Letting it happen vs. Making it happen
This is a tough nut to crack. Hustling to bring your goals to life is necessary if you want to succeed, but there’s also something to be said about the constant struggle and self-imposed pressure we experience while trying to “get there”. On the flipside, if you’re like me, you believe in divine order – the notion that everything in life has its time and place, occurring precisely when it’s meant to. Your story is “written” so to speak, and as long as you read the signs and make smart decisions along the way you will fulfill your life purpose. We all have big dreams, but when is it appropriate to push for things to happen and at what point do we sit back and allow our lives to unfold?
Some time ago, I wrote down what I envision my life looking like in the next year, five years, ten years, and beyond. As I contemplated the words in front of me, I felt my thoughts start to whirl and my right knee begin to bounce as it does when I get impatient. In that moment, my aspirations seemed out of reach and I felt restless as I took an inventory of my life.
I immediately started to scold myself. I began brainstorming all the additional things I “should” be doing to push myself closer to my goals, ignoring all the measures I was already taking to get there. I criticized myself for not writing as often as I’d set out to when I first started my blog. I judged myself for missing yoga all week. I pushed myself to take on more online Tarot readings. I kicked myself for not committing to a rental space for my Reiki practice. Dissatisfaction started running through my body like a current. I was overcome with a feeling I can only describe as inadequacy. Feeling unworthy of my dreams, I actually had to consciously ground myself. That’s when I realized I had a problem. If I’m my biggest critic, I should also be my biggest supporter. Where was the love?
The truth is I’m doing the work, but there are other factors at play: patience, timing, circumstance. My issue was a matter of perspective: the expectations I had of myself and on the final product caused me to dismiss my efforts. It’s important to have a clear vision of your goals, but at what point does this vision become a burden?
Picture a scale: one side is labelled expectations, and the other is labelled happiness. When you lower your expectations (add rocks to that side of the scale), your happiness increases. And when you’re unhappy (add rocks to that side of the scale), it’s usually because you had high expectations.
If we consider that meeting a goal results in happiness, we should pay attention to our expectations. The two are stubbornly connected. This trap is called “destination happiness” or “conditional happiness” where we tell ourselves “I’ll be happy when…” or “I’ll be fulfilled when….” The “when” in that thought process is what harms us.
Goals are essential; you can’t hit a target you can’t see. It’s like doing a puzzle without knowing the picture on the box. Expectation is the condition we place on our happiness while we work towards those goals. Since most things have a knack for not going as planned, it stands to reason that expectation can set us up for disappointment.
Success is rarely linear; some things are totally out of our control. So, going with the flow must have a place on our journey. “When life gives you lemons…” right? The best way I’ve ever heard this concept illustrated is: “you can’t beat a river into submission.” That river is life. You might think you know where you’re headed, but the current has a mind of its own.
The other problem with having expectations is the self-imposed pressure we experience while trying to meet them, even when things change. We become attached to a certain outcome and inflexible as a result. This is where those external factors come into play: patience, timing, circumstance.
I’ve had one of those years I’ll remember for the rest of my life – I’ve been challenged emotionally, mentally and spiritually by everything from family deaths to mental health. So really, I’m doing the best I can with the hand I’ve been dealt. I’m making lemonade from proverbial lemons. And by the way, so are you – no one wakes up in the morning to do a shitty job.
I’m not advocating that anyone should make excuses or adopt a victim mentality because we ALL go through our share of turbulence. I’m suggesting that big dreams must come with great discipline – and not just the kind that keeps you hustling. I mean the kind that keeps you compassionate towards yourself, grounded in reality and away from being perpetually displeased with your current state. In short: practice forgiveness while keeping your eye on the prize.
Focusing on what you have yet to accomplish is a double-edged sword. It keeps you focused and motivated, but it can also take you out of the present. Your commitment is your lifeline. Remember the puzzle analogy? Every piece brings you a little bit closer to the final picture. We don’t necessarily know how long it will take us, but commitment brings us to completion, piece by piece.
Serendipity has always had place in my life. So, of course, I was recently speaking to a colleague about this very struggle and she shared a perfectly relevant quote:
“E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.” (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott)
Commitment is everything. If you’re clear about your goals, you don’t need to be crystal about every step of the way. You simply need to know where you want to be in the end.
This brings me to the 3 rules for remaining level-headed on your journey:
Pause and reflect. There was probably a time in your past when you wished for the things you now have. Be grateful for that progress, and with that in mind, recognize that more progress will follow. In your future, you will look back once again with the same appreciation.
Remind yourself. What are you doing today to bring you closer to where you want to be? List these and realize you are already setting yourself up for success simply by working towards your goals each and every day.
If you find you’re really pushing hard to make things happen and you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, there’s probably a higher power at play. It will happen when it’s meant to. Do not attempt to beat that river.
The magic formula: As long as you’re doing something every day to bring you closer to your end goal, then you’re already succeeding. Every little bit you do will be cumulative, and you’ll get there when the time is right.