What does that even mean, anyway…life is a fluid?
It is common for people to perceive life as a linear series of milestone events, many of which have general time markers on them. For example, some learn to drive around age 16-18; at 18 they graduate high school and maybe go to college; at 21 they can order a drink; at 22 enter the “real world” or consider graduate school; maybe in 20’s or 30’s get married; couple years after, have children; and so on.
While obviously there are exceptions and variations to the milestones, it’s striking for how many people this is the somewhat “solid” perception of life. However, in reality, life isn’t usually so easily planned out, and when things don’t go according to this type of plan, the dissonance can start to wear on your mental health, potentially leading to depression, anxiety, hopelessness, lowered self-esteem, and other manifestations of fear and disappointment.
The “grand plan” above can be helpful and healthy for children and teens to formulate a sense of the certain aspects of society and the world. (Each family and person develops their own value systems and forms their own grand plan). Without this, children and adolescents would be more prone to lacking direction and have any understand of what they’re working towards in the present, as they would live in the day-to-day with no sense of what’s next, or what “should” be next. So there is technically nothing wrong with having one eye on the linear vision.
However, moving past adolescence and towards adult independence, it becomes more clear just how much of a non-linear, dynamic fluid life is. We come to see that the grand plan is actually more of a “grand idea”. We see that life isn’t necessarily prescribed and that our desires or present realities may counter what we thought life was supposed to look like. Maybe we’re more (or less) driven for certain things, and that some pieces of the more linear vision of life may simply not interest or apply to us at all.
Some people live a single life and are very happy; some choose not to retire and work until they can’t anymore; some have unplanned children, or end up not having children even though they wanted children; some are in different careers than they desired; some get married and then get divorced; some want to get married, but are struggling to meet someone; and so on.
Why is it so hard to cope with life as a fluid?
Life as a non-linear fluid can be difficult for many people because even though a linear frame of life is healthy for the developing person, at some point room needs to be made for the realities of life, and leave more flexibility in the images of the grand plan. Sure, the grand plan may end up working out, or parts of it might, but it generally doesn’t “just happen” the way many were taught it would.
Sometimes life can be frustrating and disappointing. People may internalize the disappointments as a sign that something is wrong with them or that they are doing something wrong, rather than understanding that life is fluid…while including solid milestones into the fluidity.
How do we deal with disappointments and frustrations while searching for your vision?
It’s good to zoom out and know where you want to go in the bigger picture in life, but it’s also important to create room for flexibility in the picture, and especially within yourself as you go. Is there room (physically and emotionally) for unplanned obstacles, or for changes in the plan as needed? How do you deal internally when the plan diverts from the expected path?
It can also be helpful to be aware of the balance between the present and the future. If we have two eyes on the future, then we’re missing the present, which can lead to a sense of life passing us by. This can often lead to a sense of regret and possibly depression when one day realizing too much effort has been put into following the linear path and feeling you’ve missed a lot of life.
On the other side, if we’re only in the present, then our greater life goals are basically non-existent in our vision. It can lead to a sense of flailing and create significant anxiety or depression, or generally feeling unfulfilled when experiencing life as ungrounded and constantly messy with little sense of what you’re looking towards. Learning how to balance your mind, body, and emotions is important for navigating the fluidity of life.
In the end, the more we believe that our lives are supposed to be a solid, the more of a hit we take to our mental health as we try to navigate life. The more we allow fluidity and release fantasies of the prescribed life, the more we can create a sense of autonomy while also handling the obstacles, turns, and changes that come our way.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy for anxiety, depression, or general life balance.