to write words. The ink of the pen can be red, green, black, it doesn’t matter, it will still be a pen. However, if you remove the ability for that pen to write – for instance, you remove the ink out of the body – it will no longer be a pen. It will be just a plastic pointer.
The same logic applies if your refrigerator brakes. It will no longer keep your food cold. So, it will no longer be a fridge. It will be just a fancy closet. Or, if you remove the upper part of a hammer and leave only the handle. It will no longer be a hammer, right?
An interesting question that follows is this one: What makes humans, well, humans?
As physical objects, all living creatures have some specific abilities or physical mutations that distinguishes them from other mammals as well. We just need to find them.
Humans, have the following three characteristics that makes them unique:
The first is the mobile thumb. The ability of humans to grasp objects with the “precision grip.” The precision allowed early species of Homo to start manufacturing primitive tools and later enables us tie our shoelaces. Without this new update there would be no books to enjoy and no Mozart playing Symphony 40;
The second notable spec of humans is the advanced vocal cord. This stereo sound let humans produce a variety of noises. You won’t hear a chimpanzee recites a poem or give a Ted talk;
Third, we have the larger number of cortical neurons. The nerve cells in the top layer of the brain. These neurons urge the thoughts and feelings of our mind. It’s also called neocortex. 3
Even though these physiological qualities are the main things that make us different from the other mammals that wander around the globe, they still don’t explain what’s our purpose.
We can surely do more things with our sophisticated grip thanks to the thumb, but what sort of things?
Well, according to Plato and Aristotle, we are born with a certain essence and this was implemented in us before we were born. This sort of belief is the foundation of Essentialism. It preaches that we were born to be a certain thing.4
To be honest, I don’t feel destinated to be or to do something. I’m sure that a lot of people feel the same. We’re not born with a compass inside of us which is guiding us to a certain place and shouts when we step foot in the wrong direction.
Even though we don’t choose our parents or where we’re born, which a lot of times are defining factors of what will happen to us next, we can surely change our future.
This type of thinking is known as Existentialism.
What is Existentialism?
What if we exist first? If we’re born without any hardwire purpose and then it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do with our own lives?
This is the cornerstone of Existentialism.
The mantra of this philosophical inquiry is that “existence precedes essence.” We’re born and then it’s up to each one of us to determine who we are, what we want from life, where we’re going, who are we going to love, what God we’re going to praise, who will be our friends and so on. Basically, humans, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine their unique meaning of life.
The above sound super cool, liberal, open-minded, generous. You’ll most probably immediately start praising the guy who created this concept, which by the way was the French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel.5 But there is more. And it’s confusing:
Existentialist argue that there is no real purpose in your life, or in life in general. Yes, you can choose your destiny sort to speak, but it won’t really matter because there is no grand purpose of living. The existence of the human race and all the creatures in the world have no real objective. No end goal. Our actions, or inactions for that matter, lack any real importance. This idea is part of Existentialism and it’s called The absurd.
We associated absurd (the word) as something unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate. But for existentialists, absurdity is a term. An idea stating that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it.6
In short, if you believe, with your whole heart, that you are a king and your purpose on this planet is to save the middle earth from poverty and disease, it will be true for you, individually. This will be your purpose. This will be your guiding light. You’ll wake up each morning with ambition an joy that you have a goal until the day the local doctors dress you up with a straitjacket. But in general, the whole idea of being a king and saving the poor souls of the middle earth people won’t really matter on a large scale.
We search for answers in an answerless world. Meaning in a meaningless universe. We are restlessly looking for meaning but we’re living in a place without any real purpose. That’s the whole idea of absurdism.
Sound absurd, right?
Well, they named it like that for a reason.
So, after understanding this you might ask yourself: What’s the whole point of living then?
A valid question with not so obvious answer. At least not nowadays.
The Point of Living
Thousands of years ago it was simpler. People were firm believers. They obeyed the Lord and his commands. The main mission of Christianity was to spread the word and convert more people into believers. Everyone was doing it back then. It was trendy.
During the endless wars for obtaining larger territories, having a purpose was even easier. You obeyed the King or your commander. You went to war and your purpose was to kill enemies and help your country spread, gain more land, become an empire.
If your daddy was in the military you were going to be a soldier for sure. If your mom was a Catholic dressmaker, guess what your future would hold? Hell yes, you’ll also become a dressmaker devoted to God. Our purpose was actually predefined before we were born. This was actually the case up until recently.
Nowadays, it’s a bit more complex.
We’re all rational people and know that the world as we know it now, was created after a long evolutionary process. Even if we’re followers of some sort of religion, most of us know that there is more than just going to the church every Sunday. This leaves us with a lot of free time and even fewer answers.
According to Existentialism, freedom, as great as it sounds, is agonizingly painful and dissatisfying.
The Problem With Freedom
It took a lot of time for humans to achieve what we take for granted today. The freedom we have nowadays is due to the collective efforts of people and soldiers through hundreds of years.
Generally speaking, now, we’re free the moment we’re born and this fact sounds super cool.
If someone else chooses your destiny – let say that your dad is in the military and he persuades you that you should become a soldier – you’ll know where you’re going, you’ll know how to get there. You’ll draw a line and focus your efforts to go to this specific place. You’ll ignore everything else. This will be your “one thing”, your meaning.
On contrary, freedom offers endless possibilities. It doesn’t offer one path. It offers countless.
The abundance of freedom is what suffocates us, not the lack of meaning.
If you’re standing on a crossroad, and if there is no real meaning in life, no defined path, no one to tell you what to do, which path are you going to take? You most probably go a few miles in direction A. Then an inner feeling will make you think that “probably path B is better, more fun, let’s turn around.” This type of behavior might go on forever. Or at least till we’re alive. That’s why a lot of people never achieve anything substantial. Because they can’t choose a certain path. They wander around in different directions and never get too deep into a certain subject.
That what happens in life.
Not knowing what to do, we start mimicking what the people around us do when we’re little. Since there is nothing predetermined in our lives in terms of career path – we’re free to make our choices as we mentioned. Some representatives of the human follow orders because it’s easier.
You can do what your parents say. Your religion. The government. Your boss or your spouse. But if you live your life obeying others, this will mean that you have bad faith.
Bad faith means that you’re accepting a 3rd party reality as your own reality.
If you’re a waiter, not by choice but by necessity. And if you define your life with this job. Your life will revolve around you being a waiter. This will mean that you’re living a bad faith.
If your government send you to war you’re basically accepting the meaning they gave to this war. You surely didn’t start a war by yourself but once you hop into the plane you’re part of their meaning. The purpose of this war is now your purpose.
Essentialists refer to this as refusal of The absurd.7 You pretend that something has meaning. Meaning that you didn’t give it.
In theory, everything you do, need to do, think, that’s not in resonance with your own, personal beliefs, is a bad faith. In the modern age, this in most of the cases is the job we have. A lot of us don’t like what we do but we do it because we have to. That’s why a lot of us are unhappy. Even though we’re free in theory, we’re still enslaved to do things we don’t like for money.
Is there a solution to all of this?
To Live Authentically
To live authentically means to act and do only things that are in line with your own personal beliefs, not according to outside pressures or understanding. To do what you desire, not what others tell you to do.
According to Albert Camus only by acting authentically one can achieve the greatest extent of one’s freedom.
In short, this means doing whatever the hell you want.
To some extent, this sounds scary. If everyone in the world does what he wishes, there won’t be any order. No set rules or morals. It will be total anarchy. Yet on an individual level, this is the best thing you can do for yourself.
As we mentioned earlier, according to Essentialism there is no higher purpose in life. Still, your life can have meaning, but only if you choose to assign one. You have the freedom to choose whatever purpose you want. Of course, for the sake of humanity, it will be best to choose something that will benefit all of us and at the same time be in perfect order with your inner self.
Do you want to be a noble person who helps others? Do your thing.
Do you want to become a world-famous athlete so you can inspire others to live a healthier life? Be my guest.
The key is to choose a path and live according to it, no matter how hard it is.
The choice is yours. You can look at what other people are doing. You can ask for advice but keep in mind that others don’t know either. They’ll suggest things that are not in resonance with your own self, which will make their advice nonauthentic.
Freedom is great and all but freedom without any clear direction is burdensome.
Your choice in life – no matter what is going to be – is solely yours. Because no advice can lead to a decision that is truly authentic. No one can tell you that your life is not worth anything if you don’t have children or if you don’t have a huge house and a six-figure salary. The idea is to create your own set of values and define your way.
Of course, choosing a path doesn’t mean that reaching the final destination it’s going to be easy. In most of the cases a path that’s worthy, it’s tough to transcend.
But that’s the whole point of living if you ask me. Challenging yourself to be better than yesterday and making the world a better place. Even though the latter sounds like a cliché.
If you want more justice, happiness, better laws – we have work for them ourselves. Because otherwise, these things wouldn’t really exist.
For an ending, I’ll tell you this: It doesn’t matter what others think, or what you choose as a path in your life, if what you do work that excites you, it’s all that matters.
Even though there are a lot of people who live only to sleep and eat. There are others who feel an urge for something greater. I hope you’re one of the latter group.