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The Equilibrium Myth
Striving for things we'll never achieve.
Thanks for choosing to spend some time reading Prompted today. This week we’re jumping into the balance between our desire to relax and enjoy ourselves with our human nature to improve and contribute. I’ll keep the preamble quick so we can jump in.
As always, thanks for reading!
The Equilibrium Myth
We humans are inveterate enhancers, striving to increase our intelligence and to improve our memory and powers of perception.
Sometimes effort catches up to us. We’re giving so much time and energy to worthwhile pursuits that we stop and wonder if it’s really worth it. We’re putting ourselves through so much stress and anxiety, but the outcomes seem marginal.
Wouldn’t life be better if everything were easier and stress-free? Wouldn’t it be easier if we didn’t have to work? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to wake up early or sacrifice leisure time to exercise or cook? Wouldn’t it be easier if we never had to say no to leisure activities or time with friends?
We’re only working to have enough money to retire and do nothing one day, so why not cut to the chase? Instead of worrying about everything all the time, why not remove the things in our life that require so much effort and replace them with things we enjoy?
Rather than worrying about promotions, self-improvement, and everything else that creates expectations and stress, why not create a simple life that lets us do whatever we please?
Because a life without effort, challenge, or, most importantly, progress is innately unfulfilling. Clocking in, clocking out, and watching TV is deeply unsatisfying. Focusing on leisure and avoiding effort leaves of feeling lost and untethered.
Whether we like it or not, our nature is to search for purpose and impact in our lives. In fact, it’s probably encoded in our DNA after years of living in small tribes. If we weren’t contributing meaningfully, we were the first to be left behind, so we’re wired to search for a way to make an impact.
This, combined with societal and social norms of progress and advancement, make us improvement machines. Whether we like it or not, improvement is rewarded, and it makes us feel accomplished and worthwhile.
It’s so ingrained in us that we even strive for quantifiable improvement and impact in our leisure time. If it’s surfing, knitting, golfing, chess, sewing, watching tv, or playing a board game, we want the best, and we want to improve.
The same way we crave social connection, we have an unending drive to improve.
When we begin to feel a sense of stagnation in our lives, we become depressed, anxious, and restless. When we stop learning and growing at work, we begin looking for a new job. When we reach the peak of our performance in a hobby or sport, we start to look for something new. When we reach the summit of any mountain, we’re much happier finding a new mountain to climb than sitting on the same mountaintop for the rest of our lives.
But, we should still take a moment to enjoy the view.
The biggest myth in our lives is that one day we’ll reach some kind of equilibrium. Some of us try to get there through ruthless progression hiking up one mountain after the next and never stopping to savor the summit, and some of us try to create a false summit and enjoy the same view forever.
We fantasize about an effortless and stress-free life without recognizing that challenges and progress are what make us truly fulfilled. There is no destination in our lives.
Instead, we should strive to create a sustainable balance of striving for progress, pausing to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and moving on the embrace the next challenge.
If you didn’t have any responsibilities or obligations, what would you do with your time?
Do you spend too much time at the summit of mountains or not enough?
What does a sustainable balance of progress and enjoyment look like for you?
A short blog post about how to spend the free time we have to be happy and help others.
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Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.