I was raised believing that there is an ‘end game’ or ‘goal’ in life. When I die, I am judged based on my actions. If I am deemed worthy to go to Heaven, I will spend eternity in bliss. If I am deemed unworthy, I spend eternity in agonizing pain in Hell.
This is counterproductive to the basis of human psyche because it conditioned me early on to strive for goals, to ‘grand finales’ everywhere in life. This mindset made it difficult to imagine the concept of continuous progress and improvement with no concept of a finish line.
When we start to learn a new skill, it can be difficult. Often times we give up learning after a short while (for example, learning to play the guitar as in the episode of The Simpsons in which the picture above is referencing) because we decide that it’s not worth it. We say things like, “I’ll never be as good as XYZ Legendary guitar player” or “It’ll take too long to get to the place I want to be”. We give up, we feel defeat, and then get depressed about it.
Do you see what I mean? What a fucking waste of time.
What I’ve come to realize is that a simple shift in how I thought about things changed the trajectory of my entire life and how I deal with it. For instance, if I want to be proud and think of myself as someone who practices T’ai chi ch’üan for example… If I want to realize the benefits of calm body and mind and a happy heart, I simply must simply think of myself as someone who does Tai-Chi *now*. The practice becomes more satisfying when I ditch the notion of reaching a goal.
“Life is a journey, not a destination” – Aerosmith
Always one hears these little nuggets of wisdom. I feel like it’s reached a much more mature level in my life these days. It’s a weird feeling, like growing up a second time. I guess that’s how life goes.
The first half of my life was a historical mess. If I didn’t force myself to change for the sake of the quality of my own life, I’d still be getting pissed off at red lights that don’t change. I’d still be growing increasingly depressed about the ‘shitty hand I was dealt’ in life looking up and yelling, “WH?!” like Superman when Lois Lane dies in the earthquake. I was constantly externalizing my grief and depression, as if it was being done to me. I wasn’t taking responsibility, I was cowering. Misery is comfortable. Not warm, but comfortable. Familiar. Pretty tragic, really.
I’m an empath to a fault. I’d still be the angry person I was taught to be because I would still be trying to conquer or avoid obstacles that appear in front of me, even mocking my progress and taunting me. “Those obstacles shouldn’t be there! What the hell is going on? I worked so fucking hard, and now THIS?!”. I would still be “the victim”.
It’s the obstacles that make us better.
In fact, what I used to think of my to-do list is another great example of a destructive mindset. It will never be “done”, because it keeps growing. I will check things off, but I will never have no tasks, I will never achieve the goal I thought I could reach by completing all of my to-dos. Life doesn’t work like that, progress doesn’t work like that. It’s silly to me now how frustrated I used to get at the thought of an ever-growing to-do list, like a mountain that I’m climbing that keeps getting bigger. “How will I ever get to the top if the fucking thing keeps growing?!”
I owe it to myself to understand that if I want to BE SOMETHING, I must acknowledge that I already am. The gradient, the range from start to finish, is never ending and ever-expanding (if I’m lucky!). I will never be the “best” at anything, I will never reach the gigantic, esoteric goals I set out for myself because 100% achieving any goal of this type is impossible. The entropy of human existence and the mind construct of time itself crushes any belief of mine that at some point in my life I can lay down at night, with a big fat smile on my face, and say to myself, “I did it!”. It doesn’t exist. In realizing this, I somehow started motivating myself much more than I ever have before to continually improve myself, make progress in my endeavors and feel true satisfaction at the end of each day.
My hope is to continue to remember this more consistently for the rest of my days. Some people never come to this realization and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to push myself outside of the comfortable boundaries of depression, anxiety and a victim mindset that so many people never seem to escape from. But the mind is a tricky thing; I am still learning how to tame it.