I used to be the type of person who measured success the same way as the dictionary: success (noun): the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Beyond that, I genuinely believed that achieving success meant that I would finally be happy. I would strive and strive, reach my goals, and then be satisfied.
I read all the books and consulted with people much wiser than myself. I understood their perspectives on what made a successful life- in theory. I concluded that success and happiness meant understanding my purpose, defining goals related to that purpose and then chasing them. It all seemed definable, linear and controllable.
And so I took courses, analyzed my personality type, the things I used to love as a child, my natural talents and everything else I could think of to try and figure out my Why. I came up with some ideas and started making lists, planning and organizing how I would serve others from this place. In the spirit of maintaining balance, I also allotted time to my family and friends, made sure to eat a lot of plant-based meals, did some workout videos and made my bed.
My well-intentioned ideas weren’t wrong. But I had forgotten something profoundly essential to my process. Everything about my methods was wrapped up in thinking and doing. During my plight for success, and all the action steps required to get there, I had pushed aside being. I had forgotten the component synonymous with the compass of a ship set out to sail in the vast, unending sea. How was I supposed to do the right things if I couldn’t just be? The being is where we connect to our Source, our higher self. Being is the place where our inner wisdom comes from: the understanding that guides our life with more ease, more purpose, more love, more creativity. Being is where you remember that no matter what is going on in the world around you, all is well. In short, I was trying to drive my car all around town without considering the engine that powered the whole thing.
My ego hated this idea.
Every time I tried to sit still, my mind would race with thoughts: thoughts about more doing, more productivity, more wondering what was for dinner, more planning, more deliberating past decisions, more questioning my competencies, more second-guessing, more trying to get up and go, do, act! My thoughts would tell me how useless just sitting around trying to still myself was. I would last a few minutes and then throw the towel in, almost in complete panic at how much time I had already wasted.
Yet, I knew deep down that it was the only way even though I was failing at getting still. I knew there had to be more to life than all the doing. It’s not that much of the doing wasn’t satisfying- it was satisfying to work hard and achieve goals. But was that all there was? Just a series of doing and achieving and failing and learning and repeating it all until the end? That at the end of my life, I would measure its worth by how many burpees I did, how many Buddha bowls I ate, how many birthdays I remembered and how much I accomplished and succeeded?
Although I knew that in many ways doing was easy because I could control it. But it was also so much harder. Because when life gave me reminders that the control I thought I had was only an illusion, I was so much less equipped to handle the outcome. Or I would take charge of the situation with vigour: change my course, make a new plan, but in doing so would deepen my need to control even more. Each time something happened- a catastrophic environmental event, a fight, an illness, a death, a birth- my anxiety around relinquishing control grew too. Over time, bit by bit, I became more rigid, more scared.
Although being– sitting still with myself and my thoughts- at the outset seemed so much harder, when I started to practice it regularly, began to breathe a flow of ease and relief into the doing that I hadn’t felt since I was a child. But it’s work. The truth is that sitting still and being is something I’m just starting to accept. It’s something I deliberately have to make a priority to do every day. Some days I succeed better than others. But I can feel the shift starting to occur. I don’t carry as much tightness around in my chest anymore. The doing seems lighter, more fluid. I feel like space and time are slowly starting to open around me, rather than my day feeling like a perpetual race against the clock. It’s a slow shift, but a shift nonetheless.
So what is success? I can honestly say that I see it now as less doing and more being. Because the more you can be still and allow, the more accurate, effortless and joyful the doing will be. And I genuinely believe that when we get to the end, the amount of ease and joy we experience is what we will determine was a life well-lived.