A Guide to Having an Existential Crisis Without Being a Cliché

If, like me, you’re a privileged 20-something who has had the misfortune of summiting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs too early in life, you can probably attest to the fact that perpetual serenity has a way of getting old. I suppose it would be insensitive not to acknowledge that there’s some undeniable value in “guaranteed security of the person,” or whatever, but what about the profound boredom that results from a distress-free existence? If Walter and Jesse had won the lottery in the second season of Breaking Bad, resolved all of their ongoing conflicts, and then spent the remainder of the show celebrating their upper class lifestyles, I’m certain that its third season would have seen a steep drop-off in viewership. It may not be the most convenient truth to acknowledge, but perpetual struggle is an integral part of the human experience. In the absence of any tangible concerns to latch on to, however, where can one turn to for a hit of this essential fix? If you’re asking yourself this question — or if you’re asking yourself any questions at all really — you’re on the right track. It’s time for you to have your first existential crisis.

I sense that you have some reservations. Fair. The whole “existential crisis” thing is incredibly basic, I know. It makes the previous posterchild for the term — a white girl drinking a pumpkin spice latte — seem like some sort of countercultural, avant-garde hero. The phrase “nothing matters, we’re all going to die” is such an overly used cliché that the similarly inane expression “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” seems like genuinely prudent dietary advice by comparison. Luckily for you, I’ve developed a foolproof guide for beginners like yourself, to help you experience an existential crisis without turning into a walking cliché.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Why would I want to have an existential crisis?! Even the most haphazardly conducted cost-benefit analysis would conclusively reveal that the drawbacks far outweigh the merits.” Unfortunately, when the time comes for you to be consumed by existential dread, you won’t be given the opportunity to respectfully decline the experience. Looming existential strife don’t just show up to your door and knock politely, like “Hey, open up, I’m here to greatly hinder your progress as a human being for the next year.” It’s much closer in temperament to the Kool-Aid man than it is a Jehova’s Witness. The way I see it, you basically have two choices: either get on board with my program now or risk eventually turning into the most insufferable character in a Wes Anderson movie. It’s up to you.

Step 1: Try not to make it about yourself. Even if it is completely about yourself.

This isn’t a well-advertised fact, but it is conceivably possible to venture down an existential rabbit-hole without coming across as a completely self-involved narcissist. If you preface your nihilistic sentiments with commentary about seemingly insurmountable global injustices, you may be able to convince others that your nihilism stems from some sort of viscerally affecting social consciousness, rather than a desperate attempt to appear profound. Consider which of the following two examples seems more palatable:

(1) Why should I bother applying for a job? Do you really expect me to waste my life working in a cubicle, knowing that one day I’m going to close my eyes and succumb to the eternal darkness that eventually consumes us all?


(2) Whenever I try to apply for a job, I’m struck by what a gigantic waste of my life it is. The world is literally falling apart at the seams and I’m just supposed to sit in an office, look at spreadsheets, and pretend that my inaction doesn’t make me complicit in the never-ending suffering?! Violent warlords live handsomely off the fruit of their exploitation, while good-natured single mothers struggle their entire lives to no avail! But, yeah, okay, I’m just going to sit here and troubleshoot these macros.

Step 2: Get into meditation. But don’t talk about it too much.

Turning to meditation as a one-size-fits-all remedy for emotional maladjustment is a cliché in and of itself. The discipline it takes to meditate, however, is nonetheless admirable. It demonstrates a willingness on your part to try to get to the bottom of your existential quandaries. Generally speaking, people are much more willing to listen to your boring problems if you’re able to show them that you’re taking some sort of action to address them. In the absence of this, you end up sounding like that one friend of yours who complains incessantly about their partner’s infidelity, but refuses to break up with him/her.

Friend: I can’t believe he cheated on me again.
You: You really need to break up with him.
Friend: I love him so much though. He promised me it will never happen again.
You: But, this is like the fifth time it’s happened.
Friend: I know. It just hurts so much.
You: Well, that’s why you need to break up with him.
Friend: I can’t. It’s too hard.

Step 3: Do drugs.

Telling your friends that you dropped acid in search of the answers to life’s grand questions isn’t going to make you seem particularly original, but generally speaking, people seem to like hearing stories about hallucinatory experiences. In all likelihood, you’re not going to reach any meaningful conclusions about the universe — at least none you’ll be able to articulate without saying “dude — I don’t know — I can’t even — you just gotta try it” — but you may have one or two funny anecdotes about the disastrous social encounter you had with the cashier at the grocery store while tripping.

Step 4: Channel these feelings artistically.

In case you haven’t noticed, Hollywood is obsessed with the plight of upper-middle class white people. Whenever you’re feeling frustrated by the unoriginal nature of your existential anxieties, you can take comfort in knowing that Hollywood is still commissioning incredibly boring coming-of-age-stories about the “passage of time” or whatever. You know that show Transparent that is lauded for its barrier-breaking portrayal of a realistic transgender experience? Well, that makes up approximately one fifth of the show. The other 80% is about the rest of the characters, a miserable bunch of people who live primarily conflict-free lives, but are evidently traumatized by the inherent pain of existence. Transparent is just one amongst a slew of examples of this type of media — Girls, Casual, basically anything even tangentially connected to the Duplass brothers. Hollywood’s seemingly insatiable appetite for these types of stories is a bottomless well that is just waiting to be tapped into. Why can’t you be the next content creator to profit exorbitantly from artistically generalizing this experience?

Step 5: Whatever you do, don’t make a spiritual pilgrimage to Asia.

Eat, pray, stay in the country. No one wants to hear your obnoxious fetishization of Eastern culture.