Why do we we do the things that we do? Because we intrinsically want to or because we are afraid of living a meaningless life and being forgotten upon our impending death?
Bleak, I know, but just stay with me for a bit.
Just because you know you will be or think you will be good at something, does that mean you should do it?
I recently completed a course on existential education, with a large focus on terror management theory:
Terror management theory (TMT) attempts to explain a type of defensive human thinking and behavior that stems from our awareness and fear of death. According to TMT, death anxiety drives us to adopt worldviews that protect our sense of self-esteem, worthiness and sustainability and allow us to believe that we play an important role in a meaningful world.
What this course made me realize is that every single thing I have done, since I was twenty-two, has been because of my fear of dying, without a legacy.
Long story short, when I was twenty-two I had ovarian cancer, lost an ovary, almost died and then changed my entire life:
- I changed degrees, to something more ‘stable’
- I moved back home
- I broke up with my partner and started dating someone with ‘marriage material’ potential
- I got married, but it really did not work, so I got divorced
- I got into another long term relationship and once things were good, I pushed the baby train and got poor results…we are not pregnant, but for a long time, this almost destroyed me because of my fear of not creating
- I am constantly on the success train, professionally speaking and am always trying to gain momentum. Even when I do not need a new job, I am always looking for the next opportunity, without a clear understanding of why.
It was not until taking this course, that I have started questioned all of these decisions. Before that surgery, where I almost died, I never talked, thought or dreamt about having kids and partner….ever….seriously.
It just was not part of my agenda, but once life waved a little bit of death my way, I fell right in line with societal expectations. Isn’t that creepy?
Now, I am not dumping my (current) partner because he brings a lot of good into my life. I know I am better with him than without him, but the kids….the kids I am not so sure of. I am even less sure of the world around us and if it is even somewhere safe for children anymore. Why would I choose this for someone? Everything is going to hell.
I have always lamented about how women have to lose years of their professional career per kid (maternity leave), so I would inevitably fall behind. Fall behind on what, nothing really, but I would feel like I am not progressing enough.
The real question is why do I want the kids? Because I think I’ll be good at it? Because I have a yearning? Do I? Or is it because I am struggling to become pregnant that I have become obsessed with ‘winning’? The whole ping pong match in my head is so interesting to me. Where did my initial urge for children stem from?
Why do I want to be successful in my career? Because I like money?
Not really; I am not drunk for more power either, but I do like the prestige. I like being successful and I do see it as proof of a legacy of some sort. I have degrees and titles and I have done things, which have made small, very small changes, to a specific subset of the population and it does bring me joy.
TMT is a fascinating topic to delve into and it will really make you question how society feeds off of our fears. Our fear of dying triggers us to live bigger; bigger house, more kids, more stuff, just more and more consumerism to fill the gaping hole of our inevitable death.
We are all, to some degree, afraid of dying, disappearing, and never being remembered, just…gone.
We do so much every day in our lives, to dispel this fear. We actively work at creating our own legacies, so that there will be something of us, forever or at least past our due date.
We all need to start questioning why we do what we do and what is for extrinsic gain, if any of it is for anything purely intrinsic or is society so well fabricated that what we think we want is really what it wants?