Existential crisis that does or doesn’t define us

Saqueb Sartaz Khan | Published: 00:00, Jul 22,2018


Fitting in with the society-its norms, materialistic goals and finding identity-seems pretty easy for most of the people. However, there are many, who, struggle to find their self of belongingness in the traditional society. Rather, those kind of people long for closure of their inner psyche, rejecting the goals and paths set by the society. Saqueb Sartaz Khan writes about becoming or not becoming what the surrounding demand us to be.

Pablo Neruda, a 1971 Nobel laureate and poet once said, ‘Someday, somewhere-anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life’. Many other intellectuals have, over time, paralleled this thought regarding the search for identity.

This article goes on to speak of the ever-existent struggle in our lives to find our place in the world. To some it comes easier than others. I remember an Australian writer Baz Luhrmann once saying that few of the best people he knew were over the age of 40 and still did not know their purpose in life, but that’s perfectly fine. We need not beat ourselves up over such matters. However, easy as it may seem to nihilist people, others might find themselves in dire straits having to deal with this dilemma.

We were raised with lessons of self-love; not to quietly torture ourselves with decade-old memories. Most of us here, if now all were taught in classrooms how special we were, the prevailing pop-psych theory of the day being that high self-esteem would carry us to success.

Parents are often heard saying ‘I want my children to be happy and successful in life’. However, the meaning of happiness and success may vary in context. Happiness may not always accompany meaningfulness, and vice versa. Now let us delve into the ocean of subjectivity that surrounds the understanding of success. While some people may consider materialistic goals and variables such as money or fame as determinants of success, their counterpart consider spiritual enlightenment and/or other metaphysical goals as a mark for success. The problem does not lie there at all.

Where the problem lies is when we can’t strike a balance between the virtue and the vice, or so to say when we, for instance, choose to act egotistical, or in other words self-righteous. In being a confident, self-driven, successful person, we sometimes also act rather narcissistic. Now to quote Einstein, ‘Knowledge is inversely proportional to ego’. What we are to draw from such claims is that we ought to keep our ego in check. On the other hand, Socrates said, ‘The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing’. This refers to the traits of the yogic people- the truly enlightened, the master class, the originals- that which leave them ever thirsty for knowledge. This goes on to say that they remain open to possibilities and knowledge.

And yet again, as far as vices and virtues are concerned, it once again comes down to maintain a balance between self love or egocentrism and self compassion. Now see, self love refers to vanity, whereas self compassion comprises of aspects such as self kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, and it can be a slippery slope, a tricky choice to draw the desirable balance. I for one do not at all side for such egocentrism. Needless to say that identity tinkering can be a rather sensitive issue in itself.


The shaping of the identity and the formation of one’s values is an intricately dynamic one. To understand it, we must, at first, acknowledge the fact that every individual’s identity is shaped uniquely and so in consequently, unique. Despite Carl Jung’s 1921 introspective personality test that categorised all human beings in 16 key personality traits, many other philosophers and psycho-analysts have had to say otherwise.  One such instance is 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume’s bundle theory whereby he went on to say, ‘We’re all just ever-changing bundles of impressions that our minds are fooled into thinking of as constant because they’re packaged  in these fleshy receptacles that basically look the same from one day to the next’. This way of defining self through a continuity of consciousness was inspired by the early works of John Locke. He also inspired other dynamic thinkers of that time like Immanuel Kant. Locke inferred that at birth all human beings are a blank slate and they gradually and consequently formulate an ever-changing and eccentric identity.

However, most commonly people find it easiest to fit in the society by finding a healthy combination of societal, metaphysical and career goals besides others. Although this does come easier to most; the nonconformists, misfits, artists and originals find it rather difficult to fit in the box. The reason being that they resort to break out of the box by ‘unlearning’ what the society, surroundings and culture had imposed upon them. This makes it more difficult for them to attain social goals, since their goals, or yet the idea of success may not always align with the norms.

Finally it comes down to passion. I came across a Burmese transsexual especially stressing the notions of pursuing one’s passion in driving their profession. Now as we’ve briefly discussed earlier, it can often be relatively wearisome for the misfits, but what makes life more meaningful and fulfilling is one’s passion steering their life and actions.  This gives rise to the originals (identity). The originals are seen as people ahead of their time who’re later appreciated if understood.

What sets the originals apart is the innate knowledge that in the end when life draws to an end, the things bothering them the most were the things they didn’t do, in contrast to the things they did.

So don’t worry about what could’ve been and what shouldn’t have been but rather live as you breathe. Let it be.

Saqueb Sartaz Khan is searching for the light and an intern with New Age Youth.


More about:

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email