Dearest 100 Hour Board,
Pretty recently, I graduated, got my first full-time adult job, and moved out into my own apartment. My job isn't really what I thought I'd be doing and isn't something I value for its own sake, but it is more or less in my field, and it definitely isn't horrible. It's fun being independent and I'm glad to be making a real salary.
However, since graduating I often have this feeling that might best be described as meaninglessness. I'm not necessarily sad most of the time, and I still get enjoyment out of things I love, like a good book or taking a walk. But I feel that I no longer have any goals I'm working towards, that I'm somehow stuck, that I'm not making anyone's life or any aspect of the world any better. Throughout my teenage years, my mission, and college, I had so many dreams of making the world a better place, creating beautiful things, and becoming the person God wants me to be. But now I'm just afraid that it will be like this for the rest of my life: alone, going to work every day because that's what people do, never really achieving anything.
In general, I know what I should do to make these feelings go away: improve my prayer and scripture study, socialize and make friends, work on my own creative projects, and exercise. But when it comes to actually doing those things, it seems like I just... can't. I make goals and get motivated and succeed for a day or even less before falling back into the routine of coming home from work tired for no reason, sitting on my bed "just for a minute" and then staying there and doing nothing for the rest of the day. And the more this happens, the worse I feel - even to the point where I've almost stopped making goals because the inevitable failure just makes me feel even more lonely and meaningless. I've thought about therapy, but that seems too expensive for me, and don't know if I would have the emotional resources to do it.
Have any of you ever experienced this early-adulthood despair? Any advice is appreciated.
Yes. I felt that way to an extent after I graduated because I hated my office job. It was emotionally exhausting because it was meaningless and so easy that I was bored all day, 8 am to 5 pm. Many of my coworkers didn't seem to mind but I felt tortured. I would go home and just feel like crying because I had no more mental energy for anything meaningful, having spent all of it at work trying to concentrate. Then I would feel dread immediately upon waking up the next day. I worked there for a year, saved a ton of money, and then focused on getting into graduate school, which I got accepted into four months later. Getting into grad school had been the plan all along, and it was focusing on that goal that got me through that job.
I believe that life is too short to waste eight hours of your time per day doing something that you completely don't care about or at least find interesting, ESPECIALLY if you have no dependents (I don't think people with dependents necessarily should waste away at a job they hate either, but I readily admit that situation is a lot more complicated). You don't have to do that. Don't tell yourself that you do. Do you want to do something else in this field? What do you need to do to get to that point? More education? More experience? A different job? Even if the answer is staying longer at this job, at least you will have a reason for being there.
Now some more practical kind of advice based on my experience as a pretty high-energy person that likes people.
If you are the kind of person who gets bored easily, you may consider getting multiple jobs. Just before I started grad school I had three small jobs. One of them was putting plants on display at Home Depot, which was decently physical work as I was the youngest person there and got a lot of the tougher tasks. The fact that it was physically challenging at times was great and kept me engaged. The other one I looked after two little girls with autism and we ended up being best friends and doing lots of fun things together. The last job was more office-y, but I was able to do it from home and the content was a little more interesting and I did care about the cause. The variety helped me deal with jobs that I probably wouldn't have enjoyed as much full-time. (This is in my mind even as I go forward with my future - I have chosen a field where it is very common for people to get multiple positions and do several different things at the same time, and I plan on doing that unless I find a single position that offers a lot of variety, which is also fairly common)
If money is a concern that is stopping you from getting a different job, see if you can get a roommate. Or maybe get rid of the apartment when you can and become someone else's roommate. Being independent sounds like it's not enough for you to feel satisfied through your life, and you might feel less lonely if you get a good roommate. Win/win.
Maybe this is very millennial of me but you have no dependents and you do not need to slave away doing something you hate forever! The world is your oyster. What is your dream job like? Do you get to help people, do you have a lot of variety, is it interesting in some other way? What do you need to do to get as close to that as possible? How much money do you need to launch yourself into something different?
You got this.
Still being an undergraduate, I can't relate perfectly to your specific experience. However, I have felt similar things before.
Several weeks ago--for the very first time--when I thought about my major, I felt...empty inside. I still had no doubts that it was right for me, but when I thought about the future it would give me, I felt no excitement, no joy, only an overpowering sense of something lacking. It was confusing and more than a little terrifying; it robbed me of my sense of hope in looking forward.
I initially tried to push these emotions away, blaming them on my overwhelming workload and stress levels. This worked for less than a week before I was back where I started. Instead of repeating my efforts to bury my fears, I then attempted to understand why. Why I was so upset, and yet so sure I was choosing the correct path. The answer came to me as I was walking by myself one night: all the emptiness and meaninglessness was stemming from a vision of the future that was only inclusive of completing my degree and then moving on to a career. I realized in that moment that if I only look for happiness in academic and later job-related achievements, I won't find it, regardless of how much I like these things right now. I need something else to keep my passion for math--and really everything--alive. Accompanying this epiphany was a deep spiritual impression that for me this something else will primarily consist of my family, and then of loving and serving others.
The relief I immediately felt subsequent to this experience was monumental. It was like the coldness in my heart had suddenly dissipated and I was able to feel things like hope and light again.
I want to point out that this is far from a completed story; I will probably feel cold emptiness many more times in my life, and have to search long and hard for a remedy (in fact, I've already felt such things in the short intervening time between these events and writing this answer). But I still believe that this experience provides at least the beginnings of an answer to situations like the one I described, and you're asking about. In each of our lives, there needs to be something else that gives us purpose and keeps us going. I caught a glimpse of what that something else is for me on my walk. However, I don't know precisely what it is for you; only God does.
In that vein, I guess my best advice for you would be to pour out your heart to God. Tell Him your fears and frustrations, and ask for guidance to become the person you're supposed to be. Whatever answer you get, make it your focus. In the meantime, identify the things that give your life meaning, and make them your focus instead of your job. From your question, it sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what those things are. If your problem is motivation, find someone to help keep you accountable for your goals. Perhaps even sign up for a class offered by your community to give yourself a bit more structure, or find a private teacher. And realize that even if you don't meet your goals today doesn't mean you can't tomorrow.
If you'd like to talk more/have someone to listen to you/have someone to share goals with, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Board Question #86335 is something I penned approximately one year ago, a week or so after leaving BYU. I think you might like that answer, but here is the part that seems most relevant to you:
I hate academic work... but I dearly love being at BYU. WHY, ARDILLA, WHY?!?
At the time I write this, I would probably say it's all I've ever really known. We're trained basically from birth to be students, and so for the last twenty-two years I've had some sort of vague goal to work towards. Now... now what do I work towards? 'Cause while you're a student you seem to have more flexibility with telling people "I have no idea what I'm doing with my life, but it's okay because school." Well, I still am telling people that, except now I have no idea "because recent graduation."
One year later, I continue to try and figure out what the heck is going on. I have been lucky enough to have been able to travel a lot this year, and it has been good overall... but even though it was really interesting, it did not necessarily make my life feel more "meaningful" or anything. So if travel doesn't make me feel like I am accomplishing anything, and I got very little from school and full-time work... what do I do to find meaning?
I don't really have an easy answer for that. I think having friendships helps me, and I am starting to like visual art more and more as a form of self-expression. Yet I am no longer so sure I will have much of an impact on the world. I can, however, help those around me. And I can keep trying to just work with my current sphere of influence to see what I can do and change there. And when I still don't know where to go, or what to do? That, too, is okay.
It is okay to not know, to be afraid, to be sad, to feel lonely, empty, aimless... you are not alone in feeling these things. I don't know fully how to respond to your question, but I do hope you know I sympathize with what you have expressed with us.
P.S. If you are in Utah County, perhaps consider BYU's Comprehensive Clinic. It costs $15 a session, which is probably cheaper than many other locations. Their FAQ page also says they may discount fees based on need.
Meaning in movement--
'tis often assigned.
To battling the storm
without falling behind.
Checking the boxes of success--
dotting the i's and crossing the t's.
To count oneself blessed
for fulfillment of accomplishment.
This we call meaning--
jumping through hoops.
To never take thought of pausing
along society's decreed way.
But benchmarks fade away.
Cookie-cutter goals pass until they're past
And all that's left is stillness.
In the calm between storms,
is there still meaning?
Is it found in continuing?
In a heart that's still beating?
Perhaps there's no single answer
No "one size fits all"
Just universal hope
For the quiet satisfaction
Though you're still struggling
You're also still breathing
And in that is some meaning