A scene in the hugely popular meet-cute film, “That Thing Called Tadhana,” shows the two protagonists reminiscing about their days in university when one of them poses a rhetorical question:
Shouldn’t we be great by now?
Oh, how the twenty-something me would agree! I don’t know how it started, but this phenomenon’s been going on for ages now that gets young people all worked up about the things they must accomplish by age 30. “Earn my first million,” “Become established in my career,” “Get married” and “Buy my first car/house…” Sounds familiar, er, painful? Little wonder that at 25, the so-called “quarter life crisis” ensues — that period of self-doubt and panic when one realizes, at 25, that he actually still doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and how to even start to get to those by-age-30 goals that he set for himself. So he gets together with his friends and over a few rounds of beer, they begin to chorus: “Shouldn’t we be great by now?” Or perhaps he goes home and asks the reflection in his bedroom mirror the same question, alongside its nasty siblings: “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I not measuring up?” “How on earth can I ever get ahead?” and of course, the black sheep of the family, “Why is nothing going right in my life?” Or else, the twenty-something decides to face his “quarter life challenge” head on and pushes all anxieties and apprehensions to the farthest corners of his head, and races and shoves and elbows his way to his perceived age-30 mountaintop leaving anywhere from one to a couple dozen casualties (i.e., stepped on toes, bruised ribs and bloody lips) behind him. Upon reaching it he experiences euphoria for a full five minutes… then as his adrenaline goes down, he starts muttering, “Um, is this it, then? Now what?” Psychologists, sociologists, Darwinists and historians have volumes to say about man’s thirst for achievement, to leave a mark, to make a dent in this world, to prove that he was here. But if I may suggest a countercultural, in fact counterintuitive aspiration:
Not for greatness, but for meaning.
Not for a legacy, but for a purpose.
Just to be clear: I am not promoting mediocrity, or for us to live unremarkable lives. Desiring to do great things is good, and aiming for excellence in all that one does is definitely an admirable aspiration…albeit not always, as the questions must still be asked at the end of the day: Towards what end? What does all the toiling mean? Try this exercise: Name one pursuit or goal that you have, and then ask yourself, “What for?” Whatever the answer, keep pushing and further asking, “What for?”
Doing this, what do you find at the very end of the chain? Fulfillment? Self-Actualization?
I find that the usual answers point to our preoccupation with ourselves. Yet if self-fulfillment and actualization are the ultimate end, why do we have these statements from apparently very successful, great people?
I’m bored with it all. – William Churchill, before slipping into a coma. He died 9 days later.
The funny thing about having all this so-called success is that behind it is a certain horrible emptiness – Sam Shepard (Pulitzer award-winning playwright, actor, and television and film director)
Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within. – Arthur Erickson (internationally acclaimed architect)
May I therefore dare to go further, and submit that the key to finding one’s meaning and purpose, beyond what glory and greatness can give, is to look beyond himself? Perhaps the crucial point is found here:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Let’s all just ponder over this for a moment.
(To be continued)