Bored and constantly worrying about my future
August 10, 2013 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I have too much time on my hands and, apparently, a lot of internal pressure, so I spend all day worrying about how my life is going to turn out... Can someone help me break out of it?

I have just been recovering, I guess, from some existential depression (not clinical). Lately I have been worrying a lot about what I'm going to do with my future.

I used to plan out my future precisely (INTJ), and I felt like I knew what interested me and that I would just follow those interests for my career. Now I feel like all I want is a high level of recognition -- gaining the status of "famous intellectual" at some point in my life -- and that my life will be meaningless unless I achieve this. I feel like this is ridiculous, and I don't *want* to be bound by this need, but I can't shake it. I try to force myself to frantically learn things in order to build up the in-depth knowledge of science, literature, arts, etc. that I feel like I should have already. But then I just worry instead, and then I feel guilty about wasting time.

Then I think that the solution is to just wait until I'm at college, where I can start doing research, learning things in-depth (and learning the math behind it), finding a mentor, etc. So I basically feel like my life for the next two years is wasted, and that I will spend that time worrying and hanging around waiting.

I have tried meditating, mantras, positive self-talk, etc., but the result is a constant, time-consuming fight against my internal worry, rather than a silencing or resolving of that worry. Am I just not trying hard enough? I wonder if I should see a therapist, but I don't really feel depressed per se, I just need to talk to someone about the topic.

Thanks in advance.
posted by myitkyina to Human Relations (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Let me offer some reassurance. First of all, this is normal thinking for those who want to do more with their lives than surf the web or flick through TV channels. That anxiety you feel is a spur, a goad, to go out and accomplish something. Probably the vast majority of Mefites have had similar thoughts. Your problem right now is, you're goading yourself to move, but you're not sure in which direction.

Meditation, mantras, positive self-talk etc are exactly the wrong things to be doing right now. They only increase your self-absorption. They make the problem worse. Instead, do something outside of yourself, something connected to reality. What? It doesn't really matter. Choose something that you know will be useful or fun to learn no matter what, even though you have no clue what the future holds for you. Go the the gym every day and get fitter, start studying French, learn how to cook Chinese food, take a course in web design. Get outside of your head and back into the world. And you get bonus points for doing any of those things with others, rather than just by yourself, because being with others helps take your mental spotlight off yourself.
posted by mono blanco at 3:54 PM on August 10, 2013 [12 favorites]

Stop thinking about things and start doing things.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:55 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm an INTJ too, a bit older than you, and I'm plagued by this kind of stuff as well. My best solution is to make myself accountable for doing things--like, I'm out of college, and theoretically could be doing absolutely nothing in my free time. But I'm taking an online course, because one of my mentors suggested it and I couldn't stand not to fulfill that expectation. Imposing arbitrary structures on your goals can be another way to do this, so that you're not studying chess to become better at chess, but you're studying chess because it's Tuesday morning and that's when you study chess.
posted by tooloudinhere at 4:03 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

So if you're in America you are what, a sophomore heading into Junior year of high school? And you feel like the next two years are already "wasted". My junior and senior years of high school were the best of my life. Because I was always doing something. School, had a couple of jobs, was on a sports team. And also went out with my friends as often as I could, enjoyed the new-found freedom of cars, got really into music and went to rock shows, learned how to play guitar and formed a (really bad, but it was fun) band.

Do you have your driver's license? Get that asap. Do you have access to a car? Can you get a job and save for a car? It will really liberate you (and driving around is a great way to get some thinking done while you're on the way to doing something).

You don't mention friends here; are there even just a couple other kids you are close with / could be close with? Those great years I mentioned were not because of huge parties and hundreds of pals -- it was mostly because of two great friends I had -- who I am still friends with to this day (I'm now in my mid-40's).

mono blanco and oceanjesse hit it right on above -- go do stuff, with others if at all possible.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 4:08 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Am I correct in thinking that you're about 15 or 16 years old? (You mention 2 years until college, which suggests a sophomore in high school, at least in the United States.) And you want to become a public intellectual (you don't want to want it, but you want it).

Well that shit don't come easy, kid! Get to work!

Are you, like, utterly and completely crushing it in school right now? If not, you better get to it. Straight As, start taking charge of some clubs and journals. Volunteer for lots of things. Start getting used to being a standout and learning what it takes to get there and stay there.

You say you have to wait until college to find a mentor, but that's not at all true. Start doing your research. Find people who do what you want to do and contact them. Learn how to write professional solicitations (and to deal with polite rejection, as well as the brush-off).

Get yourself into the most prestigious school possible, and get as much of it paid for as possible, too. Hell, that right there is a concrete, structured goal for your next two years, isn't it?

Bonus: this will keep you too busy to eat sleep or think, much less ruminate and worry.

Super bonus: at some point during this whole rigamarole (probably in grad school) you will most likely have an epiphany about what a meaningful life really involves for you, and then all of this growing-up Lebowski Achiever angst will resolve itself. ;)
posted by like_a_friend at 4:10 PM on August 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You've described 80-90% of all grad students I've ever known--the need, the anxiety, the frantic/compulsive accumulation of things they think they ought to know already, the worry, the time-wasting, and the guilt. It's all absolutely routine among people who share your aims.

So good on you for recognizing these issues so early. You may well be successful in your life's ambition, but you're obviously aware of how much better it is to be happy the whole way.

You might want to reflect on 'the passion trap' to consider how you could make yourself happy if it doesn't work out and also reflect on the habits of happy people to consider whether you could do more of those things to distract yourself pleasantly (your goal commitment may not be specific enough for item 10; your meditation probably covers you for item 11; but there are 10 more possibilities there to think about).

One thing though:

wait until I'm at college, where I can start doing research, learning things in-depth (and learning the math behind it), finding a mentor, etc. So I basically feel like my life for the next two years is wasted

This would probably make a great question for next week: "How can a high school student start learning field X in-depth before college?"
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:19 PM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: Don't knock figuring out how to deal with this set of feelings (anxiety, depression, uncertainty about life direction) as one of the most useful skills you could be learning right now, regardless of your specific life goals.

Also, I wondered about Monsieur Caution's last question, too. Some of what you describe about feeling in a holding pattern with regards to learning things is very familiar to me from my teenage self. Except... open access journals didn't exist then. Ditto open source science, or volunteer research efforts coordinated on the interwebs. Or free cloud-based architecture or engineering software. Or... I'm sure you get the idea, without me getting any more "god, kids these days!" Even if you're in the middle of nowhere, your ability to dig into fields and participate in them is actually not as limited as you seem to be thinking, I expect, so absolutely consider that for a future question, and I'm sure Metafilter can point you in some interesting directions.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:36 PM on August 10, 2013

Just for the sake of inspiration, you have heard of Jack Andraka, right? And have you viewed The Last Lecture and other videos by Randy Pausch, right?

I would only add 2 more things:
- many happy, successful people ended up doing what they never dreamed they could or would, so planning isn't the most important process
- as others have mentioned, the world is changing in major ways, so (IMHO) it is even harder to make any kinds of plans.
posted by forthright at 7:18 PM on August 10, 2013

I think you should set a time cap on how much time you spend alone. Introverts have a rich internal world that they can get lost in and which distracts them from making progress in the world around them. From the viewpoint of a totally rational observer, feeling guilty is not productive, but you are wasting time! Waiting around is a little bit soul crushing, so start living your life!! There is so much out there to be experiencing and living.

If I were you...

Internally: Think about your worries in terms of PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS to prevent stream-of-consciousness rants which feel profound but actually are not conducive to your goals. Other times think of fun day dreams where you are not the protagonist. Practise and it will become a fun habbit and make you more aware of other people.

Externally: set a time cap (of say three hours) on how much free time you have to yourself! And fill the rest with a mixture or activities around other people (extra-curriular classes, part-time jobs, social activities) and productive time where you make progress on your goals (work out what steps you have to take and take them). You don't really have to wait around for school to start. You could also alternatively work on your other secondary goals. For example, the goal of becoming a recognised intellectual requires hours of outrospective thinking about how things work, and crunching what you already know about the world around you. You don't need to be in university to get to know this world! So for example, make a reading list which starts off easy and gets steadily harder, and spend two hours a day reading and taking notes. Planning ahead is a good idea, because that way you can just follow a prescribed plan on autopilot when you are feeling blehh. Once you have got some momentum going and are moving in the direction of your goals you will feel a lot better! Also, even if what you do is not directly relevant, building self discipline and good studying habbits will give you a head start when term starts. You are lucky because you have time, the most priceless resource. Use it wisely!
posted by dinosaurprincess at 8:17 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

The biggest skill you're going to need is the ability to teach yourself a skill and learn things outside of a school environment because just about anyone can learn when a metaphorical gun is being held to their head but learning how to self-motivate is priceless. Why waste 2-4 years of college figuring out what you want to do when you could explore various subjects now?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:00 PM on August 10, 2013

Put some of that time into volunteer work for someone who needs your help. You'll feel 100% better about yourself and I'll guarantee you'll spend much less time focusing on your inner demons.
posted by aryma at 12:46 AM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you everyone -- your answers have been very reassuring and helpful.
posted by myitkyina at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2013

Being a famous intellectual, or a famous anything, is a more specific goal than it's presented as. You'll have about ten years on your competition if you can determine what theories you are interested in exploring and what steps you can take to do so.
posted by tuberose at 7:28 PM on August 11, 2013

Myitkyina, have you tried talking to friends/family about this stuff? Any older siblings that might be able to point you in the right direction?

I think it would be helpful to open a dialogue with somebody (in person, that is) who has been there or is there right now. Not that MetaFilter isn't any good at this stuff, but you're going through some heavy emotions right now, and some in-person support would be more effective.

I want to second deludingmyself's insight above on how dealing with anxiety, depression, uncertainty, etc. is one of the most useful skills you could be learning right now. It sounds like you have placed an immense amount of pressure on yourself, and at such a young age. Be wary of advice that adds to that pressure.
posted by Team of Scientists at 8:34 AM on August 19, 2013

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