We live in a non-stop society where doing—pushing, achieving, striving—earns you praise, admiration, money, and respect. Lots of us wear the “I’m crazy busy” badge of honor, as if that’s a good thing. But is it?
From my experience, it’s not. At least not as a constant way of life, and not if you’re doing it from a place of fear.
My story of striving
While growing up, I always felt behind, like I needed to catch up to someplace other than where I was in my life. I remember a particular moment during my middle school years that exposes just how intense this undercurrent was.
I was sitting at my desk working on homework when this unwelcome thought popped into my adolescent mind: Am I going to be able to land a job after graduating from college?
Graduating from college was literally still a decade away at this point. A decade away!!
I was so afraid of the future that I worked my ass off for the next 10 years of schooling trying to prove to others that I was worthy of a job.
In high school I took Advanced Placement classes and got straight A’s. I joined as many extra-curricular activities as I could fit into my schedule so that my college application would look “better.” I rushed and pushed myself to do more and do it perfectly.
In college, I became a cyclone of productivity.
I took full course loads, volunteered my time with multiple internships and also worked 30+ hours a week. In my “spare time,” I renovated a 1930s home. I did all these things and managed to graduate in 3 years (with a 3.9 GPA) despite transferring schools halfway through.
I was your classic neurotic overachieving perfectionist on a mission to be employable once I graduated. My life was bursting at the seams with responsibilities, yet somehow I managed to do it all and do it well.
What I refused to acknowledge at the time was that this frenetic pace, this mode of fear-based striving, was sucking every last ounce of happiness out of my life.
On the outside I appeared extremely accomplished. I graduated with honors from college at the age of 20, and had valuable life and work experience. I was a successful and driven student.
And I did get a “real” job right of out college. In less than three months I was employed full-time at an online university.
Then, a funny thing happened. I had the job but I wasn’t fulfilled. The striving didn’t stop.
I started an MBA program. This time I was tasked with balancing 40-hour work weeks with full-time graduate studies.
So the cycle began yet again. Push-push-push. Go-go-go. Do-do-do.
This time, I went a little crazy. The seams began to fray. I began to unravel.
This time, I got pissed, both at the world and at myself. I woke up and realized I was so damn busy worrying about what was just ahead that I didn’t take time to enjoy where I was.
I realized I couldn’t live that way anymore, and didn’t want to live that way anymore.
And so began my journey toward creating a life not based on constantly striving.
Why do we strive to succeed?
Simply put, most of us were programmed to strive for more success.
This Huffington Post article sums up why:
It doesn’t take years of therapy to conclude that all of our current behaviors started when we were children. We were born innocent, free of expectation, with our only concerns being comfort and love. But then, just a few short years later, we are being taught what right vs. wrong and good vs. bad is from our parents and family who surround us. Our school years introduce success vs. failure, in the form of intellectual rankings and social groupings. By the time we hit adulthood and our first professional job, we have received our basic programming: the harder you work, the better you will be, the more people will like you, and the more material success you will have.
We were told (and then continue to tell ourselves) that we need to achieve something else in life to make us happier or more valuable/lovable/employable/insert-fear-based-desire-here. So we push. We strive. Our egos bully us into doing things we don’t want to do because of fear that we aren’t good enough exactly as we are.
What if, for a moment, you put that ego-based mind chatter on a time out? Would you continue down the path you’re on?
- Continue to bust your butt doing 80 hour weeks to get that high profile promotion?
- Finish your PhD even though your heart isn’t truly in it?
- Still say yes to every request and invitation to keep up appearances and not let anyone down?
Give yourself space to reflect on WHY you’re doing what you’re doing…and if YOU—not your parents, not your friends, not your boss, not society—really want to be doing it.
Focus on succeeding at what makes YOU happy. If you’re going to strive toward something, strive for happiness and joy doing things YOU love, not things based on someone else’s definition of success.