Many of my moments of clarity and epiphany come as a result of deliberate thought, challenge, or mental exercise. I practice thinking in my writing, in my conversations with others, in the work I do. But all of the most deliberate reflection in the world can’t capture everything, and once in a while a big “ah-ha” just kind of slaps you in the face.
That happened to me this weekend. I was talking with a dear friend of mine, and he made an observation about me that I had never considered, but immediately rang true. He told me that in all the time he’d known me (and we’ve known each other for 25 years), he had never known me to be satisfied. With anything.
Now, he didn’t mean in the sense that I was never happy, pleased, or proud. It’s not that I don’t think things are awesome or that I dislike everything in front of me. What he meant was that I never felt… done.
There’s always a new thing to do. Always more to accomplish, to improve. Always another goal, another adventure, another project. He was right.
In order to have a bit of vulnerability here in this space, I will share why.
I’m not greedy. I live very simply, in fact, from a material perspective. I’m not overly status-hungry, either. I don’t want my life to have “more” of anything in it, except maybe freedom and family. I have a simple house, but I would be fine in it forever… except I do already have a ten-year plan for improvements and changes to it. So the assessment wasn’t off.
But my point is that my lack of apparent satisfaction doesn’t come from a desire for more, or a sense of dissatisfaction with my current life.
It comes from fear. It comes from my fear that if I ever stop pushing, moving, planning, improving, striving and working – then I won’t have anything. I won’t be anything. I define myself by these things, by the effort I put into every day. When I take a (admittedly necessary) day to relax and recharge, I don’t feel human. My “days off” are still very often filled with projects, active hobbies, intentional family outings, etc.
My brain thinks of things I want to do faster than I can do them. I could force myself to take a day off from doing things, but I can’t force my brain to stop coming up with things to do.
There’s no end destination in mind. I have long since recognized that I will never be “complete” and have the big “To Do” list of my life completely checked off. I honestly fear the day that I simply can’t think of more to do, because I’m not sure how I would exist then.
In a conversation with a different friend recently, I was idly joking about what I would do if I won the lottery, and was saying that I probably would live a very similar life, except I wouldn’t work. He laughed, and said “of course you would.” He’s right. Maybe I would change a few things about how I worked, but money is a tiny factor in the motivation behind both my work ethic and what work I choose to do.
I am proud of my accomplishments, and I’m excited for the next ones. But I’m also afraid. Afraid of what it would mean to be more comfortable, to be less personally ambitious. Afraid of what lies in unused moments, so I use every one to the fullest I can. I can feel laziness and sloth lurking around every corner, ready to grab me like a tar pit, impossible to escape from. Even at my most weary, I fear rest more than I desire it.
On reflection, I can recognize this as a flaw, or at the very least a challenge – an obstacle in the way of a truly happy, healthy and fulfilled life. But I can’t intuitively map its effects onto my life. I can’t point to the exact spot where it’s doing damage, the thing that would be better if I changed. I can’t diagnose it.
Could I find a balance? Could I change this? Something so fundamental to me. So definitive. What would happen to me then? Should I strive to find these answers, work on this facet, build a different foundation for all I do?
Or is this the one time when I simply have to be satisfied with how things are?