Does the sheer possibility of life ever make itself very obvious? It might be the naïveté of being young but this happened to me upon leaving university. In some ways it was very exciting: it felt like there are a million paths to take, as well as unmade paths that have to somehow be realised, mapped out and formed all at once. Of course there are already limitations on those possibilities, as there are on everything, but even so I got an almost overwhelming feeling of openness to the future. It’s all there for the taking. In other ways it was absolutely terrifying. When we’re faced with near-infinite choice, we tend to freeze up and lose the ability to make any decisions, and I could feel the danger of that happening, like I was being asked what my favourite song of all time is or something.
I can imagine anyone trying to forge their path, whether it’s out of thin air, or by taking a more defined challenge, has felt this, and probably never stops feeling it. I bet most people leaving university at this time are feeling it. The desire to create something – even if the path to doing so is well-trodden and clearly sign-posted – comes with a heavy responsibility. This is made up of the very real possibility of failure, the possibility that you are not good enough to achieve what you’re aiming for and the consequent desire to give up or not even try, to avoid these dangers. This is all perfectly natural.
But how can this overwhelming realisation be overcome? Presumably there is no way to eradicate it and it’s not particularly productive on its own, so instead a way around it has to be found. I think if you have a sense of what you want to do, you can use this as a guidance point. It might not be a masterplan of the next few years, but really listening to and taking seriously what genuinely interests you, not what you think you should or can easily do, is very important. Then you just have to get on and do it. Sitting around wondering about how you’re going to do it is a way of avoiding doing it. Doubting yourself and telling yourself you won’t succeed is a way of avoiding doing it. Coming up with things you have to do before you can do it is a way of avoiding doing it.
A useful form of motivation in such projects (the word adventures also works) is realising and accepting that you are going to die. This doesn’t have to be at all morbid, depressing or nihilistic. It’s something we all have in common and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. When you’re sitting there drooling, eight hours into whatever it is you’re binge-watching, and you have that heavy, dead weight feeling somewhere in between your chest and stomach that’s telling you that what you really want to do is get up and do something at least a little less pointless, telling yourself that you will eventually die really helps cut through the lethargy. I suppose you could make the case that since this is going to happen to you, there’s no point doing anything – make that 16 hours of Netflix. But you are the one telling yourself that, so why not tell yourself something useful? ‘Since I have an extraordinarily limited span of time to be active in this life, I better make the most of it. Finish the five-thousandth episode of How I Met Your Mother [because you can’t just stop right away] and do something!’
Accepting your death could also be totally liberating. No matter what you believe about post-mortem existence (or the lack thereof), death can be understood as a development, change or natural progression of the self from a limited, bounded and finite individual to an undifferentiated part of the universe. This is true at least physically if nothing else. You decompose in the ground and feed plants, you are cremated and you turn into ash and smoke or you are given a Tibetan sky burial and you feed birds of prey.