Every so often a question comes up that sits with me long after it has been asked. The current example of this is a prompt from a recent journaling session:
What would be possible if there were no need for striving?
After staring at this question for a while, I started to break it down into some sub-questions:
- What do we mean by striving and what are we striving for?
- What effect does striving have on our lives?
- If we take striving away, what is possible?
I looked up the definition of strive. Cambridge Dictionaries says it is “to try very hard to do something or make something happen, especially for a long time or against difficulties.” It struck me that there is no ending here. No sense that we will reach out one day and touch the thing that we’ve been striving for.
When I think about what it is that I’m striving for, the first thing that pops into my mind is the Radiohead song Fitter Happier. If you don’t know it, try reading the opening lyrics below in your best robotic voice:
Fitter, happier, more productive
Comfortable (not drinking too much)
Regular exercise at the gym (3 days a week)
Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries
Eating well (no more microwave dinners and saturated fats)
To return to the idea that striving is an endless task, I wonder if that’s because what we’re striving for is often a state of being. Fitter. Happier. More productive. With these things there is always a sense that we could do more or be better. And thus, there is no finish line. When we arrive at our destination we may find that what we want is different from when we set out. Our idea of what we’ve been striving for has changed and the journey continues.
When we’re always striving to do more or be better I feel that we become hamsters on a wheel; stuck in an endless loop until we burn out. While we’re on the wheel our attention is only on the pursuit. On keeping going. And maybe that causes us to lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing and our sense of ourselves as people, of who we are.
So what if we took away this endless pursuit? What could we do instead? Here are some ideas:
- notice what we’re doing and ask why
- reconnect with ourselves and what we want
- focus on the process and ask what we could do differently
On that note, I want to finish with a poem by Elan Morgan that I have written at the front of my journal:
A good place to be
is free without goal, aimless.
The heart can exhale.