Warning: this post may contain material that makes you question a lot of things. Proceed with caution.
I’m in the library, writing a paper on health and social policy (you know, a typical Tuesday night activity). While performing an expert analysis on the state of health care, I start to ask questions. Why is the social structure set up this way? How did millions of years of evolution lead us to this point?
A steep downward spiral later, I hit the emotional wall that is the demise of human productivity: apathy.
And what may have caused this apathy, you wonder?
Questioning the very foundations of life – value, meaning and purpose, also known as existentialism.
In various Internet subcultures, the idea of the ‘quarter life crisis,’ or the ‘existential crisis’ has become fairly common. A twenty-something wasting their life away on Netflix, caused by an utter lack of purpose, is an instantly recognizable and relatable illusion.
Personally, I think just being a student makes me vulnerable to the creeping embrace of existentialism. I have to make important decisions that will seemingly impact me for years to come, and that’s a lot of pressure. This is the general “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” kind of problem. A minor lack of motivation, purpose and meaning spirals into more intense thoughts. We are conscious beings who have the freedom to do what we want, and to make meaning of this life that we’re living. The part that baffles me is the utter absurdity of it all.
It becomes difficult to focus on school, when you’re questioning the very meaning of your existence. We’ve been searching for the meaning of life for millennia. Ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have questioned the universe and it’s existence.
Spoiler alert: we haven’t found it, which is what I remind myself when I start getting existential. They weren’t the first, nor will they be the last to ask these questions. I’ll avoid preaching about finding your love and inspiration (I do that enough).
But where does this leave me? What is the meaning of life at U of T? (Get it? Like the name of the blog? No?) Have I resumed fetal position and accepted that life is meaningless?
I realize that in university, and in my program especially, we’re taught to question and analyze why things are they way they are. It’s inevitable that some of that thinking leaks into everyday life (those sneaky profs!) So, after a long discussion with my friends about motivation and purpose, I return to my essay with a strangely renewed interest in what I’m passionate about.
Disclaimer: Although existential thoughts might be manageable for some people, I don’t want to invalidate what anyone else has experienced. So, if you have persistent feelings like this, don’t hesitate to talk to someone or to connect yourself with resources on campus like Peers are Here, Mindful Moments, Health and Wellness and more.
Let me know about how you deal with this down in the comments, or on Twitter at @Api_UofT!