Purpose, dream, objective, aspiration — whatever name it’s called — it serves as the direction by which our decisions and our actions are built upon.
At times, this direction is so clear that no matter what challenge we are presented with, overcoming them and carrying on wouldn’t be such a problem. We are driven and focused. We feel like everything is under control.
But when uncertainty strikes, sometimes we fall short. We become subjects to it and let it take control of us — of our perception and our actions.
Here are some things we unknowingly do that dampens the clarity of what we ought to be doing.
We allow ourselves to lose hope.
It is possible we have unlearned the ability to hope or desire for something. It can be attributed to several causes: to that feeling of defeat from the problems or that insurmountable challenge we have encountered, to the repeated rejection or denial of our hopes and desires, or to not wanting to expect because the disappointment hurts. Whenever we get rejected, our identities feel threatened. Was I really not good enough? Did I really not deserve it? However, in the face of rejection, everything that is irrelevant is also extinguished. Instead, we are left with the purity of what is truly important.
The system is unfair. It’s hard for me to get started with. If only I had more privileges, if only I had more freedom, if only I was healthier, if only my mind was more stable, if only, if only, if only… We are all dealt with different cards. While certain life circumstances could delay us and even force us to take a few steps backward — dropping out of university, injury, debt, or a pandemic — it is important to remember that it cannot cancel our objectives.
The detours and shifts may confuse us, BUT the objective — the vision — remains the same. How we do it just takes up another form. We can be constrained, our plans disrupted, and even have our bodies broken but not our belief in ourselves. We have the power to rise up, decide once more, try another route, or when we are at our wit’s end, choose to accept this reality and start over.
We don’t have control over our external factors — our realities, other people’s opinions and reactions — these are conditions and rules that might make everything seem impossible to play the game. However, our perception has power and is power in itself, and we can take control of it. Despite our trials, our external factors, and the rejections we encounter, remember that there is always a way to shift our perspective.
With the trials that come our way, there are lessons. With this new found wisdom and strength, we are better prepared not only for the obstacles but also for the opportunities that life will present to us. The experiences and the mindset that we have acquired will help us in pursuit of what we want to achieve, who we want to be, or what we are meant to be doing.
Endure them and find meaning in them.
“Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.”
- Marcus Aurelius
We allow ourselves to not know what to hope for.
The motivation, the desire, or the hope may be there, “Yes, I want to work for something”. But sometimes we fall into this “not knowing” of what that something is that we should hope for. Different pressures — others’ expectations, time, and our identity — may be factors as to why we forget what we want and what we should be doing.
We look at ourselves through the lens of others and their expectations when our opinions about ourselves should be our utmost priority. We are the ones living our lives and are constantly dealing with our heads yet we let others dictate what should feel good and feel bad. What is right or wrong for us. To a certain extent, their insights may be useful, but if we let these expectations take the wheel, the road ahead may become unclear.
We also get pressured about the time that we have lost and will lose. Despite the lack of assurance that the perceived consequences of our actions will actually happen, we get scared of them. And they haven’t even happened yet. If I don’t do this, then I’ll never be able to do that. If I change paths now, it would have been too late. Because I took too long, it’s impossible to do it now. Time will always run its course, and it is up to us to make friends with it or not.
We often confuse our past and current selves. We fail to acknowledge the fact that we change, our priorities change, and our values change. Our past self may have wanted this career, that title, that amount of income, or that company, however, what is important to us now may be different. Sometimes, we know and are aware of these changes, but we take a while in internally processing and accepting these changes — especially when we have a hard time seeing the good in them.
Our journeys are not linear. We may take longer or faster than we expected. There could be detours, shortcuts, intersections, bumps, and forks on the road. We — our identities, values, and priorities — are always changing, sometimes by chance but most of the time by choice. We may not realise it, but we are constantly adapting and changing based on the choices that we make.
While our goals from before are no longer the same, we thank such goals for being our guide and giving us direction in that period of our lives. We are not the same person as we were yesterday, and we will not be the same person tomorrow. And we get to decide. So, from this point forward, we can stop and ask ourselves freely, “What matters to me NOW?”
“When people prattle on about needing to find their “life’s purpose”, what they really mean is that it’s no longer clear to them what matters, what is a worthy use of their limited time here on earth — in short, what to hope for. They are struggling to see what the before/after of their lives should be.”
- Viktor Frankl. “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
We allow ourselves to not know who we really are and what our worth is.
Sometimes, we just do not know ourselves well enough and what we are truly capable of. Being self-aware is necessary to understanding our worth. And knowing our worth creates a clear line between the crap that we are going to take and the ones that we’ll discard — the ones that are not helpful in any way.
Not knowing our worth and our capabilities can hurt our confidence and may even lead to denying ourselves of the dreams and aspirations that we are free to have. We often let others, our past experiences, our mistakes, and our feelings define us. We often underestimate what we can do, subjecting ourselves to harmful social comparisons that blinds us from what we should be focusing on — ourselves, really.
It is easy to fall on this negative self-talk that we are not good enough, we are not experienced enough, we are not smart enough, we just are never enough. The way we speak to ourselves matters. It reinforces our identity and affects our ability to learn more about who we really are.
We see our lives throughout the whole spectrum and only see what others would want to show — the exciting times, the good times, the rewarding times, and sometimes a humble brag here and there. If that is a ‘failure’ for them, then what am I? If that’s ugly, then I should be dirt ugly. If you consider yourself dumb, then I won’t even be on the intellectual scale anymore.
Time and time again, we fall into this tendency of comparing ourselves, our progress, and our achievements, which consequently makes us feel inferior and insignificant. Again, our journeys are our own and we have to learn to respect them. Respecting ourselves will start from the little things that make up our lives, and that includes respecting our journey.
Knowing what we are good at — our strengths — and what we enjoy doing can help give us an idea of where it is that we want to go and where we would like to channel our energy and dedicate our time improving on. Being aware of the things we lack now, whether it’s on the knowledge, skill, or experience aspect, can also serve as a guide as to what steps we should be undertaking next. By knowing what we are good at, we realise that we are an asset to society or to a specific community and that there is a gap that only we can fulfill.
We allow ourselves to be stuck in indecision.
The opposite can also hold true. We have so many hopes that are ‘acceptable’ yet we paralyse ourselves from making a decision and from making a move.
We may know the things that we want. We’ve already curated the list of companies we want to work for or that list of careers or positions that we can pursue. We may also know the things that we are passionate about and the things we are good at. We’ve lived our entire university lives racking up all those affiliations, building our network and competencies, and specialising on our crafts. But, when our parents (relatives and distant relatives) would ask us, “So, what are you going to do after you graduate?” Why can’t we come up with an answer?
There are so many options. The possibilities are endless. But even with the many options that we have — the opportunities that we just have to apply for, the recruiting companies whose reputation we respect, and our diverse skill set — we are stuck in indecision.
When we apply for university, we are presented with a long list of degree programs and the options are all precisely laid out. We just have to tick three boxes regardless if we are sure with this decision or not. Sometimes, the university redirects us to another program if they don’t see it fit for us (which could be for better or for worse) or if we don’t qualify for the criteria given. But unlike being in university, no one will do it for us after we graduate. We have to make the decision and do the redirecting that is needed once we have already tried it out.
We overload ourselves with cause-and-effect scenarios, assessing all possible factors and variables, checking our resources and our connections, and to the best of our ability, accounting for all the advantages and disadvantages. We get overwhelmed with the many possibilities, and the perceived benefits and obstacles of our ideals. And just as we analyse it longer, our doubts grow bigger and bigger. We get exhausted, and in search for the best answer, we come up with the worst of all — NO CHOICE. All the better and potentially best choices are left open on the table.
We have to let go of our fear of uncertainty and our fixation on perfection. There is no guarantee that we have made and will make the best decision despite meticulously calculating all our options. Even when we have come fully prepared and with the off chance that everything does go as planned without a hitch on our end, life has its way of crippling unto all of us and it will just take us by surprise. Conquering this paralysis may be hard, but we can start by telling ourselves: “There are ONLY two things that can possibly happen. It’s either we make the right decision or we have to make it the right one.”
We allow ourselves to have too much on our plates.
Yes, we are just too busy at times. Without noticing, we may already be indirectly hindered from what we want to achieve.
Let’s take this as an example: we want a strong and healthy body. We set our fitness goals — that dream figure and those toned abs (without the belly fat on top of it) — every new year or when summer is about to come. We want to be confident with our bodies. We want to feel beautiful inside and out. We want to be fit and improve our resistance to sickness. We want that glow up. And yet, every year, how many of us actually follow through with this goal and achieve it?
Mentally, we are already preoccupied with different worries — how to pay the bills, how to complete that report, when to finish that project or deliverable, how to reach the quota or the deadline, when to declutter the apartment, when to do the chores, when to fold the laundry, and so on. Our mental plates are weighed down by the never-ending responsibilities that we have to do. Some of them, we didn’t even sign up for (because there is just no saying “No”).
On top of that are our unhealthy and undisciplined tendencies that shape our behaviour and influence the kind of people that we attract and the environment that we will have. It could take form in practices like not managing our sleep and the food we intake, binging more than we should, partaking in unnecessary gossip and drama, not being mindful of our decisions, saying yes to all opportunities, and spreading ourselves too thin.
Without realising it, we are already lost in the busy-ness of our daily lives. We try to avoid making mistakes that would disrupt the system or routine that we have in place. The stress and frustrations from the constant and ever-growing demands build up, and we don’t really get to address them the moment they do come. We delay efforts of relieving our stress, pushing it for later, and eventually forgetting about it.
One project down and we briefly celebrate. Then, we start over and another cycle begins. Never mind that conflict that you had with your team. Never mind that time when you had to carry the entire group to pass.The hustle continues. We treat it as if we are running sprints rather than a marathon. At times, we even try to get things done at the expense of our health or our relationships. We don’t set ourselves — how we feel — as priorities.
Is there still any room for things like goals and dreams? Maybe. If we manage ourselves better and if we can make conscious decisions that will shape a supportive environment for our goals and dreams, then it is possible to make some room for them.
We allow ourselves to feel disconnected.
Despite all our commitments, we still don’t feel included. We still feel alone. We find it hard to trust and be trusted.
Despite all our responsibilities, we still don’t truly care or we don’t exactly care. We still do things that have zero meaning to us or give us no fulfillment.
Despite knowing what we want, we avoid making a choice or having to choose.
Despite drowning, we refuse to accept kindness. We refuse to be helped.
Despite the chances that are presented to us, we choose not to look forward anymore.
These are some manifestations of feeling disconnected. I am content with my life. I can’t be bothered by any of all these. It just really doesn’t matter to me. It neither makes me feel good nor bad to care. I will fail anyway. They won’t listen anyway.
Borderline indifference? Maybe. Will whatever I do even matter? Will it even make any difference? Will someone remember? Why should I even care?
Acknowledge this feeling and don’t judge it. There are billions of people in the world and chances are that there are a number of us who of varying frequency and degree may be dealing with these thoughts as well.
It can be challenging — even dragging— to pursue goals when you don’t align with or feel connected towards the bigger picture. It just doesn’t make sense. It does not feel relevant to us.
There might be different reasons why we feel disconnected. Some causes may be the ones that were aforementioned: the loss of hope, not knowing what to hope for, not knowing our worth, yielding to indecision, and even having too much on our plates. And the causes are not limited to these. As a result, the disconnection that we may be feeling also takes up different forms: disconnection from a community, from reality, from our passions, from oneself.
In a time where the world seems closer and more connected through social media, we have become emotionally disconnected. At worst, it is even with the people who are physically closest to us (our families), and emotionally closest to us (ourselves). This can also be observed in our social groups. We belong to different organisations, communities, and the like, but we don’t really feel connected to the people in it. We think that they all just clicked but we didn’t. We further isolate ourselves by thinking of reasons, regardless if they are true or not, that they have different personalities from us, they just don’t and won’t understand us, or that they have neglected us (that they don’t care). We make assumptions that someone will always do the job anyway and that our presence will not make any difference.
When we feel disconnected, we fail to recognise that we are a part of a whole or even part of something. We fix our minds on the things that set us apart from everyone, on the things that are unlikeable, and on the things that get in our way or don’t go our way. Feeling disconnected amplifies our inability to know what our worth really is and vice versa. The more we emotionally distance ourselves, the less we see our significance. And the less value we see and feel towards ourselves leads to us growing that gap even bigger.
We may also feel disconnected with the things that we were once passionate about or things we used to be good at. Someone or something may have denied it from us when we were most passionate about it, and that feeling of betrayal and the broken trust can harden us. I can’t connect to my passion anymore. It no longer gives me fulfillment. It scares me to even try and just get disappointed with the outcome. It doesn’t feel like me anymore. We could wish that we didn’t see ourselves go downhill like this. But it is also our duty to protect that dream or that passion that we have. If it truly matters to us, then we will always find a way. These unfavourable events are presented to us to give clarity to what is really important.
The narratives that we tell ourselves will always gravitate towards the path of least pain, confusion, resistance, and contradiction. And to disconnect is oftentimes the easiest and fastest way to defend ourselves or to prevent ourselves from getting hurt. We will see what we want to see and will believe what we want to believe. When we don’t agree to the ideas that are presented to us, we can’t relate to them or we choose not to relate to them.
Feeling disconnected may spring forth like it just happened out of nowhere. On one end, we are actually responsible for feeling this way. All our decisions — whether it was conscious or unconscious — contributes to the growth of this feeling. We had a choice and we made a choice. On the other end, it may still seem like there is no one clear answer as to why we feel this way. But maybe, there’s really not one clear answer but rather a collection of experiences, different or not, that made us feel disconnected.
It was not part of the PLAN, but it’s all part of the JOURNEY.
We didn’t intend for us to lose our way. We didn’t mean to forget our purpose, our passion, or our dreams. We didn’t intend all of these things to happen to us — to lose hope, to not know what to hope for, to not know ourselves better and what our worth is, to be stuck in indecision, to become too busy, and to feel disconnected. But, they still do happen and will still keep happening anyway.
It’s not uncommon that we won’t always have it all figured out. But by being aware of what is happening to us and what we can do about it, we can build our mental capacity — that mental muscle — to always nudge ourselves back into the direction that we should be heading.
As we are growing our awareness, we are also to constantly remind ourselves that these feelings or situations are not permanent. We may feel interrupted as we have not planned nor intended to feel the way we do. But this is the journey, and we possess the faculty to recover, to make comebacks, and to refocus ourselves on what really matters to us.
As Ryan Holiday wrote in his book, “The Obstacle is the Way”,
“Being trapped is just a position, not a fate. You get out of it by addressing and eliminating each part of that position through small, deliberate actions — not by trying (and failing) to push it away with superhuman strength.”
Being stuck, feeling lost, getting confused, or maybe even being pushed 100 steps back — these are all positions, not fate. Perhaps the interweaving of these experiences could be attributed to the odd call from the universe but, one thing is for sure: that despite all of this, we can move forward and in the direction(s) that we want to go.