Is It Better to Work Hard or Take A Step Back

chinese bikerWhen in your golden years and reflecting back on that which has been your life thus far, what would you like to say to yourself? “Gosh, I wish I would have just chilled out more and taken time to rest, relax, and spend time with the people I love.” Or “Oh man, I sure wish I would have just gotten over my fears, hesitations, excuses, and lack of belief in myself and just gone for the goals and dreams I really wanted to work toward and accomplish.” This is a tough one because neither is wrong, but it is pretty important to think about it now and decide which is, and likely will be, more important to you in the long run.

You might say each statement seems to contradict the other. One says I should relax more the other says I should work harder. Which one is it??? And the truth is, it depends (oh the famous words of the ever objective therapist). But it does! It depends on where things are at for you right now. If you find yourself shying away from going after the things in your life that you really want because you’re scared of hard work or not being good enough, or failing, or whatever it may be, then it seems like now might be the time to work through that emotional or psychological block that is that is holding you back. If this is your case then now’s probably the time to get going on working toward what’s actually important to you (while, of course, also considering any financial or familial responsibilities you have).

If, however, you notice that you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off and feel continuously stressed, anxious, worn out, short fused, and too busy for anyone or anything, including yourself, then it sounds like it’s definitely time to slow down, take a breath and re-prioritize. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have goals and ambitions – in fact it’s great to have meaningful goals and ambitions: those who do often report feeling happier and more satisfied with life. That said, however, it’s not about pushing hard and stressing out to no end and for no good reason (AND working hard to get rich and buy lots of stuff is NOT a good reason. Trust me on this one).

We’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: it’s about balance. And to find your answer to our big question-of-the-day, it might be useful to seriously look at your life and decide what’s important now and think about having that be consistent with what you can honestly say will likely still be important to you in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.  The point is, don’t let fear stop you from working to pursue your goals, but also don’t let fear cause you to work so hard that you neglect the other really significant and meaningful things in life. It’s important to be responsible, thoughtful, and intentional with that which you chose to invest your life in because, as captain obvious would say: We only get to do this human thing once.

No One Is Going to Pay You to Do What You Love.

jumpI could have sworn that I’ve written about this before, but can’t, for the life of me, find where. So, I guess I must have talked about it so much I just assumed I’d actually put it out there in to cyber space for a larger audience to be aware of.

It’s true. No one is going to pay you to do what you love. Well, I guess it’s true… sort of. There are some people who really are lucky enough to love and be passionate about the work they are involved in, and actually do leap out of bed in the morning all too excited to FINALLY get to work after having been away from it all night whilst sleeping. They do exist. I’ve heard of them, and I actually am one of them myself. AND let me tell you, it’s rare.

No one is going to pay you to fulfill your passion – well, probably at least not in the way YOU want to fulfill it. I’ll explain:

Let’s say you love to take pictures. Being behind the lens is where you feel alive, connected, in your flow, or whatever the latest jargon is for loving what you do for work. So, you decide to turn your passion for photography into a job. You go to photography school and spend 20k or whatever astronomical price it is these days, and you come out raring to go and can’t wait to get started on getting paid to take pictures. But wait. It soon becomes clear that in order to put food on the table as a professional photographer you not only have to be a small business savvy-marketing -and-networking-guru, you also have to take whatever photo snapping job you can get, and usually people aren’t going to pay you to take the pictures you want to take, just the ones they want you to take. Humph.

I’m not saying you can’t still enjoy this as a vocation, but it might not be the passion fulfilling, key to your happiness, connection to your soul you thought it would be. And to be honest, as I said before: the vast majority of jobs will not be. SO, I say this not to discourage but rather prevent you from experiencing major disappointment and confusion when you hap upon this realization after being told that you need to find a job you are forever impassioned with or there’s really no point. Not to fear though, there is a way through this.

As a clinical counsellor who has done a lot of career counselling, I say that the much more realistic and actually quite satisfying and fulfilling alternative to all this is to find a job you like. Find a career path that works well enough and that you mostly enjoy: a job you feel relatively good about the majority of the time and that seems to be a pretty good fit. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s actually much more healthy and balanced than setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment with not being able to find that one thing that they tell you is out there and will make all your dreams come true. And then, pursue your passions in your free time. Keep your passions pure and unadulterated from pressure, expectation, and having to do the parts of it that are actually not at all enjoyable in order to keep a roof over your head. Enjoy your passion to its fullest exactly how you want to experience it.

If you are one of the rare and lucky ones who does get paid to fulfill your passion, great for you! If not, don’t worry about it. It’s really not nearly as common or realistic as theysay. And I really don’t know where this whole indoctrinated expectation that they came up with came from: tis simply not right.

The Best Kind of Courage.

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I’m not always sure if it was society, or parents, the media, or the kid down the street who told us we need to be someone we’re not in order to be good enough, worthwhile or have any value as human beings. Wherever it came from, it’s not nice. And how it has translated in to adult hood is by cultivating a breed of individuals who believe they need to be perfect, beyond reproach, always on the top of their game, who never show signs of having limits, emotions or boundaries and never have any problems of their own. Yikes! But you would be surprised by how many people actually believe this to be true. People who feel awful, horrible, or worthless if they, heaven forbid it, ever make a mistake, or worse yet, encounter any set backs or failures. People who, if they accidently show any sign of sadness or fear, feel it necessary to apologize profusely or give some big explanation as to why they showed any signs of being human. I just can’t figure this one out. Who told us we need to be perfect, the best, and have it all together all the time? And whoever it was, how come they have the authority to make us buy in to it all and believe these things without question? It’s a stumper.

So what I propose is instead of trying harder to be perfect, we work harder on being courageous. But I have to say, this type of courage can be really really hard to find and we might have to dig extra deep inside us and clear away a lot, I mean A LOT of muck to uncover this specific courage, but the good news is it’s already there in all of us. This particular type of courage is about finding and embracing the courage to be imperfect. The courage to say I am emotional, deep, feeling, apt to fail, prone to make mistakes, I sometimes accidently say things I don’t mean, I don’t always know how to make everyone happy, and I may not always feel like being the hardest worker in the office and picking up everyone else’s slack. And guess what??? THAT’S OKAY!

I’m not saying this as a Carte Blanche to become lazy, useless, caulis and uncaring – because goodness knows that’s not going to bring us any sense of joy, peace, and fulfillment either. But I am saying this so that we can learn to let ourselves be human, to be ourselves, to get over the lie that I need to be a super human in order to be worthy of love, life, and happiness. To allow ourselves to sometimes just say “Oops! Oh well. I am human and I am not perfect,” without then punishing ourselves with 7 years of harsh self-criticism and a truck load of emotional beratement.

The Ice Bucket Challenge: Maybe Not So Great After all

win win

So I’m not on Facebook (I think we’re actually a dying race) but when I heard through the grapevine about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge I was confused, and then awe struck. BRILLIANT I thought. I love clever marketing that gets mass buy-in literally overnight. I thought the whole thing was a great idea, and having been somewhat familiar with ALS after reading Tuesdays With Morrie several years ago and learning about how devastating and tragic this illness is, I was immediately in support. Until I read this article by MACLEANS Magazine. Although the tone of the article is a bit harsh and may I say a little negative and reactionary, I do think the author makes some good points and presents some thought provoking data.

What can I say though? Most of us like bandwagons and if there’s one to get on that seems fun and maybe even altruistic and meaningful, then what could be the harm? The author does make the point though that people are giving their limited and budgeted charity dollars to a charity that by comparison doesn’t need the money in the same way others do. I might argue, though, that many of the people donating through this kitschy challenge might not necessarily have charity giving on their annual budget radar, so having a fun excuse to be unabashedly silly and at the same time feel like one’s doing a good and selfless thing that one wouldn’t normally would seem to be a win win. Or not.

Well, regardless of your opinion on all of this, what is not up for argument is that giving in almost any capacity is good for us, and actually impacts our happiness and sense of well-being in a real and meaningful way, unlike the things we think lead to genuine and lasting happiness like owning a sports car, wearing designer clothes, having the latest IPhone, or living in a fancy house. We were created and are hard wired as social beings who thrive on genuine connection, relationships, generosity, and compassion toward others. So give. Be intentional about it, think about what you’re giving and why you’re giving and do it regularly, and not only will other lives be changed, yours will too. In my opinion THAT’S a win win.

The Power Of…

dumpDoes focusing on the positive make you a more positive person in general?

I’m going to go ahead and say yes. If any of this brain research that’s been all the rage over the past couple years regarding brain plasticity and how quite a good part of our brains are made up of that which we put in to them, then it stands to reason that if we put pessimism and negativity into the old noggin (i.e. by focusing on what we might think sucks about an interaction, a situation or, our lives), then that’s most likely what our minds will default to most of the time without even trying. Which, obviously will generally leave us feeling sad, mad, bad, angry, or frustrated. Oh no, I really hate to go here because it would drive me crazy when my mother would say: “Be wise about what you put into your mind because garbage in, garbage out.” Yikes. It’s true. She was right! I guess the good news is that now, as a mother myself, this means that moms are usually, if not always, right. At least we’ll say that. The bad news is that if she’s like me, it will take my daughter over 30 years to realize this. Oy.

I digress. So I’m not saying that we should go around pretending everything is lovely roses, rainbows, and sunshine all the time because goodness know, living in pink cloud of avoidance and denial isn’t generally recommended either (unless you’re hoping for an epic mid-life crisis, or major emotional breakdown… whichever comes first). But what if we made a conscious effort to complain and feel upset about some things if we feel it really necessary, and choose not to upset ourselves unnecessarily about other things? Sometimes, but not all the time, we can chose how we interpret, respond to, or think about a given situation or interaction, which means we can chose to focus on the things that are not so bad, and heaven forbid, maybe even think about the good! And if all this brain research actually does have a leg to stand on, then the more we work on seeing and focusing on the good, the less work it will eventually be for us to do so. It will just sort of start to happen more on its own, without really trying. That’s encouraging.