I’m 19, and I’m pitching news stations. I get up at 4 AM to pitch outlets in NYC. I quadruple-check emails for typos. I obsessively compile contact information. My voice trembles on the phone, but somehow I end up landing major media spots for my boss. I am effective partly because I am over-the-moon desperate to please and partly because I have excellent guidance.
I’m 20, and I have decided to organize a charity event for a nonprofit. I need to convince loads of companies to give away things for free. I stop by businesses with makeshift sponsorship packages. I approach curly-haired guitarists in cafes to ask them to perform for free. In the end almost everything, give or take some office supplies, has been generously donated. I am effective partly because I am earnest (& let’s not forget that I am still desperate to please), and partly because the Director of the nonprofit has impressive connections.
I’m 21, and I have responded to an online entrepreneur’s newsletter to ask her if she needs help. I don’t actually know if I can help her, so I am surprised when I hear back and read that she wants to meet. When we meet, I talk about the media pitching and the event planning. She takes me on as an intern. Within six months, she ends up hiring me as a core member of her team. I am effective partly because I am eager (& yes, desperate to please) and partly because she has a quality for identifying people who compliment her skills.
I’m 22, and I’ve decided to start an online product-based business teaching Italian. Two things are certain: I want to own a business, and my Italian is passable. I write newsletter lessons that I put my whole heart into and I start a podcast. Somehow my readership grows and I go from being my only reader to talking to hundreds of people. I over-deliver. I try my fail-proof method of people pleasing. I learn more Italian. I am effective partly because I am arrogant and partly because I don’t know how hard this will be.
I’m 24, and I realize how much I’ve relied on my career to make me feel whole. (Can you imagine all of the lightbulbs in one of those overcrowded lamp stores shattering from this revelation?)
I have taken on the role of too many doormats. I have over-delivered and have been under-compensated.
All of this striving has resulted in a checklist-loving, goal-hungry, self-help book clutching version of myself.
I have developed a flavorful blend of anxiety.
But time is kind to me, and I trip over some wisdom that forces me to slow down and take a hard look at what was once a blur of checkmarks filling up empty boxes.
A year ago, accepting the truth of where I am and where I am not would have pushed me to step up my daily diet of advice on how to become an expert. Focus on just one thing. Guest post everywhere. Be opinionated in your writing. And for the sake of all that is holy on the Internet, stay consistent!
I would have resisted my actual life and sent more ramblings into the universe about wanting to be perceived as an authority.
She can do it, why can’t I? Maybe if I just create this, everything will fall into place.
I would have started desperately climbing up an expert podium balanced on a rubber ball.
If I just sacrifice enough, if I take the right courses, if only I had a collage of all of the major websites I haven’t yet been featured on posted on my front page!
If only things moved faster, I assumed, then I could relax.
Even the simple act of sleep induced anxiety because I was hoping it would just hurry up and get out of the way already.
I once heard a story from meditation teacher Tara Brach about a woman who was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and had a 3-year-old daughter at home.
Her mantra became “I have no time to rush”.
I can’t speak for you, but I don’t want to wait until the end of my life is looking at me from across the street to realize that I don’t have time to rush. That I don’t have time to sidestep the tiniest of conversations with people who I love and the longest of lunches in exchange for staying ahead of the nonexistent curve, to strive to be polished instead of raw.
The more I looked around my world, the more I recognized striving to be a common thread in many of our sexed-up, work fame stories that are told and retold for the purposes of motivating or exemplifying what it means to be successful (Ahem, Steve Jobs anyone?).
While they can serve as inspirational tales, they can also be a breeding ground for comparison — for seeing all the ways that you’re not good enough to do that thing.
We champion successful people for all that they accomplish even though we only see the accolades, the rockstar moments, the enviable Instagram feed.
We don’t see the missed birthday calls, the conversations cut abruptly short (that horrible index finger gesturing just one second), a loved one’s feelings as they talk to a spouse that’s half-listening and half-writing sales copy.
We don’t see the pain and as we take the path of striving we don’t want to because that’s not sexy. That’s not our image of what it will be like once we make it.
As an ambitious person with big dreams and an even bigger heart, it is so easy to wade into a current that pushes, pushes, pushes you to work harder — one that tantalizes you with the reminder that you have to prove yourself, to show the world that you’re worthy of success, happiness, boatloads of money, whatever.
But the best thing you can do for yourself and for the world is to break the cycle of striving.
To put yourself and your well-being before your work fame reality and notice all of the ways that you already have what you need right now.
It takes bravery to slow down & stop striving when the world around you shows you the glamour of speed.
It takes courage to say no thank you to tactics that seem to work for everyone else.
It takes balls to say yes over and over again to all of the things that you really do what you want to do, to make space for tasks that don’t set you off on an obvious path to success.
When you slow down, you see striving for what it really is — a combination of confusion & a bad habit; a learned behavior that convinced you that achievement and recognition are the tools to living a good life.
Lucky for us, they’re not, and even luckier, thank god that bad habits are breakable.