Are Your Unlived Lives Too Important?

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

“The unexamined life is surely not worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining?” -Adam Phillips

Introspection is extremely important to me. I strongly believe that “the unexamined life isn’t worth living.” It’s in my Instagram bio, its the background of my computer, its written on a sticky note in my car, I’ve become fully committed to introspection and how self-knowledge can lead to self-enrichment.

Introspection requires you to be very much in your head; to disconnect yourself from the current situation and observe instead of interact. It requires you to take the thoughts you’re thinking and then think about those thoughts. It takes some intense focusing to analyze those thoughts, and the effect they’re having on who you are and who you want to become. Its far easier to watch others struggle through the currents of life then to swim through them yourself. Its easier to disconnect from the present, and wish we were either someone else or doing something else. You know, daydreaming or fantasizing about an alternative life, one that I wish was mine.

In his book, Missing Out, Adams Phillips states in his introduction, “that our unlived lives — the lives we live in fantasy, the wished-for lives — are often more important to us than our so-called lived lives.”

Phillips writes his book with such enthusiasm, eager to convince his reader to be persuaded to view life in a deeper and more intense light. He argues that man has become so preoccupied with the lives he has not yet lived that he misses out on appreciating the one life he actually has. Not only do we constantly ask “What next?” we also drift further away from the present by asking “What might have been?”

“Our lives become a protracted mourning for, an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”

With too much introspection it becomes easy to calculate the outcomes of various imagined courses of action that are sending us out on self-destructive missions. I find introspection pushes me to live as if I were living for the second time. A kind of revision of my last choices and circumstances since now I have evaluated them and perhaps can evaluate my current decisions to make them even better next time. From Phillip’s point of view though we should be living as if it is the first and the last time.

Phillips is cautioning us to question the entire self-actualization and intense introspection methodology of the traditional psychotherapy.

“I don’t want to say self- knowledge is useless. But we need to know when self-knowledge is genuinely useful and when it isn’t. There are some situations where the struggle to ‘know’ about an experience is a distraction from the experience itself.”

Introspection is about growing as an individual, but when you’re only examining and not living life; when you’re only gazing at your reflection in the stream instead of taking a step into the water to see what is really there, the search to learn in depth who you are becomes an endless and futile cause.

Growth truly begins when you fully immerse yourself in your current situation and push against the forces that are present there. There’s a healthy balance between living life and reflecting on the life you’ve lived, and I believe in that balance content and happiness can be found. 


© 2019 Developing Worth