For years, I adopted a “do more” mentality. I had short-term and long-term goals, and I packed my days full of tasks and to-dos, knowing that I was pushing myself too hard, but not knowing any other way to live.
As someone who comes from a family with high standards, there was never any question about my ability to achieve. And so achieve I did. I earned a law degree, passed the California bar on the first try, and then, when that wasn’t fulfilling, pursued a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, became a therapist, and opened my own practice.
Earlier this year, I found myself overloaded and drained. I wondered why I was doing all the things, and whether all the things actually felt authentic to me. It was troubling to realize that it, in fact, didn’t feel fulfilling or authentic to me, and actually felt the opposite. I was trying so hard to achieve without honestly asking myself if what I was doing was for me.
But if it wasn’t for me, who was it for?
We all adopt beliefs from our families, friends, and society. And we may or may not be aware of just how much influence we’ve absorbed that’s directly impacting how we behave on a day-to-day basis. We don’t stop to question whether the beliefs we’re living in line with actually fit for our authentic selves.
So, I made it my mission this year to slow down and assess my motivation behind my commitment to the hamster wheel of busyness and achievement.
And what I found when I stripped away so many of the “things” and the “stuff” and the “doing” is that I got clearer on what actually makes me happy and what actually depletes me. I realized that I was actually a lot more content without all of the busyness, and when I was busy, it was because I was choosing to take on the things that I actually felt connected to.
Slowing down forced me to redefine my own ambition. To consider whether how I’d been defining ambition and productivity actually aligned with this current version of myself. And I realized that much of what I had been doing in the past couple of years wasn’t authentic at all for me. My behaviors were being heavily influenced by all or nothing thinking, a false sense of urgency, a raw impatience, and a do-more, be-productive mentality that had been ingrained in me since childhood.
Stripping away the busyness has felt very uncomfortable at times. I’ve wondered if I had any goals, and if I do, what they are. I’ve wondered if I’ve lost my ambition. I’ve wondered where my career was going and whether being a therapist alone will be fulfilling for me.
I’ve wondered about how writing fits into my goals and dreams anymore. I’ve felt tired, confused, curious, lost, and also…content, at peace, and overwhelmed by a quiet reassurance that it’s okay not to be actively working towards something just for productivity’s sake.
Sometimes ambition is waiting in the pause; it’s dwelling in the confusion and the seeking and the wondering and the allowing. I don’t think I’m not an ambitious person anymore, or that I don’t have goals to progress my career.
But I do feel that how I am and will define ambition and productivity is evolving. I’m in a state of in-between right now, and despite the discomfort that often accompanies the unknown, I feel like I can breathe a lot more easily. I feel that I am allowing space for my authentic self to rise. I feel reassured that answers will come as I continue to allow myself the space to actually hear what I want and need instead of being clouded by to-do lists and busyness.
Slowing down is often hardest for the doers. It can feel nearly impossible. But often times, through the discomfort of doing the opposite of our “shoulds,” we end up finding that peace in the stillness, in the freedom of authentic living, is much more gratifying than productivity-without-purpose ever was.