You have reached mid-life. You’ve worked hard, had a life-changing moment or two, read a bunch of stuff, and have gone through a string of interesting experiences.
It seems like you’ve come a long way. All of growing up feels like you’ve regularly broken away from your past and become someone you never quite planned to be. This breaking-away shapes you and changes the way you look at the past.
The past becomes memories, regrets, and your infinite stupidity all coagulated into this human instance you once were. You think you’ve made progress because you don’t resonate with past You.
As you begin to feel resplendent about the progress you’ve made, you have a paralyzing thought: what if you are wrong about everything?
What if your greatest strength is actually your greatest weakness? What if your idea of self-awareness is a massive delusion? What if everything you’ve read were a waste of time? What if all your life-changing moments were only a justification for having done nothing remarkable?
What if, irrevocably, you made no progress at all?
You feel anxious, afraid, and ambiguous because you thought you knew so much more about yourself, and yet you’ve never felt so helpless.
If time’s a goon, wisdom’s a hoax.
A post-modern cynicism seeped into the 21st century with an intent to prove things wrong. It was now less about trying something and more about breaking and doubting everything.
This became real courage in the 21st century. While this made us question all the things our ancestors were certain about, and while this resulted in a lot of progress in our thinking – it also left us in this Hamlet-y state of existence in spite of having so much more information.
To say or not to say; to choose or not to choose; to believe or not to believe – these became the real afflictions.
Breaking things and proving them wrong opened up a plethora of new choices for us. While the sudden increase in the number of choices may be the reason for our angst, it’s not the only one.
The flip-side of proving things wrong is that it makes us really afraid of being wrong ourselves.
Hence the idea that you could be wrong about everything became the 21st century equivalent of heightened self-awareness.
But when this intellectual abstraction creeps into our everyday lives, it leaves us in a state of ceiling-staring stupor, unable to make the simplest of choices. Getting to know yourself by looking out for everything that’s wrong with you is a recipe for slowly falling apart.
To know yourself means to constantly feel like a phony / It’s a feeling that in spite of all your knowledge, you are going to amount to nothing / And even when you achieve something, a feeling that you don’t deserve it / To know yourself is the deeply paralyzing thought that you made no progress at all.
Self-awareness is not believing you are wrong all the time. It’s making a choice with the willingness to be wrong.
Self-awareness is not finding yourself, it’s finding out what you are capable of.
You are not helpless. You just stopped finding out. You are not in a (mid-life) crisis. You are just lazy.