As a recovering achievement addict—nearly four years sober—I’m continually digging deep into my being and pulling up roots of the idiom that “hard work leads to success.” I recently decided I’d rather sow internal seeds of a less puritanical nature because, the farther away I am from the old days, the more I know one thing:
It* doesn’t freaking have to be so hard.
* It = Whatever is feeling hard to you in this moment
* Antidote to “it” (barring any clear and present danger) =
a. Mindful acceptance
b. Finding joy in just being
Just down the road from my blighted hometown, Work Hard and Repeatedly Have Something to Show for It Publicly Ville, is a delightful little hideaway known as Joy in Being Town. They look and function exactly alike on the outside, but they have a totally different feel. I like walking through the latter barefoot and laughing, with a glass of something bubbly in one hand, a child’s sticky palm in another and my eyes taking in all the sights rather than my emails. It’s a charming place, and downright beautiful when you venture from the beaten path, and everything gets done despite the notable lack of ambition-laced to-do lists. My favorite thing to do there is to lie face-up in the ocean and let my body roll atop the swells.
It’s too bad, but I do have to be careful when residing in Joy in Being Town, because sometimes I notice that, instead of just being there in all that sunny bounty, I’m (with gritted teeth) working really hard to stay there. Trying to wear the right clothes; trying to give a certain impression; trying to make my light seem brighter; trying act sparkly when, as a result of measuring myself in some unfortunate way, I feel rather dark.
Locals smell a fake from a mile away. Instantly, a gray van whirs up and shuttles me back to Work Hard and Repeatedly Have Something to Show for It Publicly Ville, where I sit in the equivalent of an office cafeteria and tell everyone how driven I was before I became a mom; how frequently I’m meditating; how futile my valiant attempts are to keep our house clean; how exhausted I am from my full-time mom job; how I’m working on a very important freelance deadline; how I used to be a real athlete with, like, a two-pack in my abs; how I have a screenplay and a brilliant business plan I’ll execute some day, etc.
In general, this is the puritanical place I go to hail my material-world achievements, to feel insignificant when I have nothing to hail and to decry the stuff that actually matters in this life and beyond. (*see note below.)
After enough of that—and it doesn’t take long anymore, thank goodness—I hitchhike back to Joy in Being Town and take up in a colorful home, where I stretch out and ride the tide of the moment, cleaning, writing, playing, cooking, caring for my family, seeing friends and working at just the right times, respectively. I laugh a lot more. I skip a lot more. I say nice things about myself and about others. My kids seem jollier. I jump in bouncy houses.
For some, including younger versions of myself, this may seem like a waste of time, this pursuit of things I can’t put on a resume. But when I open up to just being, and to experiencing joy rather than judgment (It’s hard! It’s not fun! I don’t have enough time! Why am I not better at X?) in that being, it’s amazing the things that happen.
*Note re: stuff that actually matters in this life and beyond: The really important stuff certainly varies from person to person. As I understand it, before we’re born, we all choose one big lesson we wish to learn from life, then we go forth fully supported from the other side to live a life of experiences and relationships that facilitate our learning. Achieving this mission is all that really matters in the scheme of life and life after life. The funny thing to those of us with ingrained earth-bound ideas of success is that the mission is usually simple enough to be explained in one word. And it’s most probably not “wealth,” “power” or “renown.” More likely, it’s Love. Forgiveness. Compassion. Joy. Connection. Helpfulness. Peace. Kindness. Nonattachment. Understanding…and countless other attributes well worth a lifetime of dedication.