I made a lot of knee jerk decisions in my early twenties. I quit my master’s degree and my plan of a career in research with no idea what I was going to do next. I had the thought one day and a couple of weeks later I had quit. I got a job in a record shop and quit that too a year and a half later. Same deal – I decided one day “I can’t do this anymore” and a few days later handed in my notice. There was still no grand plan. I picked up a few freelance jobs and started working for my brother part time. I was flailing.
Eventually all of this led me to start a web design company and then on to the business I have today. But it took years and years of scrambling in the dark trying to move towards the tiny crack of light I could just about make out in the distance. Although some days I gave up on that too because I was sure it was a hallucination.
That feeling of being directionless and lost was overwhelming. I would periodically curse myself for not staying put in something, anything. I should have finished my masters. I should have stayed at the record shop. Continuity in anything would have been better than the black hole of uncertainty I had repeatedly plunged myself into. But I couldn’t help this compulsion I had to jump into the black hole. I was barrelling towards something, I just didn’t know what.
I grew up pretty comfortably. I didn’t have to worry about money or get a Saturday job. My needs were met. And now as I was entering adulthood, without knowing it I was craving a test. A limit. A crisis. I needed something to force me to find out for myself who I was and what I was made of.
Karl Jaspers was a psychiatrist turned philosopher who introduced the idea of limit situations. Limit situations take us out of our ordinary experience and allow us to see things from a different plane. Eckhart Tolle says the purpose of limit situations is to free you; to put you in touch with the transcendent dimension. Life gives us many different kinds of limit situations – a terminal diagnosis, a divorce, a traumatic experience. Many of these limit situations are unbidden. But there are others that we do ask for.
We crave problems big enough to force us into the transcendent dimension – the place where our identity and our direction in the world become known to us. We don’t want terrible things to happen in our lives but we do secretly want to be forced to rise to the challenge. This is why sometimes there is a release when difficult things happen; because of the opportunity it presents for us to engage, to talk, to tell the truth, to act boldly, to wake up and really live.