Here’s another hypothetical question to start off with: given a choice between life and death, which would you choose? There’s one important caveat – you’ve got to spend the rest of your life doing something that feels completely meaningless to you.
Having no sense of meaning can make our lives feel empty, and it’s another common underlying issue that brings patients into the therapy room. That was the case for the author herself, although she didn’t realize it at the time.
Here’s the backstory: When she began her therapy with Wendell, the author had a cloud looming over her head, in the form of a book contract that came with a hefty advance. Now, an advance might sound like a pretty nice thing to receive, but it’s a double-edged sword for a writer – it means that they are now legally obligated to write their book, or else they have to return the money. This was a big problem for the author, as she’d already spent the money but felt unable to write the book. Every time she thought about it, she felt a paralyzing sense of anxiety, and she just couldn’t bring herself to actually do the writing. Something about it felt wrong, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
After she began therapy, she finally figured it out: she didn’t want to write the book because the project felt meaningless to her. She just didn’t feel a sense of personal connection to the topic, which was helicopter parenting – the phenomenon in which parents hover too closely over their children.
But not writing the book posed another problem of meaninglessness for the author. Her agent told her that if she didn’t finish her book, she might never land another contract. For the author, this was a very sobering prospect, because writing wasn’t just a thing she did for a living, in addition to her work as a therapist. It was also part of her sense of identity, and it gave her a sense of purpose. If she couldn’t write, her life would lose a major aspect of its meaning.
Ultimately, she decided to accept the risk in giving up on her book, breaking her contract and returning the advance. And the risk paid off when she went on to write a book that was actually meaningful to her; namely, the book these blinks are based on!