When does trying become pointless striving?
And when does giving up simply become accepting reality?
I often wonder where that blurry line between determination and stubbornness gets clearer. It seems that most of us spend our teenage years not thinking all that much about where our lives are heading, then we spend our twenties knowing where we want it to go but naively believe that somehow we will get there, then we spend our thirties trying to figure out where we went wrong and what to do now. But in the midst of this over-generalized timeline, some people seem to strive endlessly toward their dreams while others seem to passively wait for them to come true.
Life is made up of a series of choices that affect every area of our existence—our careers and ambitions, our relationships, our dreams, and even our own sense of happiness. Most of us choose our side of the fence when it comes to how we make these choices and how we do life in general; we either push-push-push or simply lay down our will to fight for what we long for. Life seems to be a medium for exposing what stuff we are truly made of, and what we pursue or don’t pursue is part of that mysterious puzzle that reveals who we are. The question comes down to whether or not we admire the tenacity life requires of us if we are going to become the kind of people we want to be, or live the kind of lives we long to live.
Let’s take a quick poll. How many of you admire those contestants who audition for American Idol who clearly need to go have their ears checked at the nearest clinic? We mostly laugh at them, some of us feel sorry for them, but do any of us admire them? Should we? I mean let’s be honest, there has to be a difference between courage and stupidity. But that difference is not really easy to distinguish in the nuances of our every day lives. If our decisions sounded like songs maybe then we could hear the dissonance and general “off-ness” of the noise emanating from them. Even still, we may be more like those tone-deaf American idol wannabes who are so self-consumed with their fantasies about how life should be in their perfect worlds that they can’t even hear their own noise pollution. This is the dilemma … the choices we make and the endeavors we pursue should be creating resonance, not dissonance. They should be creating music that we can actually listen to without grimacing.
But doesn’t every great life come with a price where enduring and persevering and risking are just part of the territory? Just because some people in the world call us failures does that mean we are just supposed to roll over and give up? How do we know when we are off track? When do we accept what our destiny is even if we don’t necessarily like it all that much? I know that question seems to grate on our idealistic senses but it is a fair one to ask. Are we doing any favors to our American Idol friends who are clearly pursuing the wrong path with their lives by patting them on the back just for being brave enough to try? Are we doing any favors to ourselves?
It became clear to me when I was recently talking with a friend who was agonizing over what to do about a two-year relationship she was in that was laced with conflict and overall pain. She voiced the elevated mantra that so many of us live by as she was debating on what to do next. She said, “I just think that this is worth fighting for, and that if we really love each other it will all work out in the end.” It kind of sounds like those Idol wannabes who think their singing careers are warpaths to be fought rather than elegance to be revealed. It sounds so noble; how can you argue with that kind of fierce desire and commitment?
Well never fear, I found a way. I looked at her with total clarity in my eyes and said, “There comes a point in life when what we are pursuing stops becoming an investment of our time and instead becomes a waste of our time. And it is our responsibility to figure out where that point is and do what needs to be done to change courses.” She looked at me kind of like someone who just saw a possum in the middle of the road with it’s big pink eyes staring in their headlights. You may not know what look I’m talking about, but it’s not a good one.
She instinctively threw those uncomfortable words back my way because what I said flies in the face of the “never give up on your dreams” attitude we uplift nowadays, and that, my friends, is a cultural no-no. I don’t think my advice helped my friend too much, but it certainly helped me. I finally had some semblance of language to help articulate this incredibly tough dynamic of moving through life with an air of intentionality mixed with self-awareness and grace. Dreams, love, hopes and fears. What do we do with all of these weighty realities and how do we make our time count? There are endless answers to that question that lead to more questions, but I do know one thing for sure. Stop fighting for them when all you’re doing is fighting. And start fighting for them when all you’re doing is waiting for the life you long for to magically land in your lap.
Somewhere in between striving and accepting there lies this beautiful dance where we sometimes lead the steps, and at other times follow where the music is taking us. No one is going to tell us all the right steps, but the world will stand up and take notice when we are making magic with them.
Paying attention to the music we create with our lives is the first step to figuring out where we need to go from here.