Balancing Striving for the Future with Being in the Present

Jan 09, 2023
Balancing Striving for the Future with Being in the Present

I took some time off last month to do some traveling with my dear friend Natalie. 


Living by Different Rules

Natalie lives a different lifestyle than most people I know. When we met 16 years ago, she was doing the house in the suburbs, corporate 9-5 thing. Now she spends half the year in Alaska as a chef and deckhand on a private charter boat and the other half of the year traveling.

She bravely embarked on this epic experiment 10 years ago, before I even knew what life design was. While most of our mutual friends thought she was crazy to leave the security of her salary and 401k to pursue adventure, I thought she was courageous...and I envied her. She was willing to take some risks and carve her own path, and 10 years later, she has no regrets.

While I don't see foresee moving to Alaska in my future, she inspired me to question the rules about how to live life.


Living Simply

A few years back, Natalie spent the winter in the Philippines, volunteering to do whale shark research. The budget was about $10 a day...for ALL of the volunteers to share. They lived simply, much like the destitute locals, going to the market daily to get food for dinner and forgoing many of the basic comforts that most of us take for granted (like indoor plumbing and hot showers).

I won't lie. I was horrified when she described her living conditions. 

Yet, what she said stuck with me all this time. "My days are full. I'm not bored, but there is absolutely no stress. I'm happy."

How could that be?


The Fisherman and the CEO

As we sat at a beautiful beach bar in Santa Teresa a few weeks ago, reminiscing about her time in the Philippines and philosophizing about life as I'm wont to do, I was reminded of a story I came across a while back. It goes something like this:

A rich American businessman, the CEO of a successful company, takes a vacation to a beautiful island. He goes fishing one day with a local fisherman. As they sit in the small primitive boat casting their lines, the American says, "You know, if you went out a few extra hours every day, you'd catch more fish, and you could sell the extras at the market."

"Why would I want to do that?" the fisherman asked.

"So you could make more money and get a second boat," says the CEO.

"I don't need a second boat," the fisherman replied. "What would I even do with it?"

"But if you had a second boat, you could grow your operation. You could hire someone to work for you, and you'd catch twice as many fish. You could sell more fish in more markets and make more money. Then you could expand even more, maybe even selling your fish in the U.S. Then you'd really make a lot of money," the CEO explained. "That's what I would do."

"Once you've got a huge business and are making all of that money, what would you do?" asked the fisherman.

"I'd spend my time fishing," the CEO said, the irony lost on him.


Striving v. Being 

As someone who is ambitious, I regularly think about what's next. How do we grow Peak Mind to reach a bigger audience? How do we help more people? Should I write a book? It seems like there's always a striving toward more, different, better, bigger. There's a pursuit, driven by a longing, an inherent dissatisfaction with the present. Yet there is also an energy and a sense of purpose that can accompany striving for - and reaching - goals.

At the same time, I also spend a TON of time thinking about, researching, and trying to figure out this happiness thing. Being present and accepting things as they are, being grateful, and letting go of unnecessary struggle or yearning seem to be key. 

Equally important yet seemingly incompatible, I find myself questioning the balance between striving and being. Who has it right? The CEO or the fisherman? 



Is Striving Worth the Stress?

Life is inherently stressful, and I don't believe that stress is all bad. But, chronic, poorly managed stress is taking a toll on all of us. The leading causes of ill health are tied to stress. It strains our relationships and drains our wellbeing. And a lot of it is self-imposed and absolutely unnecessary. 

We put pressure on ourselves to meet unreasonably high standards. We over schedule and over commit out of perceived obligations to ourselves, to others, and to our futures. We buy into consumerism and the promise that our happiness can be bought.

But it's a lie.

The equation for happiness isn't having what you want. It's wanting what you have.

I don't know that I have the answer yet for balancing striving and being. Maybe it's a both/and rather than an either/or. Maybe it's just about being intentional and making sure that our values, not societal pressures or prescriptions, are dictating our decisions. Maybe it's just important that we pause and examine what we're doing and why we're doing it. Are we pummeling down a path that has been laid out for us without question? Are we pursuing the things that truly matter to us? What sacrifices are we making in the name of striving? Do we really need to make those sacrifices? Are we caught up in keeping up with the Joneses? Are our pursuits causing us more stress than is necessary? How might we simplify things in our life? And what might happen if we actually did?


"The greatest wealth is to live content with little."
 - Plato


Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder

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