Please consider this blog on existential life choices an opinion piece.
As a psychotherapist, I want to make it explicitly clear that my job is never to “give advice” to our clients. At times, a therapist may suggest ideas or use psychoeducation about topics that may help inform a person’s decisions, but we want to maintain that people make and fully own the choices that they make in this life.
Existential life choices are concerned with meaning and because most of us are only aware of living once—we are responsible for creating meaning in some way.
So to begin, let’s define what this blog is discussing with the help of the dictionary:
Existential– concerned with existence, especially human existence as viewed in the theories of existentialism.
Existentialism– a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.The vast majority of people on earth believe you only live once in a human incarnation. This belief can cause some people relief, while others become frozen with fear.
“What is I make the wrong choices for my life?”
“What are the right choices?”
“What do I with my time?”
“How do I apply my talents in a world that is concerned with money and security?”
To answer these questions, let’s consider the following:
- You are the person that ultimately has to live your life from start to finish. You must live with all of your choices and the consequences of those. You have to look back on your life (when you are older or at a contemplative point), and give yourself feedback so that you can move forward or change things. While you may be influenced by your family of origin and culture, it is important to understand that the ‘individuation process” (or becoming your own individual) is vital to your continued growth as a person. That means there are points where you will differ in your decision-making from your family or origin and culture, and you will make choices that may be disapproved of by others. This point is essential for a person to take the risk of owning their path and destiny. As long as the choices one makes are not self-destructive (and I mean intentionally self-destructive), we must consider that even if we “make a mistake” or “decide later” that that something we chose was not “the best” choice–there is NO WAY to know that unless we ACTUALLY make the choice for ourselves and live w/ the pros/cons of that choice.
- Every choice has a “trade off” (this concept is taught in some economics courses), which means there is no “right” choice for most circumstantial decisions. A Trade Off occurs because of time limitations, we cannot truly “do it all.” However, there is likely a mix of positive consequences and negative consequences as a result of whatever you choose (“right” or “wrong”) . With any choice you make, you do not control is “destiny” or “fate” or “serendipity” –when a choice you make aligns with a choice someone else made, and you (by happenstance or interest profile) make a connection with someone or something you could have never imagined before taking an action. The circumstance and actions of others we have “no say” in–however, I believe (and cannot prove this with any science, but just by experience), that when we make choices based on what WE TRULY WANT (and not what others believe is prudent or practical), and LISTEN to that VOICE INSIDE (when it is not being self-destructive, but that quiet voice, which delivers information about life)–then we are MORE LIKELY to CREATE situations, circumstances, chance-happenings, and cross paths with others who may help us on our own unique and individuated path. This also creates the wonderful result (normally), of saying “AT LEAST I TRIED IT OUT” instead of “I WISH I WOULD HAVE DONE WHAT I WANTED TO DO” (which is a TERRIBLE thought(s) to have later in life). However, our anxious brain will try to say “But this choice is a risk, and it’s not exactly practical…..” and to that I say “Well actually, everything is a risk. Staying put and taking the path more traveled and prudent is also a risk to my soul and what I want–so I will choose the impractical risk.” Yet, fate and destiny can happen ANYWHERE. So obviously, there is no perfect choice. You might as well do something. Because doing “nothing” or remaining “stuck” is still a choice you have to live with.
- Existential Life Choices for Young Adults Section:
- When you are in your 20s and even early 30s, I believe that making choices based on economic security over listening to what we really want to try out in life, strangles us of experience. (Obviously, this does not apply to people in the blue-collar industries who are barely scraping by–they have little choice). If you have any level of economic security (that is a gift) but also can cause us to be overwhelmed by choices that others do not have . Personal disclosure: I made A LOT of decisions based upon what I wanted in life and not economics in my twenties and even early thirties, and I am very satisfied with those choices. While I could be far more economically secure at this age had I “played it safely” –I would not trade the experiences I had for anything. Those invaluable experiences have brought me to the place of becoming a Clinical Director of the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids. (This is something I could not imagined in my twenties). And I LOVE my job and chosen profession.
- I love my parents. But after 18, I could never live with them again. When I go back to their house, I start “thinking” like I am younger and not an independent person. That is me. I also don’t want them advising me on all my choices–no matter how “successful” or “happy” they are–it is STILL their life. And they are the experts on their life, not mine.
- You can always make more money! Money comes and goes! Check out “regrets of the dying” articles. No one wishes they had more money! Only more experiences.
- Do you want to try living in a large city? Then you need to move to a large city! give it a few years. Even if you hate it, you will have learned something! If you want to move to the country and start a farm—go for it! I have a few friends that have done this and they tell me they are happy!
- Do you want a dog? Then you need to adopt a dog, immediately! Work out the details and adjust your budget accordingly. A dog will change your life.
- Now, I don’t recommend walking in blind. But when you are stuck, going through difficult times can transform us. People think they want something “easy” but in life, nothing great ever comes from the “easy path.” I recommend researching the heck out of the best places to live, etc. And I recommend researching dogs that are easy to travel with and are trainable. I cannot imagine life without my dog. She is wonderful! Make your choice and then mindfully and consciously figure out the best iteration of the choice for you as you move forward and “take the risk.”
- There is no perfect life, or “right decision” in your situation. However, the best asset you have is that you have an inner voice, and you are still relatively young (which means you have time on your side). The difficult part is that people “may never” approve your choices, who you decide to partner with (if you do), or where you live. But ultimately, life has to be about approving of your own choices, and attempting to love (and set boundaries!) with people that are NOT YOU, but believe they know what is BEST for you.
If you want a safe place to explore existential life choices and consider the pros/cons of making decisions for your present life and future, then psychotherapy/counseling may be for you.
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
Check out Paul Krauss’ podcast: The Intentional Clinician (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-intentional-clinician-psychology-and-philosophy/id1236613772)
Paul Krauss MA LPC is the Clinical Director of Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, home of The Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids. Paul is also a Private Practice Psychotherapist, EMDRIA Consultant in Training (CIT), host of the Intentional Clinician podcast, Behavioral Health Consultant, Clinical Trainer, and Counseling Supervisor. Paul is now offering consulting for a few individuals and organizations. Paul is the creator of the National Violence Prevention Hotline (in progress) as well as the Intentional Clinician Training Program for Counselors. Questions? Call the office at 616-200-4433.
If you are looking for EMDRIA consulting groups, Paul Krauss MA LPC is now hosting weekly online and in-person groups. For details, click here.
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