Since every life differs, there can’t be a specific route that applies to everyone. Instead, here are three general, structural approaches to tackling life. It’s up to each of us to derive strategies from them that are individually relevant.
- Accumulate experiences. Life creates experiences, which help us develop strategies to confront upcoming challenges. We adapt these strategies throughout our lives: we fail, are embarrassed or unlucky, and try to fail better next time – until we succeed or turn away. Even the most horrible experiences can serve as stepping stones to better understand ourselves and the world. We might not want them, but it’s up to each of us to make use of them.
Experiences happen all the time, and don’t require a specific setting. They happen when meeting people, reading books, watching movies. They don’t even require external input, since our minds can produce them based on previous experiences, through thinking and introspection. They even happen through our dreams, where our subconscious automatically processes previous events. Life constantly shows us new things, and introspection can happen everywhere – in front of an older work of yours, or the daily commute. Accumulate and use your experiences to make sense of life.
- Accumulate friends. Life usually starts in the small circle of trusted family members. We slowly increase our social reach: kindergarten, school and hobbies, work or university. Along the way we find like-minded people who represent a safe haven, and allow for self-doubt, truth inquiries, growth. They help us make sense of our experiences, to develop strategies and handle upcoming challenges. We reciprocate and help them make sense of their lives. Some friends become collaborators in our professional projects, others listen from further away; some are in our lives only temporarily, others more permanently – yet all of them are important. While some of us lead continuous inner dialogs to reflect their experiences, others need external stimuli, other people for this. Either way, we need friends to make sense of life.
- Accumulate self-knowledge. As we grow older, understanding of our selves and our sensitivities increases – as does the knowledge about our inabilities and incompetencies. It all gets ever more obvious: whose advice suits us, what behavior harms us. Sometimes we trust the wrong individuals, and need to recalibrate our internal compasses. Sometimes we use the wrong strategies. We discover patterns of inadequate behaviors, both in others and ourselves. Some can be transcended through introspection and hard work, while others benefit from the structural approaches of psychotherapy. The more we invest in self-knowledge, the better we will understand ourselves, the world, and our place in it. The less we care, the harsher life will become: accumulate and increase your self-knowledge to make sense of life.
No matter how hard we try: our actions are always ultimately insufficient; we can’t know everything, we can’t “win” life. Eventually we all die, and that’s that. Experience, friends and self-knowledge can’t protect us from that – but they will enrich our lives. They will help us be better prepared and feel more welcome in life, and thus represent ultimate aids. They prevent us from continuously starting at Square One, which seems essential to leave a positive footprint in the world.