At the same time, the hopelessness of the world I encountered online began to seep into the world of the concrete. It was impossible to drink from Twitter’s fire hose of anger and suffering—of news and opinions selected for my perusal precisely because they weren’t the norm, which was what made them especially compelling—without starting to approach the rest of life as if they were the norm, which meant being constantly braced for confrontation or disaster, or harboring a nebulous sense of foreboding. Unsurprisingly, this rarely proved to be the basis for a fulfilling day.
The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is just to stop expecting things to be otherwise—to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.
This quest to justify your existence in the eyes of some outside authority can continue long into adulthood. But “at a certain age,” writes the psychotherapist Stephen Cope, “it finally dawns on us that, shockingly, no one really cares what we’re doing with our life. This is a most unsettling discovery to those of us who have lived someone else’s life and eschewed our own: no one really cares except us.” The attempt to attain security by justifying your existence, it turns out, was both futile and unnecessary all along. Futile because life will always feel uncertain and out of your control. And unnecessary because, in consequence, there’s no point in waiting to live until you’ve achieved validation from someone or something else.