Many of us want to believe that we’re irreplaceable, unique, and even ‘special.’
Obviously we’re important to our family and close friends. However, to nearly all the rest of humanity we don’t even register.
As an experience-seeker, I’m a believer that happiness, fulfillment, and a search for meaning, should govern all of our personal decision-making. But as a nihilist, I understand that most of the personal decisions people take are of little consequence in the greater scheme of things.
I regularly declare that human beings, the world over, are so similar, but at the same time so different. ‘Consistently inconsistent’ would be an apt way to describe the endless list of human wants, needs, feelings, and desires.
Sometimes it comes as a shock when I tell people, that once a person reaches adulthood, there are really only five main ‘things’ they do during their lifetime. These are ‘the work thing,’ ‘the study thing,’ ‘the travel thing,’ ‘the family thing,’ and ‘the getting old and dying thing.’
The work thing – we work for a variety of reasons ranging from ‘because it’s our passion’ to ‘because it pays the bills.’ Most of us don’t hate our jobs, but many of us don’t enjoy them either. The crazy thing is that once we start working, we often can’t stop. Social pressure, societal expectations, and a doggedly persistent capitalist culture of advertisement and consumption keeps us firmly rooted in our workplaces. The cycle is thus: we want more, and so we earn more, solely in order to spend more. We regularly confuse luxury and necessity; loving our possessions as if they were people. Work becomes life and life becomes work. Over the years our personal and professional identities merge closer and closer together, until it becomes difficult to tell one from the other.
The study thing – we do ‘the study thing,’ mainly to avoid, or defer, ‘the work thing.’ Studying gives people a societally acceptable excuse to pursue their personal passions within a logically structured framework. Nevertheless, many people only look at ‘the study thing’ as a gateway to ‘the work thing.’ I would be willing to hedge my bets that it wouldn’t be so difficult to get accepted into medical, dentistry, law, pharmacy, accounting, and nursing schools worldwide if all those professions didn’t universally pay so well. If making money wasn’t a priority, I’d be willing to wager that enrollment in the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and the more specific natural sciences, would drastically increase. Although more people are choosing to do ‘the study thing’ at various points throughout their lifetimes, many continue to look back on their time doing ‘the study thing’ as ‘the best time of their lives.’ This is usually because ‘the study thing’ is closely associated with the energy and certainty of youth, large and diverse social circles, and of course, epic parties. Perhaps, most importantly, young people doing ‘the study thing’ often don’t need to worry about the economic aspect of ‘the work thing’ since students usually receive generous financial support from their parents, as well as being eligible to receive grants, loans, and scholarships from governments, private educational institutions, and a plethora of communal organizations.
The travel thing – traveling is becoming a more acceptable and fashionable pastime. Many, if not all, humans are wired to seek out adventure and new experiences (though modern civilization has done a great job of suppressing these, along with nearly all of our other, primal urges). While most people confuse ‘the travel thing’ with a vacation – which many of us take once or twice a year in order to recharge our batteries; merely for the purpose of returning to ‘the work thing,’ or ‘the study thing,’ once again. ‘The travel thing,’ by contrast, provides one with the ability, often for the first and only time in one’s life, to take complete control of their time (and essentially become their own boss). This allows people doing ‘the travel thing’ to ‘find oneself’ and ‘go on a journey of self-discovery,’ just to quote a few over-used clichés. Doing ‘the travel thing’ allows people to lead a hedonistic existence, pursuing anything and everything one wants. It can also free one from past responsibilites and burdens. For many, the best part of ‘the travel thing,’ is not having to worry about the pressure and obligations of either ‘the study thing,’ ‘the work thing,’ or ‘the family thing.’
The family thing – Despite the increasingly vocal ‘I’m never getting married’ crowd, ‘the family thing’ continues to be as much a staple of human life as ever. Most people get married at some point during their lives (these days many even get married for a second or third time), and those that don’t often co-habitate long-term in what could accurately be described as a de facto marriage. Yes, people living in wealthier societies are starting families later and having fewer children. But most people still choose to procreate and take an active role in the care of their young. I’m certain that most parents would describe the relationship with their children as central to their personal identity, and a large part of what gives their lives meaning. As far as I can see the main difference between ‘the family thing,’ as opposed to ‘the work thing,’ ‘the study thing,’ and ‘the travel thing,’ is in its inherent permanence. Raising children requires a significant time commitment; alertness, focus, and attention. And parents likely need to put many of their priorities on hold as they put the immediate needs of their offspring first.
The getting old and dying thing – so you’ve done, or are maybe in the process of doing, ‘the work thing,’ ‘the study thing,’ ‘the travel thing,’ and ‘the family thing.’ Who knows? Maybe you skipped one, or even two, of them. It doesn’t really matter, does it? So what’s left? I know ‘the getting old and dying thing’ is probably not the best title for the final thing we do in our lifetimes. Perhaps ‘the twilight year thing’ or ‘the aging gracefully thing’ would have been better. But there’s no point in sugarcoating the facts. At the beginning, all of us are born to woman. And at the end, the vast majority of us are either put into the earth or cremated into ash. To those who say you can continue to do ‘the work thing,’ ‘the study thing,’ ‘the travel thing,’ and ‘the family thing,’ right up until the day you croak, you’re absolutely correct. In fact one of these things, one way or another, will likely lead to your demise. Only a fool would deny that life is a terminal illness. At the moment we are born, a countdown begins until the moment we die. We don’t know when the grim reaper will appear for each of us, but appear he will. Life expectancy statistics may help us rationalize how much time we have left, but any illusions of immortality we hold will be shattered. Some of the things that defined us in our early adulthood will probably continue to define us as we do ‘the getting old and dying thing.’ Though it’s just as likely that some of the things we believed to be so important when we were younger will be completely meaningless, to our older, hopefully wiser, selves.
In conclusion, our lives are as meaningful, or as meaningless, as we will them to be. Does nothing really matter, since nearly all of humanity essentially does the same five ‘things’ over their lifespans? Or does every little thing we do matter profoundly, because each decision we take is imbued with a deeply personal significance and meaning? That’s for each of us to decide.
So to all my fellow human beings, good luck with ‘the work thing,’ ‘the study thing,’ ‘the travel thing,’ ‘the family thing,’ and ‘the getting old and dying thing.’ Whoever we are, and wherever we are, each of us always has something to look forward to!