The mass of men in modern society are in the throes of a deep existential crisis.
It’s not hard to see how this plays out:
- 17.3 million Americans suffer from depression according to dbsalliance.org
- Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide
- Two thirds of suicides are caused by depression
- 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- 75% of Americans are unhappy at work according to Mental Health America.
Despite the unprecedented abundance, safety, and opportunity of the 21st century, we are slowly starting to realize that life, regardless of your socioeconomic status or privilege, is at times very hard.
When the lights dim and noise ceases, leaving you alone with nothing but your thoughts and the darkness, you are left with the thoughts:
“What’s the point of all of this? What is the meaning of life? Who cares we’re all going to die anyways!”
This unanswerable question leads to inexplicable and inescapable feelings and emotions for which our parents, the school system and society did little to prepare us.
Existential dread. Hopelessness. Confusion. Despair.
When allowed to go unchecked, these thoughts and the emotions they elicit can slowly drain you of your will to overcome new challenges, try new things and achieve your grand goals.
They can lead you down a dark and twisted road of hedonic pleasure and apathy.
However, when viewed in a different light, they can serve as the catalyst for a life so different from the one you are living today, it’s unimaginable.
If you are suffering from an existential crisis, there is hope. If you’re wondering how to find meaning in life, there is a way.
I can’t give you all of the answers or tell you how to exactly live your life for everyone is unique.
But, by peeling back the layers of these problems, examining potential solutions, and learning to ask more effective questions, you can overcome your existential anxiety and create an empowering and joy filled life that allows you to embrace the disturbing mysteries of the human experience.
Let’s explore this together.
Existential Crisis Definition: What is an Existential Crisis Anyways?
In the psychological community an existential crisis is defined as “a moment when an individual questions if their life has meaning, purpose, or value.”
To put it simply, an existential crisis is what happens when you suddenly wake up one day and realize this:
“Shit! I’m on a giant rock spinning through infinite space around a giant ball of fire that keeps me alive and also tries to kill me. Nothing I do matters or will matter 100 years from now, everything I know and love is going to die, and I have no idea what the hell is going on or why I’m here!”
The most frustrating part of an existential crises is that they can strike at any moment, without warning and without reason.
Depression and existential despair, though frequently experienced in unison, are not the same. You can be happier than you’ve ever been yet still experience an unwavering spiritual malaise about your purpose and place in this world.
The second you start asking, “What is the meaning of life”, regardless of the victories you’ve experienced thus far, existential anxiety sets in.
The term existential crisis was originally derived from the work of psychoanalyst and developmental theorist Erik Erikson, who referred to an existential crisis as an “identity crisis.”
And that’s where things get interesting.
When in the throes of a true existential crisis, you aren’t just struggling with the bleak realities facing humanity (and indeed all forms of life that we know of).
You are struggling to understand how you as one person out of nearly eight billion fits into the grand cosmic puzzle of life.
You wonder who you really are, if the “self” is even real, if you’ve accomplished enough, if you’re living the best life you can, if anything you do will ever matter.
In an existential crisis, you begin to realize that you might not be who or what you thought you were for the past few decades of your existence.
This brings into question and challenges EVERYTHING you once thought to be true.
But you are not having an existential crisis without reason. Your challenges to understand your identity are not only natural, but inevitable, and they can be traced back to a few key factors.
The Causes of Existential Crises and Depression
In the following section, I’m going to break down, what I believe to be, the most significant contributors to existential crises in modern times.
The following sections might be hard to stomach and accept. But I encourage you to read this through to the end.
In the same way that it’s uncomfortable to accept a grim medical prognosis (but entirely necessary to find the right treatment), it will be uncomfortable to face the forthcoming facts of human existence.
But face them you must, or an existential crisis will consume you.
Because it is only in understanding the root cause of our existential crisis that we can hope to overcome it.
The Paradox of Abundance: Too Many Options, Too Little Time
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” ~Kierkegaard, The Father of Existentialism
The most significant source of our existential dread is, quite ironically, the abundance in which we find ourselves as a species in modern society.
Never before has humankind been presented with so much opportunity and possibility.
Joe Rogan will earn $50+ million this year for podcasting (mostly on marijuana) about everything and anything.
Pewdiepie is a professional gamer who will earn $18 million this year for recording himself playing video games.
Ryan’s Toy Reviews, a channel run by a 7 year old who plays with toys on YouTube, will earn $22 million this year.
Through the power of the internet, you can learn any skill and monetize any hobby from the comfort of your own home.
You can have, do, and be anything you want with all of the world’s knowledge accessible with the click of a button. And this very freedom has become a massive problem for society.
Because, even though we can have, be, and do anything. We cannot have, be and do everything. And, invariably, this abundance has led to a worldwide fear of missing out or “FOMO”.
Regardless of our success in any given area, we can’t help but wonder, “What if…”
Everywhere we look, every person is faced with choices too plentiful and important to count. Yet no matter how long we think or how many times we ask “what if”, there seems to be no answers to our existential FOMO.
Simply more questions.
The Decline of Community: Alone on a Rock Spinning Through a Void
Further exacerbating our sense of existential dread is the fact that, for the first time in human history, man is more isolated and alone than ever before.
We no longer have tribes or communities with whom we gain intimate familiarity. Our relationships are often relegated to meaningless exchanges on social media platforms and perfunctory conversations with coworkers we don’t really like.
More than ever before, despite technological advances we are more disconnected from our fellow humans.
The proliferation of “identity politics” has only served to worsen the problem as more and more people adopt an “us against them” attitude towards others. Refusing to see people with different views as human beings with nuanced histories and beliefs and instead seeing them simply as “right wing” “left wing”, “christian”, “atheist”, “gay” or “straight”.
We are trained, from a very young age, to fear and loathe our neighbors because of their differences instead of finding camaraderie, compassion and community in our similarities.
But this wasn’t always the case.
Once upon a time, we lived and died with our fellow tribe members.
We lived together, hunted together, broke bread together, danced together, laughed together, and had little time to ponder the insanity of existence.
Now, despite our seeming “connection” through social media and the internet, people are alone.
At the very least, we feel alone surrounded by many.
Most adults report having fewer than one close friend and many people claim that they have no one in their lives whom they could call in the event of an emergency. The coalescence of these factors has created a society in which existential depression and acute depression seem all but inevitable.
When we have no one in our lives to whom we can turn…
When we don’t have a “band of brothers” to support and challenge us…
When we don’t have anyone outside of ourselves that we trust and love…
Life becomes one dimensional. Hollow. Empty.
Without other humans with whom we can ask and attempt to answer the big questions posed by this bizarre existence, life does seem meaningless. And, of course, the problem is only compounded by the inception of the internet and mass media backed by the largest corporations in the world. Which has served to replace authentic connection in favor of texting, DM’ing and swiping.
In the era of media madness, we struggle to authentically connect with our fellow humans as the population scurries about in a frenzy, desperately attempting to hide behind an ego-fueled facade of perfection.
Because if everyone knew the truth… we’d all get along.
Media Madness: The Force Multiplier of Insanity
Rewind the clock less than 15 years and you would find a world that seems completely disconnected from the one in which we now find ourselves.
People largely kept to themselves. Things like marriage, engagements, family vacations, the birth of a child, career successes, and generating wealth, for the most part, was kept private.
The only way you knew about your neighbor’s trip to Hawaii, the sale of their company or 20 year anniversary was if you were close friends sharing dinner together, privy to such private information. You would mail duplicate photos of these private engagements to your closest friends and family but would never put an ad in the local paper to showcase your life.
To see truly stunning women, a handful maybe lived in your area but for most men you had to look forward to the cover of the latest edition of Playboy magazine.
Now come to present times. Privacy has become a distant memory. Through the advent of social media, we are given a small (and carefully manufactured) glimpse into the “realities” of the most intimate part of other people’s lives.
Men showcase their latest professional successes in a never ending highlight reel with few hardships along the way. Women, who possess a fabricated beauty so surreal and unachievable and posting images that borderline nudity are constantly present in your social media feed, constantly reminding you that you aren’t enough.
Ignoring the fact that these so-called realities are nothing more than meticulously crafted facades other people want you to believe that they live, this has created a massive problem for society.
Our FOMO is compounded. Our inability to make effective decisions is worsened. And, worse still, every time we open up Instagram or Facebook or YouTube, we are immediately sucked into the trap of comparison, thinking to ourselves:
“Damn, why can’t my life be like that.”
The people who seem the happiest and most successful on social media are often just as miserable (often more so) than you are. But you can’t see the whole picture behind people’s lives. The good, the bad and the ugly. And so we wake up every day, attempting to expel the inescapable feeling that we’re not aren’t doing enough, beautiful enough, earning enough, and experiencing enough out of life.
But I believe that there is one final cause of existential depression that often goes unmentioned. Something so obvious when revealed, yet hidden from plain sight.
The Curse of Comfort: The Easy Life is No Life
“Life can be magnificent and overwhelming – that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live.” ~Albert Camus
Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. The Matrix. The Avengers.
What do all of these incredible and record breaking movies have in common? They tell the classic hero’s journey. Tales of brave men and women banding together to overcome impossible obstacles standing in their way.
And this is something humans have craved since the beginning of time.
The great irony of life is that every day, we grind it out in an attempt to create an easier and more comfortable existence. Yet once we have achieved the ease for which we worked so hard, we find it to be hollow and realize that a life of comfort is more hopeless than a life of challenge.
We don’t want a comfortable and banal existence where we simply clock in, clock out, watch TV, masturbate or have routine sex, and microwave a ready made meal then repeat until we die.
We want a glorious fight to keep us engaged, present and fully alive in our everyday reality.
In years past, these fights came prepackaged in hermetically sealed containers. You were born into a certain culture and, as a result, had very specific enemies and obstacles to overcome. Whether it was simply hunting an animal to eat that day, conquering a rival village or simply bandying together to survive mother nature, we were born into the fight of our lives.
Today, things are different.
We have no great battles assigned to us on a silver platter as we go through life. We could spend the rest of our lives planted in front of a TV watching marathons of popular series, eating Chinese take out –and no one would care or notice that you are letting life pass you by.
Modern society has made it easy to take the path of least resistance.
A poor person today has better access to healthcare, technology and education than even the richest men in the world just 25 years ago. You may not have a mansion, but you have a roof over your head. You may not be eating filet mignon and fresh lobster for dinner but you are not starving. And subsisting on food stamps, government programs, and charity has now become commonplace for many (not that I advocate this).
Think about it this way.
If you look at the history of human existence, it’s clear that we derive meaning and purpose from conflict and discomfort. It’s why stories like Braveheart, Gladiator and Rudy strike such a chord in man.
We don’t thrive with lives of ease, even though our brain might yearn for it. We thrive when we sweat, cry, bleed and fight hard for something that matters.
But in the 21st century, it’s easy to live a life without true discomfort. To settle for the status quo and drift through your years, aimlessly moving from one TV show, movie, video game or pornstar to the next.
And why wouldn’t we?
If nothing matters, then why would we subject ourselves to the hardships and suffering required to achieve great things in life?
The Path Forward is Worth the Fight
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” ~Jean Paul Sartre
Now, despite the grim picture I’ve painted up until this point, I want to impart three lessons I’ve learned after dealing with (and helping hundreds of other men deal with) existential crisis.
- Having an existential crisis is NORMAL.
- Having an existential crisis is a GOOD THING.
- Having an existential crisis is a sign of GROWTH.
If you will embrace the mystery, surrender to the unknown, and allow yourself to follow this path to its conclusion–no matter how terrifying or upsetting it might be–you will find that life is happening for you, not against you.
And, with a firm understanding of what an existential crisis is and a solid hypothesis as to why they are occurring so frequently in the lives of modern humans, we come to a simple question.
What are you going to do about it?
The fact that you are questioning your place in the world and asking how to find meaning in life doesn’t make you dumb, weak, or inferior. It makes you human–and a more intelligent and conscious human at that.
But simply acknowledging your crisis is not enough. You must decide what you are going to do about it.
Because, in my experience, an existential crisis precedes one of two things:
- Growth, transformation, and spiritual liberation
- Failure, addiction, and depression
When caught in the throes of existential misery, you have a choice to either use your crisis to fuel a new chapter in your life. To create new meaning, purpose and rewrite your identity for yourself.
Do these names sound familiar?
- Winston Churchill
- Abraham Lincoln
- John Lennon
- Jim Carrey
- Steve Jobs
- Elon Musk
All of these people struggled with existential depression at critical points in their lives. But they all channeled that dread and anxiety and transmuted it into something powerful that allowed them to create incredible changes in themselves and as a byproduct – the world.
Or, you can allow the crisis to paralyze you. To lead you down a life of depression, drug addiction, and self sedation. To give in to the pain and say “Fuck it! None of this matters anyway!”
You don’t have to look far to see how this plays out.
The slew of celebrity suicides who were at the height of their careers from Chester Bennington to Heath Ledger to Chris Cornell to Avicii should serve as a reminder of how quickly existential depression can spiral out of control and wreak havoc on countless lives.
It is my hope that you will choose the first path.
It’s the path of growth, adventure, and spiritual freedom. The same path I chose years ago and have continued to choose even as I battle through my own existential despair in the wake of recently losing my good friend and father.
I can’t give you exact answers to your existential dread, but I can help you ask the right questions that will carve a path for you.
The rest of this guide will detail the steps I personally took to eradicate my own existential dread.
And, if replicated, I believe they will help you too.
How to Get Out of Your Existential Anxiety NOW
Before detailing the exact steps you can take to overcome an existential crisis, you must first understand a few important guidelines.
First. Unlike depression or anxiety, an existential crisis is not contingent on any particular facet of your life and the solutions are not fast and easy.
You can be crushing it in every area of life but still feel a nagging discontent when you turn off at the end of the day, are alone and go to sleep at night.
It’s okay. There are no easy answers to life’s big questions and it’s important to accept the existential challenges as they arise and be willing to embrace it not knowing the exact solution.
Next, you must understand that the solutions to existential anxiety and depression are not all action based.
With the other challenges in our life–like weight loss, earning more money, or ascending up a chosen career ladder–the solutions are typically cut and dry. Do more of this. Do less of that. Start doing this. Stop doing that.
In an existential crisis, there are no such clear actions. Most of the solutions I’m going to present are far more esoteric than they are practical. They are about adopting new beliefs and mindsets that take time to fully understand.
Finally, realize that escaping the clutches of an existential crisis will not happen overnight.
It might take months. It might take years. It might feel like there is no hope. Regardless, you must keep fighting for your freedom.
The questions that surface during an existential crisis are as old as thought itself. For thousands of years humans have questioned life and its meaning. From Socrates to Lao Tzu to Emerson.
So embrace the process. You are not alone. And use what I’m about to share with you to create a new reality.
Understand What Your Purpose REALLY Is
“No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.” ~Frederick Nietzsche
All too often, people assume that their purpose is something concrete. Something preordained and fixed.
No. You do not have only one inherent purpose. And for many, this is an uncomfortable reality to face.
But when you examine this truth objectively, you’ll quickly realize that your lack of purpose is the exact thing that gives your life purpose.
Instead of being born into an inescapable destiny that you must pursue whether it’s aligned with your core values or not, you have the ability to choose your purpose.
To break free from an existential crisis you must exercise this freedom and create meaning for yourself. And to allow that purpose to evolve as you evolve as a man. Do not wait for others to tell you how to live your life, choose the life you want to live and pursue it with conviction.
If you are living in existential angst and depression, chances are good that you lack meaningful and purposeful work in your life.
When I was younger, my purpose was simple. Quit my soul sucking office job that was draining my soul and find a way to pay the bills doing something on my own.
I achieved that purpose and now, my mission has evolved. My goals are no longer built around paying my rent, but seeing how far I can take this movement. Making my mark on the world and doing meaningful work that changes lives. I’ve seen the look in a man’s eyes after he’s consumed my work as a client. It’s worth it.
Similarly in your life, your purpose today will be wildly different from your purpose five or ten years from now. And that’s normal and a part of life.
What matters is that you are pursuing your authentic purpose.
That you are doing things that bring meaning into your life and create significance in your eyes, not the eyes of society.
If nothing matters–objectively at least–then it becomes our job to make things matter in our own lives. You can find meaning and purpose in anything. But you won’t find it chained to work, a relationship or even in an environment that drains your soul.
You will only find it in pursuit of things that are meaningful to you and in alignment with your values.
But to create this purpose for yourself, you must first embrace the pain of meaninglessness. You must face the existential demons in order to emerge victorious.
Stop Numbing the Pain and Embrace It
One of the greatest pitfalls modern humans fall into is addiction into sedation.
In the 21st century, there is no shortage of methods to which we can turn to numb the pain of our existence (notice how below are all billion dollar industries):
- Processed foods that are engineered for maximum pleasure and addictiveness.
- Drugs that are chemically superior to anything we’ve seen in history.
- Porn that is so abundant and exotic we could never see it all if we tried.
- On our phones, we have an endless stream of video games, Netflix originals, social media, click bait, and stunning Instagram models.
And there is a reason our society has developed so many forms of escapism in the last several decades.
Because people want to escape their lives. To tap out, even for a short moment from our meaningless lives. To numb the pain that we are experiencing so profoundly to the point where we almost forget it’s even there.
But when you come down from the high…
When you click out of your private browser…
When you are alone with your thoughts, laying in bed and mulling over the reality in which you find yourself, the pain is still there – and growing.
Eating away at your soul like battery acid. Corroding every part of you and reminding you, in no uncertain terms, that you are alone, helpless, and afraid.
My response to this uncomfortable sensation?
BRING IT ON!
The pain that you feel from lacking a purpose or despising your life is the greatest gift that life can give you.
It is life’s natural change agent. A guide to serve you. Not to help you escape from your life, but rather to not let life escape from you.
To rid your life of an existential crisis, you must first rid your life of sedation with which so many men fall victim to.
Because it is only when we allow ourselves to feel the true extent of our painful wounds that we can channel this energy to find a solution to heal them.
Indecision Always Costs More in the End
The modern human has, at their fingertips more opportunity and possibility than any human–even the richest of kings–had one hundred years ago.
And this reality has led to a generation fueled plagued by indecisiveness. With so many options, we can never know when we are making the “right” decision and honestly, why bother when all survival needs are met.
But the truth is…
There is NO “right” decision. There are only decisions that move you closer to the reality in which you want to live and decisions that move you further from it.
Indecision is itself a decision. You are deciding not to decide. And when you do this long enough, suffering becomes inevitable.
Play the story out. If you fast forward the clock ten years, what will be the fruit of each “decision tree”?
In the end, indecision costs more than the wrong decision.
Accept that not every path you pursue will pan out. Make it your mission to fail forward fast. To learn and adapt as quickly as possible, making rapid decisions, learning from them, and making new decisions based on the new information you’ve obtained.
A life of success, meaning, and purpose belongs only to the decisive.
So get out of your head and into the real world – act.
Become a Creator, Not a Consumer
“Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears.” ~Albert Camus
Human beings are, by their very nature, creative beings. Since we first stood up on two legs, we were creating. From arrowheads to nuclear bombs. To mailing letters by horse to iPhones. From tribal huts to the Burj Khalifa.
We all have an innate desire inside of us to create.
There’s only one problem.
The modern world does not encourage this creation-centric lifestyle. Rather, it pushes and peddles a materialistic agenda of consumption. From the moment we were born, we’ve been inundated with ads telling us how we should look, what we should wear, where we should live, and how we should act, destroying our creativity.
To keep in accordance with these social norms, we consume.
We consume new homes, furniture, cars, designer clothes, overpriced jewelry, lavish vacations (that never feel relaxing), Netflix marathons, porn and unhealthy foods.
95% of everything the modern human does is built around this consumption-centric agenda.
Granted to a degree, we must all embrace consumerism (in its most basic sense) to survive and grow as humans.
The problem arises when one allows overconsumption to takeover all of their time, energy and stifle their ability to create.
Nothing fuels depression and feelings of meaningless more than a life void of creative power.
Stop consuming. Start creating. And as a byproduct you are stepping into your power and becoming the hero in your life.
Focus on creating, not consuming.
- Stop complaining about low quality content online and spend $100 on a new website and start writing your own blogs.
- Stop wishing you could be a musician and go buy an instrument and play it.
- Stop watching travel shows and book the flight.
- Stop ogling Instagram models on social media and improve your life and go meet them.
- Stop watching the UFC and go train Brazillian Jiu Jitsu or take a boxing class.
Creation fuels meaning. And the more you create, the more meaningful and enjoyable your life.
Life is Not a Race to the End
“We’re not rushing to the finish line, no one is running towards death, the purpose of the song is not to get to the end but to enjoy the entire song.” ~Allan Watts
Life is not a race of any kind. There is no finish line. Only death.
Yet all too often, in our hyper goal focused society, it’s easy to start believing that life is about what you accomplish in the future instead of the moment you get to enjoy right here, right now with the people in it.
Many of us work and goal plan our lives away, pining for the day that we finally get that promotion, sell that business, publish that book, or marry that woman.
And sure, goals are an important part of having a meaningful life.
But they are simply the rudder that steers the ship. They are not the destination to which you are sailing. Life, in its truest form, is a dance in the present moment.
When you are dancing, you aren’t racing to the end of the dance. You aren’t wishing and waiting for the song to end. The quality of a dance is not determined by the final flourish or dip. You are simply in the moment. Moving, swaying, pushing, and pulling with your partner enjoying the moment. Nothing else matters.
When you embrace that life is a dance, you become free and your existential angst withers away.
You no longer feel the pressure and existential angst. You can be content with simply being in the right here and right now. You realize that the purpose of life is not some mountain you will climb in the future or some challenge you will overcome tomorrow and THEN YOU WILL BE HAPPY.
The purpose of life is to live life to explore every thread of curiosity and see where it leads. To drink long and deep from the well of love, laughter and adventure.
To do things that light your soul on fire and make you think, “Damn! THIS is what it means to be a fucking alive.”
By embracing this truth, you will no longer feel the pressure to become something great.
Rather, you will feel an urge to live in a way that is great and truly authentic to you.
Your soul can’t wait.
“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.” ~Martin Heidegger
This final section is a dark yet enlightening topic, but one that I feel you are prepared to face. Take a deep breath. Relax. I’m with you right now.
The final, and most profound way to escape an existential crisis is to contemplate and meditate on the inevitability of your own death.
You are going to die. Everyone you love is going to die. Everyone who pisses you off right now is going to die too. We all are. It’s simply the human condition.
Life, when looked at objectively, is nothing more than survival, having sex and terminal disease.
… And that is exactly what makes this life free and beautiful.
The fact that we are all going to die is not depressing, but liberating you of your existential crisis.
If there are only two things we know for certain–we are alive right now and one day we won’t be–we really only have two choices.
First, we can opt out of existence and decide that our existential angst is a disease without a cure.
But this doesn’t solve anything. It simply leaves the world colder. It leaves the people we love to deal with more pain, more depression, and more suffering.
Or, since we’re already on this spinning rock, we can choose to make the most of it.
To live fully. To go all in on your one life. To take bold risks and do whatever it takes to have the experiences we want to have and live life on our terms.
Our mortality, it seems, is the gatekeeper to our liberation.
If the worst thing that can happen is already guaranteed to happen… Then we have nothing to fear.
And when we truly embrace this fact, allowing it to penetrate us to the core, life becomes an exciting adventure. You are the hero of your life and you can create whatever you want with it. It’s so beautiful this way.
You are free to pursue your passions, to go for your dreams, to aim as high as you can without fear or shame.
Because if nothing matters and we’re all dying anyways, then we have the freedom to BE, DO and CREATE anything we want out of this life.
The seemingly “important” obligations for which we are responsible fade away in light of our mortality. The bullshit, the drama, and the consumer centric narrative into which we’ve been placed becomes obsolete and outdated. And true freedom becomes ours for the taking!
So my challenge for you is simple.
Make the most of your experience here. Live so vibrantly it puts you in tears of joy.
Live so that the fear of death never enters your heart and accept that the only thing you have to fear is dying without ever having truly lived.
All that matters is what we choose to do today, and maybe tomorrow. That’s it.
My friend, don’t waste this opportunity.