The Existential Path to Meaning
If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Your biology, personal history, and current social reality have produced a complex entity whose actions are driven by a wide range of motivations, each pulling you in a particular direction. The choices you make determine the course of your life. Our collaboration is dedicated to helping you choose the most advantageous course available to you, given your definition of advantageous. Because our desires are always changing, our appraisal of what is most advantageous is in constant flux.
Who Decides What Is Most Advantageous to You?
Knowing what you want seems obvious until you are in conflict. During the time when you are composing a plan to change your ways, you want to follow it. You do not experience conflict then, and the challenge of adhering to the plan appears to be trivial. During high-risk situations you may encounter events that are trance forming. You may perceive things differently then, and be motivated differently than you are now.
Your percpetions and motivations are state-dependent! A choice that seemed most advantageous at one moment may look foolish at a different time. Your appraisal of what is most advantageous to you is likely to be different when you are feeling strong and confident, than when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
Unlike, state-dependent appraisals, your Core Values are based on abstract principles and so are not dependent upon your emotional state at the moment: While the desires of the creature you inhabit are easily distorted by crises of stress and temptations, your Core Values remain relatively constant over time, although your awareness of them may vary. You can prepare yourself for the conflicts you are bound to encounter by investing some time and attention to research your Core Motivation.
The fact that you are mortal, and will one day die, means that every decision you make comes at an opportunity cost. The actions you choose become part of objective reality, the un-chosen alternatives are consigned to oblivion. So, live life so you have no regrets at the end!
Ernest Becker on coping with the terror of death
Ernest Becker described "the human paradox that man is an animal who is conscious of his animal limitation. Anxiety is the result of the perception of the truth of one’s condition . . . that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression — and with all this yet to die."
Animals lack self-consciousness. They merely act and move reflexively as they are driven by their instincts and state-dependent motivations. Our knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. "They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness: a few minutes of fear, a few seconds of anguish, and it is over. But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days—that’s something else. . . [People] cannot endure [their] own littleness unless [they] can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.”
Becker recommends cultivating "contempt for immediacy . . [and focusing instead on] "what it means to be a person, with individuality and uniqueness. . . after all is said and done . . . the only worthwhile preoccupation of man [is]: What is one’s true talent, his secret gift, his authentic vocation? In what way is one truly unique, and how can he express this uniqueness, give it form, dedicate it to something beyond himself? How can the person take his private inner being, the great mystery that he feels at the heart of himself, his emotions, his yearnings and use them to live more distinctively, to enrich both himself and mankind with the peculiar quality of his talent? In adolescence, most of us throb with this dilemma, expressing it either with words and thoughts or with simple numb pain and longing."
The Alternative to Exercising Will
You have a finite opportunity to use your lease on life as you will. Abdicate the responsibility to choose your course of action and you squander your most precious resource: Time alive. Regrets and excuses are poor consolations for having missed out on what you really wanted. Accumulating regrets for dedicating your time and energy chasing an incentive rather than pursuing "your authentic vocation" is a tragedy of modern times.
The Four Premises of Existentialism
- You are mortal. You, and everyone you love, will die. Your opportunity to experience life and do what you are going to do is finite. Consequently, you will have to make decisions, and each comes with an opportunity cost.
- You are ultimately on your own. Even if you are in a wonderful relationship, the feeling that you are connected to your partner is an illusion, as evidenced by the fact that you were born alone and will die alone.
- There is no intrinsic meaning to your life (unless you can tell me what it is). Religious and political believers, as well as many of your friends and relatives will gladly tell you how to dedicate your life. While they may have strong opinions about what they think is important, it is your responsibility to do your own research. The meaning of your life is not restricted by an externally imposed definition. It is yours to create.
- No Excuses. Because of the above, it is your responsibility to make of your life what you want it to be: No regrets; no excuses; no blame; no shame. They are all wastes of time. Your challenge is to use the resources available to you to figure out what you really want and how to get it.
Figuring out what you really want turns out to be complicated, because you want different things, some of which will be in conflict with others. The goal of this Contemplation Stage section is to explore your values and desires to gain insight into the motivational conflicts you are bound to encounter.