I was recently talking to a friend of mine who expressed her fear that she wasn’t “doing enough.” As a twenty-something also navigating the pressures of career changes, familial expectations, and uncertainty over the future and my role in this big wide world, I knew the exact feeling she was talking about. Deep rooted anxiety over not accomplishing “enough,” having “enough,” and being “enough,” have plagued me since I was a child. As soon as I felt like I was finally on the right level, I’d let something (or someone) diminish my accomplishments. After years of this, I realized that no matter what I did,I would always feel this way if I judged success solely by actions.
Living in the “grind” generation, most of us define our worth in terms of work. She’s successful because she runs her own company; he isn’t successful because he’s a waiter. He’s worthy because he’s an engineer; she isn’t worthy because she’s a sales associate. This hierarchy or worth doesn’t lead us upwards to happiness or satisfaction. More often than not, it takes us down a never-ending ladder of hopelessness, exacerbated by our constant judging of everyone else’s placement on the ladder in relation to our own.
As I talked my friend off the ladder with reassurance that she was already enough, I remembered being in her position not so long ago–and if I’m being honest with myself, I have a tendency to teeter on that ladder whenever my ego feels belittled, especially when I see someone else doing “better” than me. “I should be doing that,” I tell myself, turning off my intuition and turning on that stubborn little voice of fear and comparison. Eventually, a hike in the woods taught me how to silence those voices.
Taking in the beauty of the trees–the moss that covered the trunks, the splintered bark blanketing the body, the sunlight glistening through the cracks of the limbs–I felt the contentment and simplicity of that tree. It wasn’t doing anything–it was just existing. And that existence looked so peaceful, so euphoric. As I continued my way up the mountain, I allowed myself to exist the same way that tree did, not thinking about my steps but just experiencing the journey. At the top, my spirit basked in the warmth of the sun and sang with the songs of the birds. It was one of the most profound feelings I had experienced, and the first time I realized that feeling is just as important as doing.
It wasn’t the physical act of climbing the mountain that I remembered–I didn’t say, “Wow, those were some great steps I took!” It was the feeling behind those steps that stuck out. That isn’t to say that the physicality of the journey wasn’t important, because it was–but would I say it was more important than the sensation of the hike? Absolutely not. And the same goes for our everyday life–what’s the point of doing something if we’re not feeling anything? As Kerouac once said, “In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Go climb that goddamn mountain.”
It breaks my heart that my friend doesn’t think she’s enough–that she needs to do more in order to be valued, to be successful. But success isn’t just about what we’ve accomplished; life isn’t a to-do list. If the spiritual experience behind the action isn’t bringing awareness or love–do we need to do it? And how can we shift our focus from the physical results of action to the emotional ones?