The Art of the Existential Crisis: How to survive despite all of this.
Listen, I tried to write a simple year end reflection, but it came out as a treatise on how to manage an existential crisis. Such is life in the modern world.
Maybe you're having an existential crisis. Who could blame you?
Healthline defines an existential crisis as a persistent sense of unease about the meaning of life, and an inability to find satisfactory answers to the question of life's purpose and why you should keep going. It's hard to put your finger on it, but it's a general malaise. The feeling is 'What the hell am I doing with my life?" "Is there any point to all of this bullshit?" "I wish I would just die." The philosophical movement called existentialism talked about "existential dread" - that feeling you get when you think about your life, and are troubled by what you see. If you're like me, that sort of dread has been stubbornly lurking at the edges of your consciousness for a couple of years now. Some people struggle more with it than others, but existential crisis can be accompanied by depression, anxiety, feelings of despair, suicidality, and anger. Dark stuff, but such is life in times like these.
Existential crisis can be triggered by predictable events like death, divorce, job loss, failed transitions, humiliation, loss of religious faith, geographic moves, bankruptcy, and empty nest syndrome.
But also, the 2020's.
We all figure out our individual paths towards meaning in life, but when the world changes through pandemic and social upheaval, as it has in recent years, the old paths often don't work as well as they used to. You're not alone if Covid, climate change denial, political malfunction, and a housing crisis have you wondering what the point of all of this is. People are leaving their jobs en masse in the Great Resignation, the last few years have been a watershed moment in the US in terms of religious disaffiliation. Self-help gurus and conspiracy theorists are preying on a broad market of people looking for answers. The number one film on Netflix as I write is a satire about the end of the world. When I initially started this post, I was considering what to write for a year in review. What I came to was the biblical lamentation: "Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!"
Existential crisis is the spirit of the age.
If you're going through it, it makes matters worse that worrying about your own sense of meaning can feel self-indulgent with so many hard things going on around you. It's easy to feel bad about feeling bad. If it makes you feel any better though, a sense of purpose and meaning is a thing that makes us human. Losing that is serious. Our sense of meaning is the thing that's driven the development of religions, science, and complex societies. It's the thing that makes life richer than just the ups and downs of daily pleasures and pains. Losing a sense of meaning is what opens people to movements like Fascism and Scientology. If you have it, it makes it possible to deal with life even when it's terrible. (See Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl) If you don't, it makes it impossible to deal with life even when you have everything going for you (see Southern California).
I find it at least a little bit reassuring that there's nothing new under the sun. We're facing a modern set of issues, sure, but history has always been hard work, and existential struggle is as old as human existence. Crisis, social collapse, disease, war, famine - that shit's standard issue, and we know people have been struggling to cope with it throughout recorded history. It's the subject matter of the Book of Job, which is the oldest holy book for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
It's also hopeful that we're still here, because it shows that at least some of our ancestors have figured out ways to survive it.
Losing faith and getting on with it
Personally, even prior to the 2020s I'd started to suspect that I'm more susceptible to these things than most, because my whole life has felt like one big process of wrestling with meaning. I quite literally did a Masters thesis on meaning in university following on the loss of the evangelical faith of my youth, and in recent years I've written two very different books that are both responses to existential crises. I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation, which I spent 2021 rewriting, is an attempt to make sense of why I decided to leave religion at a time when I was working as a minister, explain myself to my (now former) community, and help reassure others that there's life on the other side. The Dirtbag's Guide to Life is a manifesto - in part - about how to build a meaningful life through the outdoors and adventure when you don't have a lot of money. I was motivated to write it, in large part, by the crisis precipitated after my father died and I was confronted with the fact that I'm the next generation to go.
Nowadays, along with everyone else, Covid and its associated fallouts has been driving another crisis. What's it feel like this time around? Most clearly, powerlessness - is there anything I can do to control what's going to happen in my future? Are the things I've invested in silly or meaningless now? Is the future reliable? Am I too disconnected from my community? Am I too vulnerable in a chaotic world?
Personally, I don't feel like I'm fully through this crisis, but so far, I've survived.
People don't like to talk about these kinds of feelings - despair, helplessness, a sense of meaninglessness, even suicidality - but they're clearly swirling out there. The conditions are ideal for these sorts of things. Some are managing better than others, but most people, I'd imagine, have had these types of feelings with some level of consistency through the last few years.
The upside of my own persistent fist shaking and gnashing of teeth is that, over the years, I've learned a bit about how to cope. Reflecting on the year that we've had, and the frame of mind rewriting I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation put me in, maybe the most useful thing I have to offer by way of year in review is a few lessons I've learned about how to survive, and even come out of the situation stronger. Signs are that the hits are going to keep on coming when it comes to history. We all have to keep going, and I'm confident that, if approached correctly, the challenges of this particular moment don't have to break you, and can produce resilience and the ability to deal with life's challenges more effectively in the future.
Credit where credit's due: most of what I know came from working as a psych nurse for a decade, and from reading some good books by smart people. I'd particularly recommend Emily Esfahani-Smith's The Power of Meaning and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, which is among the most hopeful, helpful books I've ever read. For further reading, a lot of what I know I also included in the "Meaning" chapter of The Dirtbag's Guide to Life.
Lesson 1: The First Step is to Decide that You're Going to Survive Until You Die
A few key feelings that drive existential crises are hopelessness and powerlessness. Things feel out of your control, so the temptation is to give up.
When those types of feelings rear up, the most important antidote is to recognize and assert your agency. To recognize what you can change and impact in the situation, and commit to working on it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests countering negative emotions by using the principle of "opposite action", and this is what it's talking about. In situations where you feel hopeless and helpless, if you take actions that assert the opposite, it will change the way you feel. The existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard built a legacy writing about the importance of making decisions in situations of existential dread. He was saying the same thing. In a context that feels hopeless, human beings need to make decisions - an initial, big decision that you're not going to let the void overcome you, and that you're going to figure out what type of life you want to live whatever your circumstances. Then, you have to make the small decisions on a moment by moment basis that follow on from that. This is what it means to assert your own agency.
For a personal anecdote: this may seem counterintuitive, and pardon my French, but in my own
biggest moments of crisis - when I left religion, and when my father died - I made it through in part because I gave into my natural emotions of anger and defiance, which I call my "fuck that" instinct. During times when I feel like things are spiraling out of my control, I naturally feel angry. While that can be channeled in a lot of directions, for whatever reason "fuck that" has been a helpful thought, because it's driven me to find the places where I can change my situation. After I quit the church, "fuck that" energy was almost entirely responsible for my decision to get physically healthy (eventually driving me towards ultra marathoning) and to find a better job (giving me energy to retrain mid-life as a nurse). "Fuck that. I'm not letting religion ruin my life." At the time that felt like a difficult emotion, but in retrospect I see that it was useful because it drove me to assert my own agency in my life. When my dad died, "fuck that" drove my decision to keep living, and specifically to push through finishing a thru hike of the PCT, and then to plan a trip through Latin America with Angel. My predominant feeling during the year or so after was that life was meaningless, but alongside it was "fuck that," I'm going to keep going anyway.
In retrospect that energy made the most difficult years of my life some of my most productive. I could've channeled things into drinking and watching Netflix, and I'm not sure that "fuck that" is always a healthy driving impulse, but it is essential to decide that you aren't going to roll over when life feels out of your control. In the end, regardless of what happens, what is life but a challenge that you're moving through? What do we have to do with our time here than to try to deal with what we're given as best we can?
What to do:
Even if this era teaches you that a lot of life is out of your control, you have to make the decision that you aren't going to let life break you. You're going to push back, or roll with the punches, instead of resigning yourself to your fate. That's not to say that you shouldn't accept the things that you can't change (you need to do that also). It's just to say that you will recognize places where you have agency (and you always have agency) and make the decision to keep going.
Lesson 2: A sense of meaning is a thing that you have to construct.
An important corollary of the principle that you have to decide that you're going to live a meaningful life, whatever your circumstances, is that it's actually possible to do so. It's both possible and necessary to work to build a sense of meaning - particularly when you recognize that your sense of meaning is breaking down.
A reason that people are caught off guard by existential crises is that a lot of us go through life and just sort of feel our way into a meaningful existence. When we're young, we experiment around and find supportive relationships, jobs we can tolerate, rituals we enjoy, recreation that keeps us happy. Some people, if they're lucky, make it through life without those structures breaking down in a major way. They live meaningful lives without being conscious about trying. It's quite possible to live life without realizing that a loss of our sense of meaning is even a possibility. Personally, despite having struggled during my 20s, this lesson didn't fully register for me until my dad died when I was 35. In fact, it's entirely predictable that as humans our sense of meaning will be challenged when the things that contribute to it go away. In order to get it back, you have to do the work.
What to do:
On this topic, I can't recommend Emily Esfahani Smith's book, The Power of Meaning, enough (or at the very least, her TED Talk). She specifically identifies four factors that people who experience their lives as meaningful cite, and working on each of these areas is a reliable way to fight back against existential dread and reconstruct a sense of life as meaningful.
I'll keep it brief, because this is a blog post, but those four factors (her "Four Pillars of Meaning") are Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence, and Storytelling.
"Belonging" refers to the sense that we're a valuable part of a community that we enjoy. This could mean a nuclear family, or a friend group, or a national community. It's just a sense that you have a place in the world, which is reinforced by regular positive social interactions. Working on this would look like being intentional and proactive in building your relationships (and conversely, in setting boundaries in relationships that are toxic). Covid and its associated social restrictions, by the way, has attacked this sense directly for a whole lot of the planet.
"Purpose" is different from meaning. It means having a concrete sense that you do things on a regular basis that contribute to the world. Work provides this for a lot of people. Losing your job challenges it if you put all of your "purpose" eggs in one basket. Things like self-care and exercise fit into this category if you have a sense that they're making you a better person. Volunteering and activism are great, and hobbies can be a great outlet - if you can find things that you enjoy doing, and that others find valuable, you've hit a sweet spot. In my opinion, jobs are fickle, so it's crucial to find areas of purpose that don't require paid employment.
"Transcendence" refers to the sense that we're connected to something bigger than ourselves. Religions traffic in transcendence, but so do outdoor hobbies, musicians, artists, authors and political movements. Covid, interestingly, has probably inspired some number of experiences of transcendence, because it reminds all of us that we're small animals at the mercy of a large, complicated world. That's confronting, but it's also a meaningful recognition that helps us understand the world and our place in it.
And on storytelling, I can't resist writing more.
Lesson 3: Never Underestimate a Good Story
Okay, I said I'd keep it brief, but I want to comment more extensively on one point from The Power of Meaning: that human beings need to be able to tell a comprehensible story about the world that we live in, and locate ourselves within it. I found this to be a difficult concept to grasp, but I do think it's very important, and a remarkable realization. As humans, we structure our understanding of reality in story form and if we can see how we fit into that story we're comfortable. If we don't, we aren't. It makes sense, in a way - we exist in the linear reality of time, so stories are the way we make linear records and interpretations of our experiences across time. The stories we tell about the world - consciously or unconsciously - give us all a framework to move through life, and provide a roadmap for navigation: This is what happened in the introduction, and the first chapter. That gives me background and guidance for how to write the next chapter in a way that seems right. Existential crisis stems from losing your place in the story.
If you're religious this probably makes sense to you because religious belief systems, in large part, are stories that explain how the world works and why. For example: God created the universe. People sinned. Now God's working with believers to save the universe from the consequences of sin. Being good means being on God's side. (I stopped believing that story in my 20s: Bam! Existential crisis!)
It's not always as explicit or rigid as religion makes it, but we all construct and latch on to stories that help us make sense of the world in large and small ways regardless of faith. Lots of stories. Another story I believed for awhile, for instance, was that America is a flawed place but is continually getting better because of the hard work of Americans. I can contribute with my own hard work. Every year since 2016 has shaken that belief for me. I'm not always sure that America is getting better or that I can really help. (Bam! existential crisis!)
Another story I've held personally was that the world is a big, beautiful, interesting place and I can put together a good life and help others through traveling and sharing my experiences. Covid has attacked that directly. I still think the world is a big, beautiful interesting place, but my conscience says that if I travel, in fact I'll risk spreading a deadly disease. (Bam: existential crisis!)
All of these stories provided me with a roadmap for navigating the world, and when they broke down, it hurt to the degree that I believed they were absolute. If I thought that each of those was the only possible story, I would be screwed. Frankly, that's how it's felt at times, particularly when my religious stories fell apart.
But, the important thing is that if you realize that there are alternative stories that can be told, possibilities open up when one story collapses.
What to do?
You should never underestimate the human need to be able to make sense of the world, so you should never underestimate the power of a good story. But times of change require flexibility, so you should also never hold on to any story so tightly that you can't update it if it proves to be wrong, or incomplete. In times like these, it's important to let go of any impulses towards fundamentalism and accept that you won't ever fully figure life out, while also continuing to work on making the story that you do believe truer. When life raises big questions, dig into them. Even if you don't come to final answers, you'll gain insight, and what was a crisis will become a vehicle for growth.
Personally, replacing ancient myth with a science-informed picture of natural history carried beauty for me. Recognizing that America might not be redeemable but that my ability to contribute to the good of the world isn't dependent on the success of the US government corrects an error in my initial assumption and allows me to recognize that I exist as part of a bigger world and bigger history. Accepting that in the grand scheme my own impact is relatively minor in any case has helped me realize that as long as I'm doing the best I can it's nothing to freak out about. In the last few years, accepting that regular, frequent international travel isn't the only way to experience the big, beautiful interesting world allows me to appreciate that the local is also important, interesting, and beautiful. All of these are truer stories than the originals I believed.
You'll have your own stories. Chances are they've been undermined in some way in the last few years. No matter what undermined your story, it's just data. What you believed wasn't exactly true, or maybe it's changed. Maybe your place in the story has changed. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. If you adjust your understanding of your place in the world you can also re-orient your sense of your place in it. You might feel lost in the woods but that feeling's not eternal - you'll start to find some landmarks and navigate - right up to the day you die.
Side note: I love reading for this reason. For me, I read more in 2020 and 2021 than I have in more than a decade, because it's been a concrete way to dig in to the big questions, and reorient reality for myself. Watch this space for books that I've personally found helpful.
Lesson 4: Times of Change are Times that Require Flexibility
In a similar vein, one of the most important lessons for navigating an existential crisis is that there are multiple ways to live a fulfilling life. It's hard to remember when you've invested years in one way of life, but the fact is that you can be fulfilled rich or poor, young or old, with kids or with out, married or single, sick or healthy, pandemic or no. Even when things are hard, people figure it out.
When you sort that out, it's freeing, because when life removes your chosen path as an option, it doesn't mean all hope is lost. It just means that you have to sort out a different path to hope and meaning.
What to do:
If you're like me, a lot of your preferred paths have been blocked in the last few years and will likely continue to be for some time in the future. If life feels hopeless as a result, look for things that you might potentially need to change - structures that you put in place for a world that no longer exists. Change is very frequently neutral or good - not just bad. When damaging change happens though, it necessitates finding positive adjustments in other areas. For me, after religion, I changed a huge amount of my life - my job, relationships, goals, diet, exercise, my daily routines. After my dad's death - again, I changed my job, my long term plans, my priorities, and my spending habits. Making those changes helped me see my agency in the situation, but they also made my path fit better with my new reality. Covid - screw Covid - has led Angel and I to hunker down and focus on working as nurses, squirreling money for the future. That has felt like a bit of a drag at times because it interrupted a period of life when we were really hitting our stride in pursing travel and adventure, but it is also a path that allows us to play a meaningful role in a pandemic while having financial benefits for our future. When the world changes, don't be afraid to make savvy changes of your own.
Lesson 5: Feelings are things that you can manage
An existential crisis is a combination of thoughts and feelings that arise in response to a (usually) complex life situation. It impacts your mood across a long period of time, as well as your emotional responses in day to day situations. In short, it feels bad and it can depress your mood.
A bit of Psych 101: Feelings are your body's response to your situation. These feelings are influenced by beliefs, historical experiences, and physiology, but in any day to day interaction, you can't immediately control the feelings that your body produces. Anger, sadness, happiness, joy, surprise - they just happen to you in response to external events. Feelings are a thing that your body does to your brain involuntarily. However, in any given situation you can control the way that you choose to respond to the feelings that your body produces. And, across time, you can shape the pattern of feelings that your body produces by changing your beliefs, experiences and physiology. You can't control the feelings your body produces today, exactly, but across the long term you can rewire your body to respond in different ways to situations.
Your mood is a bit more difficult to explain. It's a longer term state that's less influenced by your immediate circumstances, but is the culmination of a variety of factors, including the amount of stress you've been under, how much you've been sleeping, what's been happening in your environment, the entirety of your genetics and your history. A way to think about the relationship between your mood and your feelings is that, if your mood is low, you'll be more likely to have negative feelings in response to your circumstances. If your mood is high, you'll be more likely to have positive feelings. These feelings can be reinforcing - when you're having a lot of positive feelings you'll be more likely to maintain a good mood. If you're having a lot of negative feelings, you'll be more likely to enter a bad mood. It is also possible to intentionally shape your mood. Doing things you enjoy, or things that are healthy, will lift your mood. Being in situations you hate, that stress you out, or are unhealthy, will lower your mood.
My impression is that the world's collective mood at the moment is low. People have been having a lot of bad feelings, and bad things have been happening. As a result, people feel bad more often and are more likely to have negative responses when other stressors arise.
For some of you it will be a basic point that moods and feelings are things that you can manage. You aren't simply at the mercy of your feelings and mood. I didn't consciously comprehend this until I was 30, when I started working on a pediatric psych unit and was given curriculum to teach small children about emotion regulation. I don't know whether to be embarrassed about this or not, but the stuff I was teaching 8 year olds was revelatory for me as well. You can respond to your feelings in ways that will improve them, and there are things you can do to change your mood across time, which will in turn make you feel more positive feelings on a day to day basis.
In times of crisis, that lesson is crucial. For me, it came just at the right time, because I started that job immediately after leaving the church. I was working in psych at a time when I was also explaining to friends and family that I was quitting religion, and was having a whole lot of negative feelings. Because I was clued in to the fact that I could impact those feelings, a significant amount of my energy went into finding things that would make me feel better, rather than resigning myself to just feeling like shit all of the time.
The most revelatory discovery I made during that period was around physical exercise. Angel and I took up running during exactly the same period of life, and I quickly realized that, even if it didn't always feel great, running reliably lifted my mood. Because it reliably lifted my mood, it also reliably helped me figure out how to cope more positively with the difficult things happening in my life, and reliably meant that I had more positive emotions on a day to day basis. Across time, it was my salvation. Angel and I went all in, and continued running and training until we reached a stage of being able to run 100 miles straight in 2013 at the Cascade Crest 100 mile ultramarathon. It frequently hurt, but it was rarely suffering, and it turned a very difficult period of life into one characterized primarily by positive feelings. My memory of the aftermath of my biggest existential crisis was that I developed more agency, health, self-confidence, and resilience, and started to feel less hopelessness, lethargy, depression, and self-hatred. Finding running gave me the sense that I was able to transform the most negative experience of my life into one of the most positive. That has impacted my belief system and my mood ever since. I'm convinced that I still feel more positive feelings on a day to day basis because I ran a lot in my early 30s.
Nowadays I've been running less, and even though I am a huge proponent of physical activity, you genuinely don't have to run at all if you don't want. But it is very important in times of crisis to recognize that there are things you can do to improve your mood and respond to your negative feelings in ways that will be productive.
What to do:
The two things to focus on are:
1) Developing coping skills for managing your day to day feelings
2) Developing routines for long term mood management so this disgusting depression that we're all drifting through doesn't set in permanently.
Running helped me with both. Seriously, think about working regular physical activity of some type into your life. Humans are made to be physically active throughout life. It will make you feel better right now, and across time it will give you a more positive mood.
Also though, on a day to day basis it is helpful to build a toolbox of things that help you respond to negative feelings in healthy ways. I recommend focusing on identifying productive things that you can do when you feel helpless or hopeless, and people you care about who you can interact with when you feel lonely or isolated. I recommend identifying active things to do when you feel lethargic, and ways to remind yourself of the big picture when today's events feel overwhelming. Go outside a lot, even if the weather is bad. Get some sun. Find things to laugh about, or even just force yourself to laugh if you feel sad. Listen to music you love. Clean your room. Find things to do that help other people, and do them when you're wallowing in self-pity. Frequently these will be things that are the opposite of what your feelings are telling you to do. Recognize that there's no magic pill. You'll still frequently feel crappy, but the more you do these types of things, the more you'll want to because you'll find that negative feelings can be shifted into more positive ones.
Across time, to change your mood, focus on drinking less. sleeping well, accepting your situation, and focus on things you can control while letting go of things you can't. Focus on investing in relationships with people who you love, but set boundaries in relationships with people that feel damaging. Focus on being assertive rather than passive. Do things you enjoy regularly. Work on eating whole foods. Recognize that emotions are waves that will pass so even if you feel terrible in the moment. Work on paying down debts and building up savings where you can. Watch more funny movies. Do kind things regularly. Find a different job if yours is eating your soul. Learn as much as you can about the things that you care about. Take risks and pursue passions you care about. Across time all of these things add up and will make you more resilient in the future.
Some of you already have a lot of coping skills, but there are great resources for developing more. Counseling is worth its weight in gold if you're feeling stuck. If you are in a rut, or a cycle of negative thoughts and experiences, I'm a fan of something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you are someone who finds that you feel out of control of your emotions frequently, look up Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. If you don't want to do in person counseling, can't afford it, or don't have it available in your area, it is very much possible to self-teach a lot of the same skills. The internet has some solid resources. I don't have any specific favorites but Google 'teach myself DBT skills' or 'teach myself CBT skills' and you'll hit on good options. A lot of people also swear by Apps that guide them through.
Lesson 6: Remember that today is all you can control...
Existential crisis (and our current moment in history) is by definition a big picture problem. It's not there because you're hangry or your boss yelled at you. Because that's the case, you can't quickly or easily fix it, and that can feel overwhelming. You live in it, and at any given moment you can only control the way that you respond to how it manifests today. It's important to keep that in mind...
Lesson 7: ...but having big picture plans is both essential and fulfilling
Having said that, it's really useful when a lot of life feels out of control to have realistic big picture goals that you're working towards. Even if a lot of your plans are falling through, momentum towards at least one long term goal can help you feel like you're making progress through the storm - whether that's work related, physical, social, economic, or otherwise. After all, "Meaningless, Meaningless, Everything is Meaningless" is both a problem and an opportunity. If the ground shifts under your feet, it means that you have to rethink what you're going to do in the world. That can suck, but it's as good a time as any to pick up a project that's been in the back of your mind and seems like it's going to be concretely productive given your new environment.
When I quit religion it drew the entirety of my identify into question. I flailed for a few months, but after watching an Ironman Triathlon broadcast on television, Angel and I took on a goal together of interrupting our sedentary lifestyle to become physically healthy people. Long distance running became a coping skill, but it also became the one concrete area of my life where I was clearly making progress. It required both day to day commitment and long term planning, and it allowed me to progress measurably, first through a 5k training program, then a half marathon, then a marathon, then on to ultras. At a time when things seemed to be going wrong in most areas of life, it was one area where progress was clearly being made. It had positive side effects of strengthening my relationship with Angel and helping us build a wide, supportive social network, and it helped me figure out which direction my identity would head after religion. Watching that Ironman on TV and deciding to tackle something physical eventually set the trajectory for Angel to start our business Boldly Went, and for me to write The Dirtbag's Guide to Life, so the one goal provided momentum and confidence for others. It grew out of a basic plan set at a dark time, and it ended up being a lifeline.
Covid led to the rapid reset of a lot of the projects that both of us were working on prior, including stamping out Boldly Went's fire, but it has opened up new possibilities for other big picture plans. Angel has her own interesting projects that she may tell you about, but being locked down has allowed me to focus on how I'd like to approach writing across the long term. It let me spend a year reworking I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation as a means to get a second solid book on my resume, and has given me a chance to start developing some marketing skills to get my writing to its intended audience. Those concrete bits of progress have made it feel like Covid hasn't ruined my prior two years - it just changed them.
What to do?
In my opinion, in times like these, you should latch on to a long term goal that sounds both fun, achievable, and unlikely to make things worse. The motivating energy here is a quote from a friend, Sean Harasser: "The outcome of life is the same whether or not you live your dreams, so you might as well live your dreams." Start writing that book, or start putting paintings up for sale. Start a structured training plan to climb a mountain. Start putting money into that savings account, or learning to manage your own investments. Take a community college course. None of these may come to anything (Along with starting to run, after quitting religion I completed a grant writing certificate that I've never done anything with, and I've started at least five book projects that haven't come to anything), but they might, and no matter what they'll be concrete ways in which you're working on things that you care about. It's highly likely that working on these types of goals will have positive, unintended side effects, and they can provide a light of meaning to guide you through the inevitable continuing storms that we'll all face in the future.
Final Lesson: "Everything is Meaningless" is an emotional response and a decision - not a concrete reality.
My final thought is that history is what history is. Life is hard a lot of the time, it's true. Worse than that: at some point we're all going to be dead and forgotten. Most of us won't realize our wildest dreams. Life's circumstances at some point will catch up with all of us.
But so what? Fuck that. None of those facts are reasons to resign yourself to a sense of meaninglessness. We're all in the midst of it, just like human beings have been since the beginning. Life's going to confront and change and cause crisis. That's a call to hard decisions and hard work - not the end of the world.
Here's to a resilient future.
You don't have to or anything, but if you want to check out more of my writing have a look at the books I've written here.