3 Flavors of Emptiness


Do you feel empty even though you can see nothing wrong or bad about your life?

Perhaps everywhere you look you’re surrounded by good. Good things. Good people. Good job. Good home. Good food.

And yet something still feels missing. What’s that about?

I’ve met many people who describe a sense of emptiness. It’s inexplicable, confusing, and intangible. They can’t quite put their finger on it. But it’s there, and they can feel it every day.

This emptiness builds slowly over time. If left unaddressed, it can cause intense emotions like resentment, hopelessness, despair, guilt, and shame.

And trying to numb it or eliminate it can lead to violence on oneself or others either emotionally or physically.

Don’t let it get that far. Do something about it TODAY.

Here are three flavors of emptiness I’ve observed in talking to people who seem to “have it all”. Identifying yours will help you figure out what to do about it.

Flavor or Emptiness #1: You can’t truly be yourself

Everything’s great except for the fact that you can’t truly be yourself. Deep down, you sense that you’re faking it. Putting on a show. Performing for the benefit of others.

This can show up at work as Imposter Syndrome where you’re in constant fear of being exposed that you aren’t as capable as others think you are. Except this flavor of emptiness can pervade all parts of your life.

The painful, underlying story sounds like: If they really knew me, they wouldn’t accept me.

You might have lots of friends that you talk to all the time. But if you notice that you mostly tend to report events or vent frustrations, you might be operating from autopilot rather than genuine authenticity.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How many people in my life truly know me?

  • What parts of me have I rejected or hidden away?

  • How often do I express my deepest fears, hopes, dreams, truth with others?

Or perhaps you don’t know what it means to “be yourself” because you aren’t totally sure who you are yet.

If you’ve been accustomed to being what others expect you to be your whole life, you might not have ever taken the time to discover your authentic self.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why am I the way I am?

  • Who am I when I’m alone and not doing anything? 

  • If I didn’t have any external expectations or pressures on me, what sort of life would I be living?

If you feel any sense of mystery, or insight (or dread!) in reflecting on those questions, you might be experiencing this flavor of emptiness.

You’ll never know what’s real until you get real. You’ll never know if people really love you until you show them who you really are. You’ll never know if you really belong until you stop trying to belong.

You’ll always feel a sense of emptiness if you don’t let your true self be seen.

And you can’t do any of that until you take the time to discover who you are beyond who you think you should be.

Flavor or Emptiness #2: You aren’t contributing

Life is great. You have lots of fun and adventure. You get to enjoy all the pleasures life has to offer. Sometimes you can’t believe how good you have it.

But you’re not contributing anything meaningful to the world. You’re not giving back in ways that matter to you. Which makes you feel empty.

Your scary thoughts might sound like: I don’t deserve all this. I’m selfish.

This can taint everything with a sense of guilt, preventing you from fully experiencing all the great things going on in your life.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What kind of contribution do I find meaningful? It might be different from others.

  • What world do I want to leave behind for future generations?

  • How do I love to help others?

  • How do I want to be remembered?

Then find opportunities in your world to contribute meaningfully on a regular basis.

A pitfall many people fall into is that they judge their contribution before they make it. They think, “Oh, that won’t make much difference.” or think they need to wait until they can devote their entire life to their contribution before they engage.

But don’t wait. Start today and start small. Yes, the impact might be tiny, but you will begin to feel more fulfilled. And as you become more powerful, your impact will, too.

Flavor or Emptiness #3: You aren’t growing

Life is comfortable and stable but not fulfilling. You can’t remember the last time you felt challenged. You appreciate your routines, but you also catch yourself daydreaming.

Perhaps you’ve entertained the idea of switching careers or pursuing a passion, but your golden handcuffs keep you stuck.

You might lay awake at night thinking: Is this it?

This can make life seem dull and meaningless, like you’re not fully alive.

Because you aren’t.

Your life is being artificially constrained within a tiny sliver of experience. You’re missing out on the rest of life’s pie. Growth means cutting yourself a bigger piece.

Personal growth. Spiritual growth. Physical growth. Emotional growth. Intellectual growth. There are many different ways human beings can grow.

When you push yourself to experience new things and learn from those experiences, you grow.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What kind of growth would most benefit me and those around me?

  • In what ways is my current situation asking me to grow?

  • What areas of my life do I feel the most stuck, and how might I grow in those areas?

Try something new: take a class, take a risk, try a new behavior, experience new sensations - tastes, smells, sights…

Be like a scientist and experiment with YOU in the service of learning about yourself and the world.

When you can find value in every experience, even when you hated it, you’re on the path of growth.

So, which flavor of emptiness are you feeling?

Don’t let it fester. Do something about it TODAY.

Eddie Shieh, PCC, MFA