Have you ever had that feeling where things are rather gloomy lately? Or maybe you had that moment/experience wherein the universe simply seems to be against you? Did you miss out on that promotion, or perhaps flunked your new venture? Did your passion for a new sport didn’t turn out well? While lamentable, these experiences are entirely human. Even if it feels unique to you right now, almost all of us share a similar struggle of some sort.
However, the phenomenological and existential crisis that we are experiencing is ultimately part of our struggles to be, for they are opportunities for us to turn a new leaf. By passing through them and conquering small battles one at a time, we allow ourselves to grow and blossom like a full-blown tree.
But more often than not, some or even most of us fail to achieve this stage. If we were to refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, most of us would find ourselves in the second or third tier. Despite wanting to fully actualize ourselves and become like that of the Sequoia Tree, which stands tall and firm, we end up short of what we desire.
After all, how does one grow into greatness and success?
Like the tall and healthy trees in Sequoia National Park, growth often requires a lot of nourishing and challenges. Similar to the yin and yang, both of these points go hand-in-hand in leading us to become better individuals. As we learn from these negative experiences, we can turn them into positive opportunities for growth, on top of the nourishment that we receive. After all, great people exhibit the same amount of energy and dedication that is contained in years of perfecting their craft.
If such is the case, how come not all of us will succeed in life? How come some end up flipping burgers till their 60’s? While flipping burgers is a decent job and that person might be happy and prosperous in their own way, most of us find ourselves in that hole of negativity. Like a booby trap that we cannot escape from, our struggles seem to be insurmountable to a point that we simply could not move forward. Given such, how do we actually pull ourselves out?
The Problem: A Classical Representation through the Myth of Sisyphus
In 1942, the young and handsome philosopher named Albert Camus published an essay called “The Myth of Sisyphus.” In this classic essay, Camus presents to us the case of Sisyphus who was punished by the Greek Gods for having tricked them on multiple accounts. His punishment was simple yet eerily familiar to us. Sisyphus was to exist for all eternity doing only one task – pushing a massive boulder up a hill with the rock rolling back down just before it reaches the top.
Picking up from this ancient tale, Camus presents to us the problem of the human condition – that we are bound to do meaningless tasks in a life where all that awaits us is death. Just like Sisyphus, we are forced to earn a living, find meaning in temporary happiness, or even joy in superfluous experiences with people around us. Camus pointed this out, hinting that the human condition seems to be challenged on this one – what is there to live for?
Such absurdity validly presents the viability of suicide as a meaningful option. For a person who cannot find meaning in his/her life anymore, ending it perhaps would be the best course of action to do it. When people lose that will, the temptation of such can overpower the will to live.
But of course, the majority of us doesn’t look at life that way.
However, the same problem of human condition – Man’s search for meaning, is something that continually bothers us.
A Weak Response: The Retreat
Regardless of how we try to spin the angle, the same problem exists unless we solve them. Like dishes that are left from last night’s dinner, these things won’t automatically clean themselves. Even we have to prepare them before placing such inside a dishwasher. Despite having this knowledge, why do people end up leaving it out?
In answering this seemingly complex paradox, we have to take a look at how people decide for things. Using classical ethical theory, individuals choose based on a social notion of what’s right or wrong versus their conception of the good life. Inherently, there is a tension, a push and pull between these two concepts, to a point that it can lead the individual confused and conflicted.
For instance, in trying to understand why some people do wrong things in life even if they know it is wrong, this theoretical framework gives us a good insight. Also when people know that their actions are immoral, they can continue pursuing it simply because they are keen and firm in following their concept of the good life. Thus, people sell drugs even when doing so can indefinitely harm the chances of others to pursue life as they want to.
Using this framework, let us analyze the human condition – why are we sad and unhappy? Why are some people successful, whereas we are left in our own rubbles? Looking at our condition using this framework will make us realize – do we have a clear conception of the good life? Or do we simply live by the opinions of others about our lives?
When we are unable to define what we want in our lives, we either end up conforming to others or left as being indecisive and thus, a failure at least in one way or another. And when we’re unable to handle this fact, we can resort to all sorts of things, from fake friends and superfluous things.
As a response, we retreat into the notion that the experience of sadness and negativity is nothing more than a passé. That instead of treating it as a real existential problem which defines the human condition, we brush it off as irrelevant and normal.
While it doesn’t seem to hurt at first, this continual rejection of the human condition can pile up such negativity from within. When we turn a blind eye on the negative effects of our struggles on our bodies, we allow ourselves to be silently consumed by it. Similar to drugs, this feeling can become addictive to a point that we are psychologically and physically reliant on the fact that we must keep things shut.
A Strong Response: The Reckoning
Living your life with your own set of principles can literally go a long way in helping you approach such paradox. By being able to cut through the muck of senseless opinions and empty perspectives that people flaunt in the social space, you will be able to take control of your life. Instead of being easily swayed by what the media intentionally presents, we are able to decide for ourselves for we know what we want.
Going back to the story of the myth of Sisyphus, the endless toil eventually led to a reckoning. As Sisyphus pushed the boulder over and over again, he realized that the boulder was always above him. But repeatedly doing this task opened a realization – that at one point, he is above the boulder as it rolls down the hill.
To a certain extent, this gave Sisyphus a sense of meaning in life. Comparing the boulder to our struggles, Albert Camus used this imagery to show that we can indeed possibly find meaning. When we realize that we are above our own problems and struggles (as we have the power to push them forward and be above it), we begin the process of authentically taking control of our own lives. However, should we fail to realize this, we will see life differently – than the boulder is the one controlling it.
As such, this point proves that life, more often than not, is a matter of perspective and mindset. If we have the wrong mindset, even if we had tons of cash in our vaults, we would be unable to grow it. Like lotto winners who spend their fortunes on senseless things, it is our perspective that defines our actions, which in turn creates our own destiny.
Perhaps, at this point, the legitimate question then is – how do we change the way we think?
Transcending Failure – A Battle from Within
In an attempt to make sense of our paradoxically dysfunctional situation of finding meaning, the best way to go is to harness the power of positivity. Notice that when people start to become negative and feed themselves with such, they further bury themselves in the avalanche of their own inadequacies. But the question is – isn’t this a common experience among all of us? Making a comparison, you would easily realize that even the greatest athletes and thinkers struggle from their own challenges. In their own ways, they also experienced failure countless times.
For instance, did you know Ed Sheeran’s backstory? As he transferred to the US trying to make music, Jamie Foxx saw him perform. And no, this isn’t on the big stage, but in some small bar. Such coincidence led Jamie to help Ed, allowing him to sleep on his couch for six weeks. After which, Jamie helped Ed to a gig in Apollo NY theater (which was mostly of black people). Despite being an uncommon sight, Ed Sheeran got a standing ovation from this crowd.
While we may all perceive Ed Sheeran simply as a success story, looking at this gives us a thought – what makes him different than us? Most who are unable to recognize their own powers would say that it is his talent. And while it is true that indeed Ed Sheeran may be far more talented than us, in one way or another, we also have our own skillsets and proficiencies.
With that, what truly separates Ed Sheeran is the ability to transcend failure through positivity. By being hopeful and never giving up despite the uncertainty of transferring to another country and playing in some small bar, this guy presents to us what a positive mind can hope to bring.
Harness the Power of Positivity
In retrospect, the way we perceive life can be heavily dependent on the kind of energy that we bring to it. True enough, even some people are currently in plight more than what we are experiencing right now. They, however, are able to overcome such with sheer willpower to transcend all forms of challenges and roadblocks ahead.
By creating a positive mindset, all other hurdles are simple steps to reach the goal that we want. Instead of reasons to prevent us from achieving our goals, these challenges become lifelong teachers that impart to us lessons that we won’t learn elsewhere.
Like an iron that is fervently processed in order to become steel, we have to endure our own struggles in one way or another to ensure that we will move forward. But how will we do that if we lack the drive and ambition to do it? Even when we have power and skill, these things become irrelevant to someone who doesn’t desire to inch forward. Just like a painter who decided not to paint anymore, such enormous talent is possibly put to wastes. Can we convince them otherwise? Of course not.
Truly, the reason behind this stems from within. Regardless of what we may face along the way, it is our own mindset, our own perspective of positivity that will keep the ball rolling. If we lack that inner drive to see the good in things, we will never inch forward to the goals that we want.
After all, the power to harness positivity is within us, not outside us. By believing that we are able to go beyond our comfort zone into the courage zone, we will learn new things in life. But going there without a weapon is like going to battle unequipped. As such, we need to know how to harness the power of positivity and implement it in our lives.
To end, I’ll leave you with a quote that the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre once said – “Man is nothing but that which he makes of himself.” By realizing such, we will always have the chance to recreate who we are, in a manner where we can go beyond what the situation dictates for us.