In part one I explored how the branch of philosophy called existentialism encourages you to form meaning and create values through your own unique experiences. When speaking of the practical application of existentialism or philosophy in general, the waters can muddy quickly when attempting to tell others how to live and what to value. For someone else to outline a certain path or “x” number of steps for you to follow is a direct contradiction when the goal is to define your own path and reach your own conclusions. Regardless, we all need guides, educators and motivators on our way. Here are some suggestions to start living with self-defined purpose:
Existentialism encourages real world experience over theoretical contemplation. Of course theory is part of the process as we research, form ideas and consider possibilities as to how we want to direct our lives. Nonetheless, theorizing will mean nothing without actually applying what we have learned through experience.
I spent months contemplating leaving my job to travel. I read travel guides and other countless stories of others who had taken the plunge, left their jobs to travel and made dramatic changes. I thought I had everything accounted for with tons of reading and analysis. The thing is, once I actually did it, my experience was nothing like I expected or the way many others had described it. There were so many things I thought I needed that I didn’t, so many worries that never came to fruition and so many challenges I never foresaw. I had some theories I brought with me, but they were tested and often disproven. Without action, I would never have known what works for me.
Do not get stuck in analysis paralysis. If you are passionate about something or want to change or experience something new, let experience be your guide and just get started!
Devote yourself to a cause, your interests and whatever makes you feel alive
Whatever speaks to you, take it seriously and do not let the voices of others drown out or discourage your will. This will be your fuel and the force that drives you. As the poet, philosopher, David Whyte offers: when we are tired, lacking in passion and exhausted, the antidote is not always rest:
The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness
Want to discover what you feel strongly about?
What do you find yourself naturally reading about, talking about, and thinking about? What would you do for free if you had the choice and money was no obstacle? What do people seek you out for?
What would you model your life around? Expressing yourself artistically? Accepting challenges? Helping others? Creating change in your community and the world? Doing something that has never been done? What would you do if time was running out (and it is)?
Start asking yourself these questions today. Right now. Start taking steps, no matter how small, to experience and live the answers.
Align your body with your mind
As you take action in accordance with your beliefs, you will sometimes be required to defy convention and the intentions that others have for you. It is easy to slip back into a comfort zone, to lose confidence in your own voice, especially when met with the criticism of others (real or perceived). Existentialist philosophy views this potential clash and struggle as a necessary part of the process.
It follows then that to live with self-defined purpose requires both mental and physical perseverance. So if you are ready to take action and devote yourself to something, you have to consider what actions you will take to ready your body for the journey. As the musician and author Henry Rollins says:
Physical training is not just about getting in shape, losing some weight or getting some abs.
Eating nutrient dense food is not just about dieting to lose that extra belly fat.
They are both part of the self-defining process. Through physical training and a devotion to consuming nutritious foods, you are asking your body to express its full potential because you need it to fully experience your life. They are preparing you for something bigger; to be strong and think strong in the face of doubt and the criticism of others.
They are providing signals to your body that it will be needed for something, possibly monumental: so be ready.