"We may be closest to hearing the call when we feel most alone or in trouble, for genius hides behind the wound and one of the greatest wounds in life is to not know who we are intended to be or what we are supposed to serve in life." - michael meade, the genius myth
I remember a time shortly after I had finished graduate school where I developed this feeling that was new to me. Being a goal-oriented and driven person, I had made a clear path into where I was going. I may not have known what my job description would be exactly, but I did know the type of career I wanted and the type of impact I wanted to have in the community and hopefully some day, the world.
My life had been a series of checklists that contained boxes to check off as they were accomplished. It went something like this:
As you can imagine there were lists within the lists, but some things remained the same. For a moment after crumbling up that list and before moving on to the next, I would feel a moment of relief; however, what I began to notice was that this feeling did not last more than a few minutes before I had the urge to move on to the next thing. I was never able to enjoy one milestone because I would already be looking for the next one.
That feeling I got as I had finished school is a feeling that many Millennials and people feel, in general, I believe: emptiness. What a confusing feeling. I had done everything I had set out to do and then some. I had done all the things I thought were going to make me feel happy, however, after I made it to the "final destination", I felt nothing. I felt like there was still something missing. I was supposed to be happy. This is what I had wanted, but I wasn't.
I wonder if as you are reading this, if you can relate to the feeling of emptiness. This feeling isn't necessarily the one associated with depression and isn't hopelessness. It's more along the lines of "Something is missing and I haven't a clue what it is." In my "checklist and check-off-the-boxes" world, this was maddening, and I wonder if it is it for you too.
It has taken years to find a solution, and I hope that this article will help you shorten that time for yourself to perhaps fill the whole of emptiness within your own self.
Emptiness comes from not be authentic to yourself.
We grow up following templates of what other people did or didn't do. Society tells you to get this product or new clothing line to be happy. Your parents may have told you what degree to pursue in college, that you had to go to college, and that you needed to get married, have kids, or stay single your whole life in order to be happy. You likely received templates from your peers and social groups, as well. Following the status quo and doing the sports, activities, groups, or taking the classes your friends were very likely could have shaped the template that you thought you needed to have in order to be happy.
What you can do now is take a good inner look at who you are. What do you really like doing? What are your hobbies? What are things in the media, news, or in your community that gets your blood boiling or gets you fired up? Who do you love and surround yourself with? Where are you going and what situations are you putting yourself in? We can't begin to change and develop into where we want to be without acknowledging or identifying where we are.
Right now, ask yourself "Who am I?". Make a list of everything that comes to mind.
If you're like me, you may struggle to write anything. This is where you start. If you can't identify who you are, try identifying first who you are not. Know that you aren't alone in identifying these traits of yourself.
Accepting yourself as you are is one of the key components to feeling whole.
Have you ever gone on a date with someone and while they were listing off their hobbies and beliefs, you started convincing yourself that you could like that too or that believing that wasn't so bad even if it went completely against your values? Or, maybe you have difficulty making everyday decisions or have a difficult time standing up for yourself/being assertive when communicating. Accepting yourself as you are, flaws and mistakes included, is something that many people never get to. Wanting to be someone different and morphing yourself into what others to be are both signs you may be codependent on the opinion of others. Want to learn more about codependency? Read Codependency: Sacrificing Yourself for Others.
Stop chasing happiness.
If you're like me, your childhood and teen years consisted of people asking you what you wanted to be when you grew up. You saw your parents, friends' parents, teachers, and coaches all strive to be happy, thus teaching you that this was something you needed to reach too. However, after working with hundreds of people who are also reaching for happiness, I have learned that it is not something to obtain. Happiness is like sadness: an emotion or state of being. It's not realistic to think that you are going to reach this state and stay there continuously. It is realistic, however, to want to be the best you can, live according to your values, and find people and passion who bring you fulfillment.
In order to stop feeling empty, we have to start looking at what is or isn't making us fulfilled, being honest about who we are and what we want, and to accept that this honesty may not look like what we thought or be what our parents or peers wanted.
If you are struggling with finding fulfillment, read Fulfillment Versus Achievement: A Longing for Meaning.
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT