Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online
discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I liked your answer about finding one's purpose in life, but what you said about it being something to hang on to when life is overwhelming is the problem. I have nothing to hang on to in those situations, which are too frequent. I have absolutely not found a job/career that works well for me, at which I am good and which I also enjoy. I am not a parent, I am no one's best friend or spouse, I don't have a truly meaningful hobby or volunteer work. So, when life becomes difficult, I go to a dark place — why the hell am I even here?

Yes, I am in therapy and on meds, but those only go so far.

— How? (Cont'd.)

How? (Cont’d.): Thank you for writing back. (Original column: wapo.st/hax040419.)

Internal motivations are the most reliable, but even they can falter — and it is good to have reliable reasons to keep moving. Career, as you say, or kids, loved ones, hobbies.


(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

But framing this as a “life purpose” issue may have set the stakes higher than is helpful to you, though. There are days I get out of bed only — only — because I really want coffee.

And there are afternoons when I push to finish something only because it feels better not to leave stuff for tomorrow.

These are tiny pleasures. Connecting one to another to another across a day might not feel grandly productive, but the constellation it creates is pleasant enough to behold.

When you’re uncertain what you can count on, it helps to start with these smaller things instead of reaching for validations that depend on others. Finding a rewarding job/career, for example, typically involves getting hired/educated/paid; a marriage or best friendship is 50 percent in someone else’s hands.

But the hobbies, volunteering, coffee — all you.

And “all you” means you can start lining them up tonight. If you want to.

And they aren’t what others lobby for or what you “should” want — they need only appeal to you.

So look to past pleasures. Look to ways you’ve shown love and connection to others in the past. Think what you choose when you have a pile of options — where do you shop, what do you read, in what order do you graze through a newspaper (promise me that’s not extinct), what old magazines do you flip through when your phone dies? What do you do when you procrastinate? What were you doing when you last forgot what time it was? Heck, what meal are you excited about?

It’s hard to make this a conscious process, in part because it invites self-doubt. But merely creating a series of things you look forward to is therapeutic, no matter how small they are. Trust you can find you in there.

Re: Purpose: I go through phases where I can't think of a reason to get out of bed. That's when I start doing things just for me: staying in bed, or I take myself to the movies or a nice dinner, or shopping, or spending time with my nephews, or baking (and giving some to my neighbors, which always makes me feel good). I don't think everyone has a purpose. Some of us just exist and I think that's okay.

— Anonymous

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.