I was in shock. After all these years of dedication and sacrifices, it may all come to an end. My journey to becoming a professional badminton player was about to conclude abruptly.
While playing soccer on a beautiful summer day in high school, I hurt my knee — again. As I have just recovered from a previous accident, I knew in this exact moment that I won’t be able to play for at least half a year, and not intensely for over a year. On the way to the hospital, I was in disbelief. I couldn’t fathom the extent that this misstep will impact my life.
I was afraid.
On this day, I didn’t only lose my identity of being a badminton player. But I also started to realize that I approached a turning point in my life. As I looked outside the window, I had to make a decision.
This event took place a little bit over six years ago. In the following, I had to undergo surgery — twice, to conduct competitive sport again. It was after the surgeries that I had to deal with the uncertainty. The only thing certain has been that I probably won’t compete on a professional level anymore. As the core of my life evaporated, I was facing the unknown. In hindsight, I believe I made the right decision, although I could have gone way off, too.
I chose to embrace the change.
I cut the ties to my professional Badminton player career, learned how to code, and signed up for law studies after graduation. I aimed at turning whatever the result of this change will be into the best thing I could have imagined.
But I was afraid.
Change is terrifying. It’s the fear of encountering the unknown that is ultimately hindering our progress and locks us into the same old place. This fear is the reason why I revert to “Last Christmas” instead of listening to new Christmas hits of today’s talents — although the shuffle function helped me overcome this problem partly, nowadays. It’s the reason why I hesitated to start writing articles on my blog.
And it’s the same reason why we are longing for more and more privileges, allowing us to stay the same, instead of accepting responsibility for the challenges ahead of us.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
- Alan Watts
The scary part of change is that it doesn’t give us an option. Change will happen, and it will affect us. But there still is a choice: we can decide whether we accept or refuse responsibility. Since this pandemic began, I caught myself several times thinking back to my accidents, contemplating whether I have made the right decision.
One reason for remembering events is because they might still contain information we can learn from. The reason I am thinking back to my accident might be because I have to learn how to accept change again.
Will life be the same after the lockdown? Probably not. Too many people have died, lost their jobs and businesses, and missed opportunities to say goodbye to loved ones. Industries have learned how cheap and possible work from home is. But while surprisingly high numbers of people fall for conspiracy theories, fortunately, even more of us are taking care of one another. We are in this together, and we are arguably doing quite a good job. Yet, things will change. It’s natural and nothing detrimental. But it’s terrifying.
Change is not only terrifying because of the unknown but also because we have to take on responsibility. Being responsible means that our actions matter. And once we realize how deeply our actions matter, we begin to fathom that everything in life matters. Responsibility, therefore, is the ultimate antidote to nihilism.
Why should I even care to face the unknown and be responsible for my actions? It’s a fair question to ask, given the terror, navigating the unknown imposes on us. Ultimately, once I die, and depending on my afterlife believes, nothing I did would matter, would it?
That’s where I tend to disagree with nihilism. You can technically stretch everything out over a long enough time frame to make it insignificant, but that doesn’t indicate that it never was significant at some point. Your actions are definitely impacting your own life, giving them a lifespan from up to 100 years, which is already significant — after all, it’s a whole lifetime.
But then, your actions are also impacting the ones around you. Giving your actions meaning, even after your own life might have come to an end already; increasing its significance. Now, if you live in fit circumstances and act properly, you might work on something that will impact several generations or even the course of humanity itself. This will leave your actions with even more meaning when measured by their impact.
Arguably, nothing of the latter will matter to you specifically, after your death, as you won’t experience any of it. But that doesn’t mean your actions aren’t meaningful.
Your actions will be even more significant, with life spans being planned to grow exponentially during the next 50 years. Although, perhaps, the concept of meaning might work best, with the proposition of having an end — a final moment, to which it led up to. Notwithstanding, and regardless of your lifespan, actions have consequences. But so does inaction.
Once we realize that what we are doing is meaningful, there is another insight waiting: the need for responsibility. If our actions are of significance, we have to take responsibility for them. We are responsible, not only for our own lives but also for the lives around us. The better we can compose ourselves, the more profound we can support the people we meet.
I don’t think there is a path in the middle. If you ascribe life any meaning, you will have to accept responsibility. You can’t deeply believe in a meaningful life while not acting responsibly. Constantly acting against what you believe would ultimately push you into resentment and depression.
The other possibility is to deny life any meaning, ridding yourself of any responsibility. But where does one go from here? Acting this way is selfish. If too many people would believe it and act this belief out, there wouldn’t be any progress. Why would you build houses, respect other people — and their property? Why would people even bother working together and help others? Why should we save someone that got hit by a car if this wouldn’t even be of any meaning?
If we acted like life was meaningless, we wouldn’t be in a place to even think about a possible meaning of life.
The fact that we are as privileged as we are today is because the actions of our ancestors had meaning. And they still have. It’s because our ancestors took on the responsibility.
It’s during times like this pandemic that we are facing the unknown. We are terrified of it. And we have a choice. We could neglect any meaning and act fearful. This way, we would push away the responsibility and seal the deal for humanity. But it wouldn’t matter because there isn’t any meaning, anyway.
Or, we could rise to the challenge. We could take on the responsibility and realize the significance of our actions. This way, we will navigate into the unknown, experience change, and find a way to support each other.
This pandemic will lead to change. But it is up to us whether this change will be for the better. Will you take on the responsibility?