I remember starting my career as an aspiring psychologist some years ago, beginning the first semester of college with intense excitement and unwavering dedication. I studied five to six hours a day, avoided weekend getaways and gatherings, took seven or eight classes a semester, worked nonstop 24 hours a day, and avoided various other things I deemed distractions.
I became increasingly weak and tired of the perpetual striving for achievement in a very competitive field. I also became so weary that each waking moment was like pulling an elephant with a thin rope. My days were not filled with excitement anymore, but rather a sense of trepidation. I began to ask myself: Who am I? Who am I becoming? What is my ultimate purpose in life, in my profession, in my world? When will I ever have time to find out?
I pulled back and decided to do some introspection of my own life and life in general. I reserved specific times of the week solely for the incorporation of existential and spiritual elements into my life. I was then faced with the realities and the rawness of humanness. Through this I became familiar with myself; I developed a relationship with the essence of my being.
Life repeatedly brings us face to face with the fundamental realities of our existence, whether that includes feelings of alienation and loneliness, fear of death and taking responsibility for the aspects of life over which we have control, or our search for meaning and the fear of being meaningless. Individuals are constantly seeking material wealth, success and prosperity, comfort and security, joy in being alive, health and satisfaction, and a place in society as well as expertise. While these things have their place in the healthy and overall development of the self, we cannot exclude the very essence of our spiritual selves and existential concerns.
I assumed psychology would introduce me to greater aspects of myself, but it actually distanced me from my innermost character because I had to constantly be in the mindset of the helper, the thinker, the miracle worker, the scientist and the fortress. Was I wrong? Was I holding unhealthy and defeatist perceptions?
Of course I was. Mental health professionals are only human and they too struggle with many personal and professional trials and tribulations. But the pressure and mounting reality of becoming a crutch and an earpiece to various lives can eventually usurp one’s passion to help. I was headed that route until I chose a different one. Additionally, with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, various daily commitments, occupational endeavors and academic obligations, it is no wonder we are rarely — if ever — in touch with our true selves.
But the very nature of life’s uncertainty (if we pay attention) can bring us close to authenticity, the capacity for self-awareness, and connectedness with spiritual and nonspiritual elements of life. As author Gerald Corey (2009) states “…we strive toward a meaningful life by recognizing our freedom and by making a commitment to choose in the face of uncertainty” (p. 91).
The first step for me in becoming acquainted with the self was to discard and readjust old values. Hard work, nonstop dedication, and various obligations are often praised in society, but they depleted me of my courage and strength to be. A balance of these things in one’s life is more appropriate.
The second step was for me to actively create two worlds: one for material reality (i.e., everyday life) and the other for nonmaterial reality (i.e., spirituality).
The third step was to stay true to myself and embrace the rewards of individuation (the act of becoming separate).
The fourth and final step — which is the stage I presume I will forever remain in — is learning to become further rooted in being, in existing, in operating in the power of becoming the architect of my world. The ultimate goal is to become cemented in your true self; to become so familiar with you that you perhaps can become a catalyst to someone else’s search for true meaning. (Logotherapist Viktor Frankl is an example. After being released following years in a concentration camp, he contributed to the “meaningless” lives of his clients.)
Having an existential mindset can help develop insight and responsibility. Insight and responsibility, in turn, can lead to willingness to take action to make desired changes. The waves of humanness and spirituality can bring not only ripples of internal and external familiarity, but also all that life has to offer. As long as you stay connected to the depths of truth you will always find authenticity.
May you someday discover the essential elements of your true being!
Paz y amor! (translation: peace and love)
Corey, G. (2005). Theories and techniques of counseling and psychotherapy. (7th ed.). Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning: Belmont, CA.