Live the Questions

5 May

Teenagers are known to feel lost and confused, unsure about their path in life. Yet the incertitude and perplexity of adult life is less frequently mentioned as a ‘natural’ psychological phenomenon.  For me, it is the dissolution of a fixed and compulsory structure to follow, after years of ‘being told what to do’, that has often led me to feel utterly disorientated.

As a child or an adolescent, your life is guided by the school system. Each year is separate from the other, each year has its goal, and each year is neatly divided into terms with holidays in between. You know exactly how to plan your time, your week, your month and your year within these structures. You also know that after hard work (exam preparation) there will be a reward (long holidays). And you know where you will be the following autumn and what you can expect of the following year. You know that school has a purpose: it will either get you into university, or it will get you a job.

In ‘grown-up’ life there is no set structure, there are no set holidays, there are no set guidelines, no mentors, no breaks ‘between years’, no rewards for working hard (promotions and bonuses are not guaranteed each year), and, sadly, in the majority of cases, no purpose apart from earning money.

School life is like a road trip, where adults drive you from city to city. You sit in the back seat, enjoying the ride. You are told the distance between each city, so you know when there will be a good view, when you can doze off, and when you have to get out to explore the outside world actively.

In grown-up life you are the driver, having barely got your license. You have no idea how long it will take or how far away it is to the next town. You have no map and no GPS to give you directions. You have to decide independently the places to drive through and those to stop at and explore, without a guide to tell you which sites are worth seeing. And amongst all of the hitchhikers that desire to share the journey with you, how to tell which ones are worth taking along on the ride, and which ones it’s best to leave on the side of the road?

The best perspective I have read on dealing with life’s uncertainties is that of the twentieth-century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke…

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be given you yet: you live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

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4 Responses to “Live the Questions”

  1. Seasweetie 05/05/2011 at 13:38 #

    Your words are so true. I find adulthood these days far more unsettling than adolescence was – a discomfiting mix of having to be in charge, but really knowing that control is only an illusion in this world. Kind of makes me want to put my head under the covers and stay there some days.

    • l0ve0utl0ud 08/05/2011 at 21:07 #

      I agree with you completely: it’s the fact that nothing is guaranteed that is most unsettling. It’s wonderful how children do no have this worry, and it is what makes childhood so special.

  2. I Made You A Mixtape 08/05/2011 at 10:08 #

    I love your analogy between school and real life… I actually work in a school, and I see kids today- and remember my own experiences during school, and nothing much has chaged…lol. What a beautiful quote by Rilke- had not heard it before. So, absolutely true and worth sharing….

    • l0ve0utl0ud 08/05/2011 at 21:15 #

      Thank you. Yes, the quote by Rilke is very inspiring. There is much more of his work that I will be sharing here 🙂

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