I have this image of myself from childhood that is hard to shake. I think it comes from those early report cards where the teachers commented that I didn’t try hard enough, that I day dreamed too much and that I gave up too easily. I accepted this as the true assessment of my character: I was lazy.
I found myself in a dead end career in my twenties and decided to apply myself for the first time to my studies. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could do well. I was much smarter than I thought! From that point forward I was hooked on striving. I went back to school over and over again – thinking that my life would be good once I achieved this degree or had that job. And it wasn’t just in my career; I was always striving to get to a particular fitness level - especially the magic number on the scales.
I was proud of my striving and received praise and encouragement for my self- discipline and ambition. But here is the thing - it was never enough.
Striving is about trying to make your life better than it is today. Ambition isn’t a bad thing in itself. It’s not living your life in the present that’s the problem. It’s the belief that today isn’t ok and you must achieve this or that in the future to be happy. It’s running through your days only waiting to start your life in the future. I know a lot of people that are waiting for their retirement so that they can start to enjoy life. But life offers no guarantees – what if today is all you’ve got?
Striving is very hard to give up because after so many years of practice it has become my default way of thinking. There is that old underlying fear – if I’m not striving to achieve something am I just a lazy under achiever?
What can help to interrupt this habitual way of thinking? Mindfulness practice. This means stopping to savour what life is offering today. It means being present and not focused on some other time in the future when the conditions will be optimal. I forget to do this all the time. So when I do catch myself striving, I try to be self-compassionate and remember that this is just an old habit of my mind.
I think I will take a moment right now and lazily savour the sun streaming through the window and watch the chipmunk on my deck staring at me.
With kindness, Patricia