If you have kids in school, teenagers, looking for advice about their future, what they’re looking for is direction.
Floating and plagued by uncertainty, they want to know what specifically they should do with their lives. So we hand them the great empty box of freedom! The purpose of life is to be free. Freedom leads to happiness! We’re not going to impose anything on you or tell you what to do.
We give you your liberated self to explore. Enjoy your freedom! Students are already drowning in freedom. They are free to enjoy life at this stage already. What they’re looking for is direction. What is freedom for? How do I know which path is my path?
So we hand them another big box of nothing—the big box of possibility! Your future is limitless! You can do anything you set your mind to! The journey is the destination! Take risks! Be audacious! Dream big!
But this mantra doesn’t help them, either. If you don’t know what your life is for, how does it help to be told that your future is limitless? That just ups the pressure. They are looking for a source of wisdom. Where can I find the answers to my big questions? So we hand them the empty box of authenticity: Look inside yourself! Find your true inner passion. You are amazing!
Awaken the giant within! Live according to your own true way! You do you! This is useless, too. The “you” we tell them to consult for life’s answers is the very thing that hasn’t yet formed. So they put down that empty box and ask, What can I devote myself to? What cause will inspire me and give meaning and direction to my life? At this point we hand them the emptiest box of all—the box of autonomy. You are on your own, we tell them. It’s up to you to define your own values. No one else can tell you what’s right or wrong for you. Your truth is to be found in your own way through your own story that you tell about yourself. Do what you love!
The question that these graduates are really asking: “What I really need to be clear about is what am I to do, not about what I must know…. It is a question of finding a truth that is truth for me, of finding the idea for which I am willing to live and die….
In centuries past, emerging adults took their parents’ jobs, faiths, towns, and identities. But in the age of “I’m Free to Be Myself,” you are expected to find your own career path, your own social tribe, your own beliefs, values, life partners, gender roles, political viewpoints, and social identities. As a student, your focus was primarily on the short term, but now you need a different set of navigational skills, to the far-horizon goals you will begin to orient your life toward.
The problem is that the person in the aesthetic phase sees life as possibilities to be experienced and not projects to be fulfilled or ideals to be lived out. He will hover above everything but never land.
It turns out that freedom isn’t an ocean you want to spend your life in. Freedom is a river you want to get across so you can plant yourself on the other side—and fully commit to something.
From the book - Second Mountain.