Remember the carefree days of jumping underneath the sprinkler and “reversible” training bras? What happened to those? Now it’s all heady worries about picking a major and traveling across the country to maroon yourself on a foreign college campus. On top of that, you caught some awful show on PBS about the slow expansion of the universe outward, laying the groundwork for one monstrous implosion that ends life and atomic arrangement as we know it at some point in the distant future, provided the sun doesn't engulf the Earth in its burgeoning cloud of flaming gas before then ... It’s all manageable until you find yourself out in a soybean field, spinning around in a Snuggie and singing Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.”
By the time you cry out “Who am I?” to the third Waffle House sign you pass, jogging slowly along a deserted highway at night, you know for sure: you are having an existential crisis. Sit tight, we’ve all been there. Simply walk through this six-step guide to understanding and overcoming existentialism.
- So what is existentialism anyway? Existentialism is thinking about why you’re here. But if reality television and Rihanna songs have begun to lose all meaning, you’ve reached an advanced stage of existential distress. If you’ve ever walked outside in your Where The Wild Things Are pajamas, looked up at the stars and resolved to “set sail,” then you’ve experienced a mini crisis of identity. Repeating your name over and over and over until it loses all meaning won’t help. Instead, I recommend watching The Princess Bride, or Spaceballs if things are really bad.
- How can you avoid existential crises? You need to dull down your philosophical thought, and focus on smaller, more mundane details. The best guides to mundane details are your parents, who have to deal with finicky chores like keeping a steady supply of three varieties of milk, planning meals, changing the oil on the car, buying fridges, and insuring the family. Ask your mother to help her balance the checkbook, or write a list of shopping ingredients from her weekly meal plan. Your concerns about the wellbeing of the universe will quickly dim once you’re stuck in the international foods aisle trying to find the right brand of gluten-free tortilla.
- Whose fault is existentialism? Although existentialism has existed in different forms through the centuries, 18th, 19th and 20th century philosophers from Europe are predominantly to blame. Here in America, we were all perfectly happy contemplating the Dairy Queen value day specials until the French alerted us to the possible meaninglessness of language. And then the Germans chirped in to remind us that our entire concept of the world exists in our own heads—like we have the room! Take your cue from Australians, who famously abandoned existential thought to bury each other in deep pits in the sand so that it looked like disembodied heads were littered across the beach. Sunshine can’t get you down.
- When you come down with a nasty case of the "Who Am I?"s, remember that you could be any of the following: Your neighbor's neighbor, a llama in disguise, the future inventor of an international dance craze, semi-funny, neurotic in a good way, a sandwich artist without a palette, Ashton Kutcher. If none of those apply, just tell yourself over and over, "I am busy becoming who I am."
- Is there life after existentialism? Believe it or not, being really, really busy is a great way to overcome existentialist preoccupations. Remember how your older cousin Ryan went through that Buddhist phase a couple of years ago, when he stopped eating anything with high fructose corn syrup and only wore robes? Now he’s back working for a mega corporation and saving up for a really sweet espresso maker. Ryan simply forgot to worry about the fundamentals of his existence. You can too! I suggest taking on internships, extra credit classes and demanding co-curricular sports like crew to distract you while existentialism makes its getaway.
- Is there an upside to freaking out about my existence? Actually, yes! Some of the world’s greatest comedy comes from making fun of just how ridonculous everything is. Take, for example, harem pants, Ashton Kutcher, and Uncrustables. If there is a creator, he’s a MASTERMIND of subtle humor. Really, think about lacrosse. WHO INVENTED THAT RACQUET/HOCKEY STICK THING? And who decided that 17-year-olds should make ginormous life decisions in between prom committee, varsity soccer, taking the SAT and conducting a rich and rewarding social life? Relax. Life isn’t mapped by these moments of momentous decision-making, though it’s cute that some people think that it is. Life is what happens when you’re distracted by studying for whatever major you end up with, or rearranging your belongings in your tiny dorm room. Really, you don’t just get one degree, one shot at captain of dance, one go at college, one personality to be stuck with—there are ALWAYS other options. Just look at Britney. But if your existential crisis is bogging you down, you might need to roll with it. Turn up Robyn, hike some tube socks up to your armpits and get singing.
Have you experienced an existential crisis?