I see a lot of people talking about pushing themselves to reach their ultimate potential, and the lengths to which they will go in order to reach their goals. To this end, it seems that there is a message that working with a dogged intensity that leaves you running constantly is the only way to get where you want to be. It’s admirable to push yourself beyond the bounds of your current situation. It’s brave to move out of your comfort zone, and it’s exciting to make real steps toward making your dreams come true. Ambitious dreams make it necessary for us to sacrifice and work long hours. You know the saying: blood, sweat, and tears.
The ambitious professional in me loves this spirit- the sense that sleep is for those who aren’t ready for the challenge. Maybe, in our dog-eat-dog world, that’s accurate. However, there’s another part of me, the therapist in me, who is worried about a world where #teamnosleep is a badge of honor. It feels disrespectful of our hummanness, our natural need for down time and rest. I worry that we run the risk of killing ourselves and calling it living. I think a lot about striking the balance between ambition and self sacrifice. There are goals I have that I haven’t achieved yet and am working toward. But honestly, I struggle with figuring out how much to push myself. I am a hard worker. I don’t mind going above and beyond. I don’t mind some late nights or long hours. But I don’t want to slave myself away for the sake of achieving a goal. I don’t desire to beat myself into submission in service of calling myself a hustler. I have not yet figured this out. I don’t know if I will. But, I do have some ideas about how I can continue to answer this question.
I think it’s important to ask ourselves the purpose of our striving. Why am I working so hard for this goal? There are lots of valid reasons- a sense of call or passion, a desire to give back to the community, a feeling that there is no other option, financial stability, the list goes on. Whatever the answer to that question is, it needs to make sense for you based on your values. Hustle without passion is empty and exhausting. I do what I do because I feel called to do it. It is a part of what brings meaning to my life and it is worth losing some sleep over.
Next, consider the cost of your sacrifice. Is it worth it? There are only 24 hours in a day. Every day. You can’t make time appear out of no where, and inevitably dedicating more time to one venture means dedicating less time to another. There is a cost associated with your striving, and it’s important to consider whether you feel the cost matches the reward. For me, there are certain things that are not negotiable: my marriage, my mental health, my faith, to name a few. I want to be successful, but those things will not be casualties- I’m unwilling to make those sacrifices. So, that means that some days instead of staying up to read or write or whatever the next task is, I let it sit. Perhaps this means my business doesn’t take off as quickly as I would like- I’m ok with that consequence. For each of us, that reasoning is different.
Finally, ask yourself: what happens if I fail? What happens if I succeed? We can work really hard for something, and it simply doesn’t work out. And, we can work really hard for something and it completely takes off. If you succeed, will you be ready for the fruits of your labor? If it fails, will you feel that your time was well spent? I know it may seem like the “wrong attitude” to consider a possible failure, but failure is a reality in life. Too often we try to make failure a taboo, but failure can also help us to learn a lot. If you can look back on a failure and feel that the time and energy you spent was still worth it, it was absolutely the right thing to do!
It’s a hard balance to find. Success (however you define it) is intoxicating. We all want to say we have made something of our lives. But, my hope is that we can have much flexibility in defining what that success looks like. What good is reaching a goal if you are too exhausted to enjoy it? I don’t know what the right answer is for you. Only you can answer that. I will say that understanding how much is too much is dependent upon you knowing and listening to yourself. Our bodies and spirits often tell us when we are pushing too hard. It’s important to drown out the din of a demanding world in order to hear it. One of my favorite quotes is one from Maya Angelou:
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
I love this definition because it is both individualized and comprehensive. I think about it often, and try to make decisions about how hard to push myself based on this. Narrow definitions of success can often lead to self-criticism and disappointment. So, whatever your definition of success, don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.