Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1
If there’s one character trait I am all too familiar with, it is definitely that of the “Striver.” Someone who regularly gets caught up in the relentless pursuit of perfection, which I’ve found is a vaguely defined term that doesn’t really exist (or rather exists solely on individually-defined terms). Even when I’m working hard and achieving things and should pause to be proud of myself, the “Striver” in me makes up new goals to hit, tacks on some extra ladder rungs to climb.
It’s hard to draw a firm line of distinction between this achievement rat-race and genuine, authentic ambition. I think the key differentiator is found in the motivation underlying the striving – am I coming from a place of self-love & confidence in my abilities or from a place of punishment & fear of contentment? When I’m operating from the former switchboard, I find that there are no stakes involved – I try something new, go out on a limb, push myself and get out of my comfort zone, and the worst that could happen is that I make a lesson-filled mistake. But when I’m grinding my gears as a mode of control & gripping tightly to a very precise outcome, there is no room for adjustment or coming up for air.
The concept of “letting myself off the hook” has always been really difficult, because if I am not going to hold myself to the highest standard, then who will? How will I propel myself further if I don’t keep doing, if I don’t keep pushing this machine forward, ever onwards? Well, first: I’m not a machine (making a mental note to repeat this to myself multiple times throughout the day). Second: the notion that we need to actively keep doing specific things in order for the world to keep spinning is a fallacy. I am enough just as I am right at this moment – as long as I keep listening to my intuition, trusting what fills me up and acknowledging what drains me, and continually take the next intended action, the future we dream of will open up without us having to find a special key. Finding contentment does not mean that you will no longer grow.
With that realization comes a huge wave of relief – when you release, you open yourself up to receive. The trick is that my regimented brain usually can’t compute release unless I actively, intentionally give it permission to do so.
I think permission piggybacks off of trust – all of the things on my “should/would/could” list melt away when I trust myself and my own track record. In the history of my life, I have always been ambitious, strong-willed, hard-working, and resilient. All of these things are going to hold constant, even if I stop gripping tightly to what my brain (and/or society..) says I should be doing. If I say no to things, if I take time off from the gym, if my work/life balance leans more heavily towards life – I am still Madeline, and the world is not going to implode.
Around the holidays trust and permission become even more imperative. Just as all of life ebbs and flows, the holidays tend to be a time of the year filled with more indulgence, more inclination to slow down, to relax, to wrap up in a blanket and stay inside. And that’s okay! Giving yourself permission to wind down a bit more, to nourish the part of your soul that craves winter and the pause that it brings, doesn’t mean that you are going to de-rail your life or go off the laziness deep-end. Perhaps more importantly, it also doesn’t mean that in a few months from now, you are going to have to force yourself to swing wildly in the opposite direction. Trust that your mindset, your body, and your energy are on your side and incredibly intuitive.
Terry Pratchett has said, “There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.” This month, and the rest of the year, I am going to try to keep this front of mind. There’s no hierarchy of good and bad things and reactions. There is just what unfolds in my life and then the way I choose to conceptualize and act on them. As long as I’m giving myself permission to trust myself, every decision I make is leading me in a positive, forward direction – even while I enjoy a piece (or two) of pumpkin pie and decide that I actually want to spend the day making no decisions at all.