I’ve spent most of my life within the formal confines of academia, with a clear direction for my immediate future and support from two loving parents. I’m aware of how lucky I am for this alone. I grew into an adult with many of the exterior markers of success. Yet, still, when looking towards the future, I felt anxious and uncertain. It initially appears liberating to know that the modern world offers so many possibilities. Yet, when it comes time to choose a path for yourself, it’s more likely that you will find yourself in the paradox of choice instead of finding your life purpose.
The anxiety and indecision, I think, is normal, at least for an introvert with a penance for overthinking everything. At times, it has helped me logically think through problems and find the optimal next step. Other times, it can be paralyzing as my mind focuses on the potential danger of every move in the game of life.
This is the source of my anxiety. The stress that accompanies the fear of the future and the uncertainty that I am acting in the best interest of my future self.
My friends speak of anxiety as an ever-present emotion of general overwhelm. Anxiety for many is the lurking fear of the future and stress response to imagined events.
I bet stress and anxiety were advantageous in the natural world to imagine and mentally prepare for the dangers in the future. The adrenaline floods your system, and anxiety sets your body on edge to sharpen your mind and focus on the danger in front of you. But last time I checked, no apex predators were roaming the urban jungle, and the 9-5 office job isn’t an immediate danger to our physical health.
Even if modern life doesn’t pose an immediate threat to our wellbeing – the long-term side effects of ill-managed stress and anxiety can cause real damage to one’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
I think we can blame some of the increased anxiety disorders in recent cultural changes and the rapidly accelerating pace of life in the digital age. Yet, even if we turn the clock back 100 years, I imagine that young adults were still confronted with anxiety when it was time to make their way into the world. Adulting is stressful, overwhelming, and anxiety-provoking at times. You’re not crazy if sometimes you feel stressed up to your eyeballs.
In the middle of a pandemic, a bad breakup, and a career change – I decided it was long past time to take responsibility for the anxious stress ball inside my chest.
Here are the things that helped me most to feel competent and confident when faced with the unknown and protect my inner peace from the distractions of the external world.
Assume Responsibility for Yourself
If you had the opportunity, would you choose to know your future? If it were positive… maybe I would want to know. But even so, I think life would feel empty without its surprises.
Initially, it could be appealing for someone to show you the way, but life’s choices are a gift and a burden. They are stressful and can make you anxious, but the number one thing that has given me peace of mind is assuming responsibility for the direction of my journey.
The power to choose is what empowers me. The choice to lean into my interests and unapologetically turn away from decisions that don’t serve me. My personal well-being is my priority. That has meant taking care of my overall health, learning the intricacies of my personality, and taking action to benefit my future.
I’m a constant work in progress but the advice from Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life brought me solace when I was feeling stress and helped me to find direction.
You have to do an immense amount of self-work to understand yourself enough to begin to understand what you may want out of life. I think it’s work making a start. Even if it is overwhelming and scary – look inward and ask yourself where you are headed and how you can help yourself find that destination.
If you are in the mood for introspection here are some ideas …
- Keep a Journal – Why I still Journal: 10 Years Later
- Take a personality test. My favorite is the 16 Personalities test, but CliftonStrengths is good too.
- Take a deep dive into personal development at the bookstore. My favorites include:
- Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life
- An Emotional Education
- The Daily Stoic
- The Alter Ego Effect
- Atomic Habits