Dear E & V,
At one point in my life I wanted nothing more than to study philosophy.
I was about 22 which, as you’ll find out, is a ripe age for your first identity crisis. I went so far as to get a Masters degree in it with the initial thought that I would love to teach it.
Then two things happened:
- The 2008-2009 economic crisis wiped out any chance I would be able to get a job in the field anytime soon.
- I realized academic philosophy is a load of shit.
Point one doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation, but point two does.
I fell in love with philosophy because it helped provide guidance to my identity crisis. Not because it had answers, but because it had questions. Questions about things in my life that affected how I lived and how I interacted with others.
Academic philosophy, outside of a few disciplines like Buddhism and Stoicism, is an exercise in who can write the longest, most boring papers with the most trendy yet obscure buzzwords. It’s not the fault of the professors, but of the universities, who would rather their professors be famous than useful to their students — so the push them to write and publish papers rather than practice the philosophies that they preach.
The philosophy I fell in love with was practical and applicable to how I lived my life — by making me ask questions about everything I took for granted. At that point in my life, it was all about questioning my basic beliefs that I grew up with and the beliefs about what I should do with the rest of my life.
I grew up a strong believer in the Catholic church. An unquestioning believer, so much so that at one point in my early teen years I strongly considered becoming a priest. I developed a fear of hell that motivated a lot of my young adult actions. But when I began to study philosophy, I began to question the assumptions that laid beneath those Christian beliefs. Assumptions that I never really thought about before, and didn’t really make sense to me when I looked at them.
To some people they do make sense, and that’s okay. Spiritual belief is a very personal thing; if your beliefs make sense to you and give your life meaning and purpose — and don’t infringe on the liberties of other people — then it’s not my place to question them…However that doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t question your beliefs. You should always be questioning and reevaluating your assumptions for truth, relevancy, and impact on your life.
Another part of my identity crisis that philosophy helped me solve was my place (or lack thereof) in the American economy. American society has a very specific vision for it’s public — you go to public or private school to get a good education and then go to college and get a degree in a high-paying STEM or finance field so that you can by a five bedroom house in the suburbs, have 2.5 children and make your way up to senior vice president in your company. I.E. You’re trained to become a cog in the American economic machine.
All those traditional “things you should do with your life” recommendations that I was given before and after college were very black and white and ultimately meaningless to me. All the “do this, don’t do that” bullshit just to impress some unfulfilled suit-and-tie didn’t feel authentic to me. And all for what? Just to get a job that I would eventually be unhappy in? Would I be comfortable selling my soul to get a big paycheck? How long would I be able to live with myself working 60 hour weeks?
What they — public schools, universities, parents, teachers, the government — don’t teach you is the value of having an impact on the lives of other people. On the value of learning to start your own business. On the value of working not for work’s sake, but for the sake of providing something that people actually need.
I could go on an on about how philosophy has helped me ask the right questions — about relationships, fatherhood, death, jobs, retirement, finances, simple living, etc. But this letter isn’t about my life story, it’s about helping you learn to ask the right questions to make your own life better. So whenever you come across a difficult decision, a belief you’ve come to take for granted, or something that someone else told you that just doesn’t sit right, try to ask yourself these questions:
- What are the assumptions underneath these beliefs/decisions /actions?
- Will they make me a better person or help me grow as a person?
- How will they impact the people and environment around me, both immediately and far off (I’m talking both geographically and chronologically)?
- What are the other options available to me? Are they viable?
- What if there’s no perfect answer to this? Am I okay with a “good enough” belief/decision/action?
Sometimes a question will only raise other questions and no answers, and that’s okay. Sometimes figuring out life isn’t about getting answers but by exploring questions.
And some things in life have no answers. But that doesn’t mean the journey to find them isn’t worth it.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.