We can all stop trying so hard

There is something in the air ... a small revolution is brewing. And it's about damn time.

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Have you noticed? There is something in the air. Over the past week I’ve read several blog posts and articles about giving the collective middle finger to the hustle, and I’m all for it. My first newsletter of the year is about quitting the hustle, about less doing and more being, and I’m pumped that I’m not the only one who feels that way! It feels like a small revolution is brewing, and I say it’s about damn time.

I have believed for so long that if I’d achieved all my dreams I would be happy. That I was in charge of my own destiny, and when I didn’t reach my goals it was my fault for not trying hard enough.
And I’m not the only one who has swallowed that lie. Everywhere we turn we are being told that “the harder we try, the luckier we get”, that we should reach for the stars and push ourselves just a little harder if we want to live a successful life. 

Did you notice how often I used the word “hard” in those last few sentences? Too many times, and that’s not a coincidence. The message we keep hearing is that life is hard, that marriage is hard, that  maintaining friendships is hard, that getting the body of our dreams is hard (and keeping it is even harder!), that fighting for our dreams is hard – in short, everything we have or want or should aspire to is hard.

I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, I’m learning that life is actually simple, and that we are being taught to make it complicated. Jeff Goins writes in his beautiful blog post The Most Transformative Year of My Life Had Nothing to Do with Success

“I started to listen to the teachings of Anthony de Mello. In his eight-hour program called “Awareness” (which he later turned into a book of the same name), de Mello argues that happiness is the natural state of human beings. Look at any child and you will see their default position is happiness; it is only we adults with our so-called wisdom who have to work for happiness.

Moreover, he said that anything you seek outside of yourself to bring you happiness is an illusion and will eventually result in unhappiness. With each word he shared, I nodded, even laughed sometimes. He talked of men and women aspiring to “make it” and how all they were really doing was “making asses of themselves.” 

I knew this to be true. I’d experienced it myself.” 

It’s such an interesting concept, isn’t it? The idea that we are born happy, but that “growing up” is making us unlearn that knowledge. People who meditate know that all wisdom and peace is already inside us. They teach us that we will never find happiness outside of ourselves, that all the external goals we chase – success, money, fame, adventure – will not give us lasting happiness if we don’t find it inside ourselves.

The last couple of years have taught me a lot about that. I was chasing goals for so long – job security, financial freedom, a fit body, becoming an author, moving to our dream place – and I was shocked to see that fulfilling these goals made me not happier, but more anxious. Because what if I would lose it again? What if I managed it wrong? What if I somehow screwed it up? What if it turned out to be less thrilling than I hoped it would be?

Working towards something is in many ways more enjoyable than reaching it. It’s definitely safer. Because you can blame your unhappiness or dissatisfaction on the fact that you haven’t fulfilled your dreams yet. Once you have, you will finally be happy forever! But when you do tick off all the items on your bucket list and you’re still not fulfilled, you start to panic. Because if achieving your life’s ambitions doesn’t make you happy, what will?

As I shared in my latest newsletter, I spent the last six months opting out of the race. I was physically and mentally exhausted, and I needed a break. Just like Jeff Goins I spent a lot of time by myself. I was outside in nature every day as I always am, but this time it was without my usual distraction of an audiobook. I simply took it all in, letting my thoughts wander freely, not chasing the next goal or the next milestone.  

And something really amazing happened. My busy, buzzing mind started to quiet down. I wrote last September that I was coming home to myself, and that feeling of peace was more rewarding than external validation or ticking off the latest item on my list of dreams. I learnt that I didn’t have to achieve anything in order to be enough. I could just be. What a relief that was! 

And it still is. I made a list of goals again for this year because I love doing that, but I know now that my happiness doesn’t depend on reaching them. I’m happy now, the way I am, not in 6 months from now by making it to my next target. 

We find peace and happiness when we let go of the picture in our head of what we thought life should look like, and start appreciating it for what it is right now.

So no, life doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t have to continually push yourself. You can relax, do less, and be safe in the knowledge that your worth is not measured by numbers: not the number on the scale, or the amount of followers you have, or how much money you make. 

Laura Jane Williams writes:

I’m done. Over it. Finished. This idea that if you want something doing, ask a busy woman, or the notion that we’re human doings instead of human beings.”

Let’s all be more and do less!
We deserve it.

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