A very short phonecall with a very big implication. Imagine, you're healthy, you've a partner, you've a job, you're trying to earn more money to go on bigger vacations and then one day you're 40some and you realise you have no idea who you are. Now what?
A chipper sounding woman wanted to know if I do Tarot cards. No, sorry. Well, I can, but it's really not my best act, and you're much better off if you let me handle your questions my own way, so no. I tell her what I can do for her, and she figures she can work with that, too. Awesome.
"I keep hearing this little voice," she says, "I don't want to anymore. I think it's my own voice."
Let's get the obvious questions out of the way first. "What don't you want anymore?" She's got no idea. She starts talking about work, and how she wants a job that makes her more money, so she can go on bigger vacations "and stuff". Then tells me that this voice has been there for eight years already, so it's not about her current job.
Since I'm not getting any indication of problems in the background, like gabling habits or other financial problems, trouble at work, or emotional distress, I backtrack. "If I'm getting this right, you want another job, so you can make more money, so you can do things like go on better vacations. What else would you do with more money?" Maybe I missed something. Dying aunt, secret dream of saving a village in Africa, anything? Apparently not. She would do "stuff like, I don't know, buy nicer things for my house. Good vacations. Maybe go to some spa's."
I heard enough. I started asking her all the hard questions. What is it that you want out of life? Why do you get up in the morning? What gets you really excited, what are you passionate about? If you were to die next week, what would you do with the time? Who are you? Who do you want to be? Where are you trying to get to? Is there anything that you really want to do, or experience, in your life? What makes you tick? From her response, I got the distinct impression that this was the very first time that she'd even heard of such questions, and needed some time adjusting to the fact that someone was actually asking them. And that she was expected to come up with answers. She had nothing.
Let's try again. Simple exercise. "What are the three things you would keep, if you had to give up everything else in your life but those?" That's always a good one to get people thinking. I have to explain how this works first, and suggest that if she can pick only three things, and it is between health and a better vacation, the vacation is probably not going to make the list. Nor is that extra fancy curtain or that designer couch. She slowly figures that out, too, and gets to love, and health, and ... uh.
Alright, since she seems to be healthy enough (or she'd be asking about that, instead), I ask her about love. How's that going? She has someone, she tells me, a boyfriend that she's fond of. It's like the best thing in her life, she says in a tone of voice that you might use to describe the best movie you've seen all week. They've been dating for 2 months. I ask what it is about him that she likes. You say you love him, what's there to love? All she manages is, that he is caring. I swallow a comment on the lack of depth, and figure that it's probably what she's capable of.
"Ok," I say, "Say you've got someone who loves you, you're healthy, now what?" Baffled silence. It's really quiet for a long time and I'm half expecting to hear that familiar beep, beep, beep of a disconnected line when she says "Um. I don't know. I don't actually know." I stop pushing her when I feel like she's got it. When her voice changes from "Well, sure, I got stuff" to "Oh. OH."
I then explain to her that she's hearing a voice saying "I don't want to anymore", because she's got nothing to live for. She's got everything, but she's completely lacking herself. She's living for money to get things somewhere in the future, but when she gets them, it won't matter because she's still thinking "Yeah but with a better job, that'd be an even fancier couch and the amazing vacation could be a week longer." And that anywhere she'd go, no matter if it's a 5 star cruise to Tahiti, she's still taking herself with her, and her life will still feel pointless and empty. Because it is. Time to start asking the hard questions. Time to start at least wondering, what it means to be alive. What makes it worth it. Who you are and what you really want out of it.
I have rarely met someone who has so much of all the things people want in life, and whose life is so very empty. People call me every day, concerned about a lover, struggling at a job, wondering how to pay the rent, lonely or angry or trying to sort through the emotional scars left to them by their parents or just trying to figure out what's going on in life, but for all their messiness, these people are alive.