What I’ve been missing in the pursuit toward realizing happiness and fulfillment is hard work. Not necessarily the hard work that comes from hours logged; on the roads or trails, on the computer, in the office, but the hard work that comes from an obsession, driven by a deep passion for what it is I’m striving toward. The hard work that comes when you have one primary focus, one goal.
By some standards I’ve “accomplished” sizable goals. I’ve achieved success in work, physical and personal pursuits. The last two decades have seen Ironman finish lines, Silicon Valley start-ups, 100-mile mountain bike courses, owning and running e-commerce and online publishing businesses, good relationships, European travel, even a couple homes and cars. And yet, the physical pursuits, the start-ups, the personal businesses, the relationships and acquisitions, were all completed with a bucket list of success mentality. None have I achieved at a level of Mastery. As Rich Roll has recently written and lectured on, I’ve hacked my way through these goals. Hard work, well yes. You can’t accomplish many of those goals without it.
Hard work that I can look back on and say I put absolutely everything I had in it? No. I reflect on each knowing I could have done better.
I’ve been hacking my way through accomplishments, through life in general, to avoid the real hard work. The work that is knowing myself — accepting myself, then pursuing the dreams that have been floating in my head since a child. Not the dream of being the next Walter Payton, but the dream of writing and using my imagination to entertain. My life hacks, my accomplishments, have been distractions — albeit distractions that have taught me valuable lessons and perhaps a path of necessity — but distractions none-the-less.
What I’ve been avoiding is the hard work that entails sacrifice. Sacrifice of lifestyle, when necessary, in exchange for a fulfilling life. My hacking, defined as a shortcut to competency, has primarily been executed in an effort to achieve a lifestyle. The lie I told myself being that the fulfilling life will come when I’ve purchased that lifestyle, when I’ve earned the time to pursue what I want — without worry of suffering. The irony being I’ve created a fair amount of unnecessary stress and suffering because my heart, the angel on the left shoulder, has been in a constant battle with my mind, the devil on the right shoulder. My body perhaps being the mediator I’ve used to quiet the arguments between the two.
In writing these words, I’ve come to the realization that in my pursuits of accomplishment I’ve reached neither success defined by social influence, nor success as I would personally define it. Failing at both leads me to the following conclusions:
I don’t have the skills or drive in me to reach success, or
I haven’t been pursuing the goals that lead to lasting personal fulfillment.
While I certainly grapple with the reality of the first conclusion, I need to have the faith and curiosity that the second holds more weight. One requires settling in and being content with my place in the cog, and the other requests that I keep moving forward, stripping away the veneer and shellack I’ve spent decades applying.
Can I sacrifice and suffer for a more fulfilling life? I don’t mean a forced or pointless suffering in the struggling artist sense, but rather sacrifice in the choices made daily between a fulfilling life and a content lifestyle. The choices that differentiate long term commitment and immediate gratification.
I’m going to find out — because the pointless suffering has been the blindfolded hamster wheel chase of success I’ve been on that’s left me broken and tired. Vitality and beauty may be attainable simply by stepping aside onto unfamiliar ground, and with an unobstructed view reinvest in a life guided by the whispers of my heart.