“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” — Socrates
We embark on the journey of pursuing our dreams for one primary purpose—joy.
Long ago, perhaps as children, we dipped a brush in some paint and experienced sheer delight splaying the colors across a canvas. We scribbled some words on a page and liked the way they sounded together. We tried something for the first time, and we enjoyed it. Eventually, we developed an ever-growing affinity for that something. Then we discovered we could even make money or become famous if we worked at it hard enough. The rat race began.
Somewhere along the way, in the midst of honing a skill, climbing a corporate ladder or establishing a connection, we began to blur the lines between our accomplishments and our identities. We began to believe that who we are and what we do are unconditionally dependent on one another, which means both are at risk of total destruction at even the smallest lapse in our daily grind. We became achievers—and neurotic ones at that.
Now we don’t have time for joy, peace or rest. This is nitty-gritty, goal-crushing adult life.
As achievers, our basic tendencies can lean towards people pleasing and striving—afraid to ignore a work call during a precious moment of self-care or time with family for fear of seeming “selfish.” Or never carving out quality time to rest, breathe or relax due to feeling guilty for “not getting enough done.” Ironically, our frantic flitting crowds out our space for creative contemplation and connection with others. Our souls become barren.
We strive because we feel like we must work to gain worth in this world. Maybe if we do enough our lives will finally mean something. We will finally be worthy—not because of who we are but because of all we’ve done.
During an emotional breakdown after an unsustainable lifestyle of striving, a former boss told me I was living like I was trying to earn my existence…which begs the question: Do our lives have worth apart from our achievements?
Society screams an answer from all sides: “Of course not! Try harder! Do more!”
So we begin the fearful maintenance of our flimsy foundations of self. Kirsten Powers, an opinion columnist for USA Today, faced her own struggle against suicidal thoughts and depression and decided to indict the false promises of the American Dream.
In her cultural critique about the recent celebrity suicides, she writes, “In many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: It lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or achieve that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term.”
She continues, “Rather than pathologizing despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever-escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong…Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than success.”
But where do we begin this search for fulfillment?
King Solomon of Israel, acclaimed for his wealth, wisdom and military valor provided the ancient world with a simple antidote that can be applied to modern times: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” The same man who achieved greatness and glory beyond measure and called it all “vanity” claimed that fulfillment can be found through eating, drinking and enjoying one’s work. Wouldn’t this ancient King of Israel in charge of armies, lands and ruling an entire kingdom be too busy for an aspect of life so frivolous as joy?
He found that true achievement does not stem from success or material possessions but the depth in which we enjoy what we’ve been given. What’s worth pursuing a dream if it costs you your soul, your relationships—or your peace of mind? We could find ourselves at the end of our lives still feeling as though all we accomplished was never enough. We may have accolades to boast about, but what about all we missed out on in the midst of our relentless pursuit?
True achievement looks like narrowing a never-ending to-do list down to just “the next thing” and feeling no shame over unchecked boxes at the end of the day. It looks like doing the things that need to be done adding a deeper sense of purpose to the tasks deemed mind-numbing and mundane. It tastes like longer dinners and feels like lingering embraces with the ones you love.
True achievement looks like doing less and becoming more.
Have you felt bedraggled by the hustle and bustle of busyness? What are some ways you can cultivate a lifestyle of peace and contentment?
Feature Image via Elle Storset
Resonated so deeply with this phrase…”living like I was trying to earn my existence.” How often do we live like that in our try hard culture? In this season of life, I am seeking to revisit that childhood delight in things that bring me deep joy. It takes so much discipline to silence the voices that tell me to try harder. But when I sit down to write a story, I remember that simple joy again.
Thank you for sharing this inspiring article, Lauren!
The King Solomon example really delivers some perspective. Thank you for this article.