Hello everybody, welcome to episode 137 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Today we’re going to be taking a look at how mental health affects our ability to find life purpose, and whether or not life purpose is all that important anyway. It’s another one sent in from someone who’s new to adulthood looking to find their place in this world, and I like to think this is a fine place to do it. Let’s see if we can help her out with feeling lost and aimless. Here’s the question…
QUESTION: “I am 20 years old and finally starting to stretch my wings into the world. I have a full time job, go to college online, and partake in different pass times when I am not catching up on sleep. I like being busy and trying different things.
The truth of it is, that if things are not changing and keeping me on my toes, I lose interest so fast. Struggling with anxiety and depressive episodes for a better portion of my life, I've become quite used to the feeling of “numb”. Maybe not in the typical sense of the word, but being at my age and trying to discover who I am; it is significantly more difficult when things don't necessarily keep my attention long enough for me to even see if I could find a passion in them.
I just don't really understand and the more I try to figure out who I am or even some ideal of who I want to be the more lost I become. I feel as though I don't have a spark, as though I am just okay at a lot of things. If any of this makes sense, I would love to hear from you and your thoughts on some next steps to living a more fulfilling life.”
Self-Discovery at Twenty Years Old
Wonderful question, thank you for sending this one in! Discovering ourselves at 20 is tough enough, let alone when the process is plagued by episodes of depression and anxiety.
I’d suggest that the fact that you’re struggling a bit extra with this for someone your age is definitely due to those mental health struggles, but first I want to talk about the aging process and the process of finding ourselves before addressing the other stuff, so let’s get into it.
Lost and Aimless During Different Stages of Life
You mention your age and how, at your age, you’re finally starting to stretch your wings. You seem to doing a great job by the way – involving yourself in school, work and still making time for hobbies.
So while you’re frustrated about how quickly you lose interest in things, you need to know that this is not uncommon. Perhaps your mental health struggles are making the feelings of being lost and aimless worse, and again, I’ll address that shortly, but the process of trying on new hats and not quite knowing our place in the world is perfectly aligned with the stage of life you’re at.
I imagine you may find yourself rattled by the certainty that some of your peers have about their own identities, but pay no mind to this as many (not all, but many) of them will find that they have a lot of changes coming at them too.
Interests changes. Circumstances change. Priorities change. And at 20, you’re at the cusp of that.
Imagine Yourself In The Future
I encourage you to imagine yourself being a bit older, maybe 30 years old or 40 (or even 5 years ahead to your mid-twenties), and reflecting on whether you really had it all figured out at 20 — and more importantly, if you had to have it all figured out.
There’s so much life left, so many new experiences to be exposed to voluntarily and involuntarily. I know the stresses of moving into adulthood and picking a major make it feel like it needs to be certain, but look around you at all the people with careers that they didn’t study for in college.
I’m one of them. I was doing something entirely different until I was 26, something I could swear would be forever. And though I put so much time into it and it made up such a part of my identity, I had to listen to the changes that were occurring in me that I didn’t expect. I embraced the uncertainty, and I couldn’t be happier about doing so.
And though I love what I’m doing right now, maybe another change is a’coming. I don’t know that for sure.
But I know that if it is, I’ll at least explore it when it comes, and until then, I’ll enjoy where I’m at right now.
Be Careful of Fixating on “Life Purpose”
Be careful of this shiny “life purpose” term that people are throwing around. It’s not an all-encompassing backbone of what it means to be human. It’s a term that means different things to different people, and there are a lot of very happy people out there who think the very idea of a life purpose is just something made up by hippies.
Some people have huge passions like the ones you seek, passions that fuel all their decisions, but that doesn’t mean their lives are necessarily better for it. For some they are, and for some they aren’t.
Whether or not you’d prove to be someone who benefits from having that type of huge passion, it’s not something that can be forced anyway.
The more you try new things (as you are), the better of a position you put yourself in to find something like that, but even if you don’t find it, try to focus instead on enjoying the time you spend on each thing while it interests you.
Take Life A Little Less Seriously
There’s no need to take life so seriously that your existence feels incomplete without having mastered something or without having something to obsess over.
Your long term identity will require balance anyway, and perhaps not realizing that (because it does sound less sexy, let’s face it) and pursuing the opposite has contributed to your mental health struggles thus far.
The more you try to force this thing, the more lost you’re going to feel. But there’s nothing to be forced, and those who do manage to find something to base their lives on, something long lasting, still face questions like yours. We always want the change ups and progress in at least a few areas of life, and this is where anxiety and depression can get us into particular trouble.
The thing about anxiety and depression both is that they often demand us or make us feel pressures to find permanence in things – items in life to feel hopeful for, and that we can count on to not leave us or cause us to worry. We want to know something steady is there for us, so we can be apart of something, something we don’t have to do extra worrying or thinking about.
I believe that mixing these struggles of yours with the current stage of life you’re in has caused you to always look for that rock immediately – to put high expectations on all of your hobbies in hopes that they will stay with you. But high expectations means easy disappointment, so if these things don’t immediately reveal themselves as grand, glorious cornerstones of your life, then it’s on to the next one.
Lost and Aimless: Conclusion
This may all be difficult or even painful to grasp, but even if you had a strong passion and had fewer mental health struggles, these questions would still come up for much of your life, and that’s ok. The losses are inevitable, and that too is ok. Others before you have shared your concern and gone on to thrive. You can too, and though it might be hard to believe it now, it’ll prove itself to be true over time.
But try not to put pressure on these things to be the end all, be all. It’s like going on a first date and expecting to find a soulmate. The odds just aren’t likely at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun while it feels right, and learn a thing or two in the process.
Allow all of the new hobbies you pursue to maybe just be temporary, small parts of your puzzle; something to just enjoy for the time being, and know that you can and will find other sources of meaning after they’re done.
Ok, everyone. I hope the lost and aimless vs. life purpose talk wasn’t too alarming for you, but I do feel it’s important to recognize it as a term that gets a lot of attention, perhaps more than it should. Though there is nothing wrong with finding life purpose, the hype it gets can come with pressures in a life that will always require some degree of balance, even if we are fortunate enough to find something we strongly believe in.
That’s my take, and I hope it helped the listener today. And I hope you all will send your questions in should you have them. Our door is always open. You can email us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’ll take your questions there and give you some support here on the show, don’t be shy.
Thanks for being here, thanks for staying till the end, and do come on back for our next episode, where we’ll tackle another great question.