I think there’s a very basic fear that comes from declaring one is happy, adult, whole complete: that this is all there is, and this is all your potential has come to or will come to. The drive to be special and extraordinary and successful may in some way be linked to a basic fear of inadequency- and the problem is that once you say you are whole, then you have no more excuses for not being Superwoman or Barbie or whatever other mythic, perfect human and are forced to accept your limitations and the choices you have made up to this point that have rendered you less than pluripotential. You are no longer a stem cell, but a stomach; no longer a young girl with acne who promises to be very beautiful but instead concerned at 27 you are as beautiful as you can ever hope to be and on a downhill slope. The person you were in college is not there any more; luckily both her shallower concerns and anxieties no longer eat you up and you have more inner peace, yet in your maturity you get to wonder instead, “Is this all there is?” And the things about yourself that you hate are still there, and you can no longer claim that you will grow out of them or its just a phase.
You are drawn into reckless habits; you subtly sabotage your largely succesful and very fortunate life; you avoid love because you are afraid of settling for less than a dream and it’s hard to give up on Prince Charming, because if you don’t find him you’ll be admitting you are less than a Disney princess.
You rage against educational debt, but what you are really concerned about is the fact that by making one choice other avenues are less open to you, and you didn’t become exactly the person your ridiculous younger selves would have dreamed of. You have fallen short of perfection, of your ideal of where you’d be by now; you have experienced much more than you could ever have imagined and are living dreams that you never dared to whisper aloud to yourself for fear they could never come true, yet, you find yourself obsessing over the checkboxes you have yet to fill and thinking that this can’t count as real happiness
Because you think they must have been right, your youthful dreams, conventional wisdom, and what your parents told you, and when you find them to conflict with reality as you experience it, you assume you must be wrong. That is what FOMO is, believing other people are enjoying the party more than you are and there’s something wrong with you for not having fun in the same way. Because you have been blessed in that most of the time, you are indeed having fun it just doesn’t look how you pictured it.
And this collision course between dreams, collective and individual, of what you would be like, of what you should be like, and the reality of your happiness coming in a different shape is terrifying. What if they are all wrong, and everything you’ve done to fit in your whole life, and to achieve what they wanted of you, was a total waste? Those As gave you the freedom to go to the college you wanted, but would you have been happier now had you staged a teenage rebellion and had a better time experimenting rather than achieving your whole life instead?
And now you are experienced that delayed teenage angst, the turbulent Sturm und Drung. You are a bohemian in a bildingsroman even as you are a yuppie planting yourself on the corporate ladder. And you hate yourself in both directions.
The sad thing is that it’s almost over, this period of your life where you were in denial over your wholeness, completeness, and raged against the reality of your own happiness, blessedness, good fortune, and the fruits of your labors. WHen you should have been enjoying them, you hated yourself. Questioning everything wasn’t such a bad idea but you didn’t have to destroy yourself in the process, and that was maybe a bit of a waste
Although you know now that no experience is wasted, that everything is both silly and serious, that you can be as stable as you’ve ever been but life can turn on a dime. You feel guilty for enjoying change so much when you are supposed to be settling down, and you are terrified of missing your window and wandering the earth alone, single, carefree but lonely, forever. You wonder if those white picket fence people are on to something and covet every child you see but you know that living life the way your parents did just isn’t for you, and you are terrified that you are the most selfish person on the planet and you’ll never find happiness because of it. You refuse to lower your standards when looking for love, and you have vowed not to sacrifice your creative path, not even to have your own family or find a partner, certain that you can only have those things honestly if they come to you on the path. ANd if they don’t, you know you’ll be ok but your heart is breaking, grieving the possibility anyway.
And that’s ok, it’s all part of being an adult and facing the fact that not just our life choices, but who we are is not what we expected or perhaps wanted, and that is the deepest source of shame- that we are not the people we think we should be. The deep self loathing and shame that sabotage your success and happiness when it doesn’t come in the form you intended even if it was a dream you fought hard for. The little girl part of you that is terrified your parents were wrong and feels overwhelmed by the choices and lost without the absolute authority of family, tradition, church, country. The conservative backlash part of you mixed in with your deep insecurities and unwillingness to own your own views on life, in fear that they are wrong, that you are wrong and deeply flawed and different and will always be alone and not quite enough.
I know you are at the tail end of this thing because it finally has a name, and words are starting to come out to do it justice. Not the pages and page of existential crisis, but the real, deep engagement with your whole self, and te fact that the fog has largely cleared and you are starting to love yourself enough t ohave a l ittle perspective again.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Marukami
And you are also afraid that the storm will never be over, and that you will never have anything to stand on, just open sea and sky, that there will never be certainty again. And some zen part of you is born, and your new religion is
“You must love life more than the meaning of it.” Doestovsky
“I had a discussion with a great master in Japan, and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, ‘That’s a waste of time. If you really understand Zen, you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because the sound of the rain needs no translation.’”
– Alan Watts
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
― Alan W. Watts
“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”
― Alan W. Watts
ANd you’ve realized, not only is the crisis the healing, as mentioned by Pema Chodrun, but both are eternal and there’s no one point at which you’ve healed or grown up or reached your goal. ANd most importantly, all that you have experienced as sickness was actualy growth:
“Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”
ANd all of this drama and angst and pain was actually necessary to rid you of your illusions and to make ou finally be who you are.
And now, looking at this person, you have to remember that in every moment you are a newborn baby and a hospice patient at the end of your life, and that this monent and the self ou are in it will never come again and are to be cherished, if only for that. ANd life is much more lovely than you give it credit for most of the time, and you are a wonder.
And yes, you can continue to win and achieve and be awesome if you finally cut yourself some slack and stopped being pissed that you couldn’t jump up to the stars on your trampoline or dig a tunnel to China.
And the more important thing is just to enjoy things as they are now, to enjoy yourself, and to be kind in the way you look at t things.