In the middle of my 35th year, for the first time, I stopped, surveyed my life, and thought, “This is it? This is life? This is all there is?” I’d never asked that question. Without a good answer I sunk into a prolonged depression. Over time I realized my reasoning for asking that question had a foundation of several years. I had never thought to ask that question before because I always had something “bigger” for which I was living. For most of my life that was the idea of God – that there was a supreme being watching my life and waiting to judge what I had done. There was also the pressure of other people watching me – I wanted to prove that I was good and doing good. For a long time, it was also the pressure I put on myself – I had to continue to perform to prove to myself that I was good.
What happens when you finally reach the end of the rope? I never thought there was an end to the rope. The idea of this supreme being [God] was painted so expansively and fully there never was an opportunity to doubt; I couldn’t see I was even tethered to anything. I wasn’t given time to question, I was only told to believe, to increase my faith, to grow my belief. The driving force was “accountability” – performance was key and only by continuing to be and do good would I thrive.
But I never really “thrived”. All the beasts I’d battled in myself are the same beasts I battle today. Try as I might to be perfect, I never was. But I performed better than anyone, making it look like I was in fact thriving. It was that “exo-living” [yes, I’m making up a word] which gave me an appearance of life, but I was only moving further and further down my rope, until I came to the end of it. And then I was left to cope without the things I’d grown up believing to be true.
What happens when you reach the end of the rope is that you find out if you have any other drive. Once I found myself without the pressure to perform out of the spotlight of church, I found that a lot of the things I dreaded about myself were true. I’m lazy. I like the easy way out. I’m an addict. But after languishing in that shallow water, I found myself yearning for more, wondering what would fulfill me. I’d spent twenty years searching for satisfaction in that supreme being (or rather in satisfying that supreme being) being filled up on placating confessions and prayers hoping that one day he’d change me. And then I woke up to the fact that I’m the only one responsible for my satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment, and goodness.
It is easier to stop and ask the question, “This is it?” and give up hope in anything great or good. It’s easier to get drunk every night so you don’t have to think about it. It’s easier to drown yourself in laziness and entertainment, wiling the hours of your life away waiting for death’s sweet face to appear and take you down the hall. It’s also empty. I find it disappointing that our conversations seem to settle into the question: “Have you seen (insert TV show) on (insert streaming medium)?” But it is easier that way. It’s easier to be entertained and not to produce anything at all.
But when you find yourself asking, at 35 with three kids asking, “This is it?” you’re doing something wrong. My argument is that I’m not doing enough creating and producing to find satisfaction. That question is always going to remain, regardless. I think it’s a fact of life – that this thing we’re doing called living is largely full of emptiness. Unless we choose to fill it with something of value. Unless we choose to expand the horizons of our lives past what’s streaming on Netflix and choose to dig into the psyche of what makes us tick. It’s different for all of us – some of us are writers, artists, healers, teachers, or starters. There’s no box for us to fit in, no mold to shape us into a unified entity where all our hearts beat in sync and our songs sound the same and our minds think the same. We’re unique. And we have an opportunity to build something greater, bigger, funnier, bolder, brighter, animated, beautiful, and intentional.
I don’t want to ask if this is all there is. I want to ask, “Have you seen what I’ve done?” and be proud of the result.