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My grandfather turned 100 this year; I turned 25.
He reads the newspaper on a daily basis; I can’t say the same.
He has so much wisdom and experience to share; I might look good on a résumé, but I’m just like everyone else.
He stands out in the crowd by being the only one in the cafeteria at his long-term care centre who is able to feed himself without help; I’m one of the many who barely cook at home.
I’m only a quarter of the man I could be. What could I do with potentially 75 more New Year’s resolutions?
When I was a kid, I dreamed of being the oldest person in the world. During my walks to school, I decided the meaning of life was to look for the meaning of life. I started to write my own autobiography in my spare time before I turned 12. (My spare time is now spent trying to recover aforementioned autobiography.)
I have doubled my age since then, and I’m definitely still fulfilling my meaning of life – looking for the meaning of life. But now I am depressed. I’m experiencing a “quarter-life crisis.”
I first learned that such a crisis existed before university, while reading an HR newsletter at my summer job in a not-for-profit organization. The newsletter listed common problems associated with becoming an adult – careers, finances, living with roommates – and provided tips on how to cope. At the innocent age of 17, I thought it didn’t sound too difficult.
But after university graduation, many of my friends were going through a phase of reassessing their aspirations, and to follow the trend (peer pressure at its best), I started to question my own goals.
These had always been to promote ethics and morals, but I came to realize that society is structured for survival of the fittest. Now, I feel it is pointless to promote ethics and morals. And I have no desire to have a family because I don’t believe the planet will have enough resources in the future. This hard truth has left me with no meaning in life.
Some friends say I voluntarily trapped myself in depression. I had been pushing myself to extremely unhealthy physical limits, and experiencing split-second, near-death experiences during this period. For me, it was part of my path to fulfilling my meaning of life, to look for the meaning of life.
Now that I’ve dug myself in, it is extremely difficult to get out.
This is worrisome for my parents, relatives and friends. They ask: “Why do you make yourself so unhappy when you have so much to be happy about?”
I see it as a large upfront investment I have to make in order to achieve my long-term goal. I tell myself this gruelling process will be worth it when I reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
Each person goes through and comes out of the quarter-life crisis differently. Some friends have gone travelling to explore the world. Some have already started a bucket list. Others have gone back to school or changed careers. Some are still stuck.
Many have adopted the motto YOLO (You Only Live Once.) The “life is short” perspective will always have followers, but I feel that life is about quantity as well as quality.
Science and technology are continuously prolonging our lives, and more seniors are living to 100. The Queen is having to issue more greetings to these centenarians as she herself turns 87.
As I continue my quest, I hope that more in my generation start to think and act long-term instead of living in the present. Most of us are probably going to live long enough to see our great-grandchildren. The apocalypse isn’t here yet, even though there was talk of it late this year.
There is a popular belief that most young adults only want to change the world until they’ve gone through their quarter-life crisis, when they accept the harsh realities of life and give up. They start to have families and become too preoccupied with their own lives to fulfill their dreams of changing the world.
On this issue, I refuse to succumb to peer pressure. If I give up it will mean the end of me, if not the world.
I feel like I want to hit a home run to solve all of the world’s problems, but I keep striking out. When I actually play baseball (I mean slo-pitch), I always have success making contact with the ball and running hard to first base. Then I need my teammates to advance me. Though I know I cannot do it alone, and there is no steroid-like substance for this, I continue to swing away wildly.
I recently started to reach out to discuss life and society with everyone in my life: old friends, teachers, a driving instructor, and now, potentially, readers of this essay.
The big issue with looking for the meaning of life is to find it before your life is over. I do not want to rush, because deep thought must be put into it. On the other hand, I do not want to find my path near the end of my life, and not have an opportunity to walk it.
I may one day decide to start a family, but until then I am “happy” to be part of an extended family of seven billion people in this world.
Eric Kam lives in Toronto.