Throughout your life, you’ve probably picked up on bits and pieces of contradictory advice on how to live a better life, because let’s be honest, all of our lives are messed up in various ways because we’re all inconsistent and imperfect, and sometimes life throws things at us that we can’t handle, even to the best of our abilities. So it’s no wonder why we’re constantly seeking more, trying more things to better ourselves, and changing our environment so that we have more control over things external to us.
However, we often go to unhealthy extremes when we’re making the effort to change our lives for the better. We either excuse ourselves too much when we procrastinate and escape from our lives, under the guise of “self-care” and “slowing down” or we work ourselves until we’re so burnt out and exhausted that we can’t have good relationships with others or take care of our health. We lie to ourselves and say that we can do more than what we’re physically and mentally capable of, but in the end, all that rushing leads to a dead end full of emptiness and purposelessness.
Why do we want to live a good life? What exactly does a good life mean? Is there a specific vision for the future that we are obliged to work for? Is it even possible do everything we want without worrying about how it’s going to be received by others? Do we even need to aim for something more, even when we’re already exhausted from our current lifestyle?
What we all need is balance. We need to balance our goals. We need to balance our expectations and keep a healthy perspective that’s evened out by both skepticism and idealism. We need to have a solid purpose for what we’re going to do, but we also need to give ourselves room to evolve because we rarely ever turn out the way we thought we would, and old dreams and plans will fall by the wayside while newer and more purposeful ones take their place.
We often hear contradictory pieces of advice when it comes to improving our own lives:
1. You should accept yourself the way you are, but you should also never settle for less than what you are capable of.
If you’re starting out in the pursuit of a new way of living, particularly after a life-changing event that shakes you awake from complacency (death in the family, broken relationship, job loss, failure in education, unexpected emergencies), you’ve probably alternated between periods of hyper-productivity in which you pump out work like there’s no tomorrow and periods of lethargy in which you get absolutely nothing done because you’re so sluggish and full of negative emotions that seem to control you and render you helpless. That’s because a new life takes time to establish and you can’t expect yourself to change overnight, right after a traumatic life event.
Self-acceptance is necessary because you can’t build a foundation on self-loathing and inadequacy — that will only intensify the tension within you and make you believe that you’re unworthy of anything good in life unless you chase after external validations to prove yourself. It’ll cause you to procrastinate and be so held up by performance anxiety that you never start working on your goals. However, you also need to realize that you can’t just accept your deficiencies and do absolutely nothing about them — to move forward in life, you need to confront the bad coping mechanisms that are holding you back from creating a life you love and do so with a sense of urgency. It’s always better to start today than to wait “until you’re ready” because you’ll never be ready if you keep postponing your plans to better yourself for a day that might never come.
2. You shouldn’t pursue endeavors just for the sake of success because that’s a selfish and ego-driven motivator, but you should set goals to improve yourself so you can get the life you want.
Whenever people are driven to do something they want to do, others around them say that they shouldn’t do it for the money. Although this can apply to all fields, here’s an example that pertains to writing:
If you say that you want to make writing your job, people are quick to judge you for being greedy, money-minded, and naïve because the reality is, so many writers never get to see a dime from their writing throughout their lives. People will also judge you for doing it for the wrong reasons and think you’re just doing it for the money, the followers, the “luxurious life” of the wealthiest writers, and for getting back at people who thought you would never amount to anything.
However, if you say that you love writing and claim that you’re only doing it as a passion and don’t expect anything external rewards from it at all as a way to show how you’re above it all (thus, subconsciously putting yourself into “starving artist” mode), you’re not going to push yourself to treat it the way a professional does — you’ll end up doing it sporadically or whenever you “feel like it” or most commonly, “when inspiration strikes.” So as a writer, especially when you’re starting out, you experience great internal conflict and war against yourself and question everything you’ve been taught to believe about writing. You’re expected to push yourself to stand out from the crowd of wannabes and create works that people can relate to, yet you’re also shamed for wanting more out of your art, especially when you’re at odds with what you currently do for a living and what you’d like to do if your current life circumstances weren’t so constraining.
If you know you want to make some level of income from writing, write on a more consistent basis, tell stories and anecdotes that resonate with others, and connect with people who find value in your work, you need to bridge the gap between loving what you do and being able to do it consistently so that you meet job requirements, which involves producing a measurable output. But you also know that you want to find genuine enjoyment in what you do because that’s what will keep you going longer than those who just do it for the end result (fame, fortune, success) and quit so soon because they’re impatient with how much work it takes to reach that level.
The best way to approach this is to ask why you want to write. First, you should start writing what you need to hear because chances are, there are people out there who will resonate with your experiences and you do have a way of sharing your ideas in a way that other people haven’t done yet. But you cannot expect a large number of followers overnight or to be able to quit your day job, nor should you write for those reasons alone.
3. If you don’t push yourself, you’ll fall behind and be unprepared for the future, but you should slow down, fall in love with life, and appreciate the small miracles of today.
From a circumstantial perspective, the existing socioeconomic system is made to catapult the majority of people into abysmal failure, and it’s evident that billions of people do not have opportunities because of political corruption, inequality, and scarcity. This is why people who started out with less are more fearful of falling behind and have to break their necks and work themselves to death just to be a little better off than the previous generations.
The life that most people want involves having more control over your circumstances, which equates to having better way to earn more money, which means having more time to do what you want instead of slaving away at what you don’t want to do, which leads to more choices in life without being bound by things out of your control, which ultimately gives you more chances to succeed and live in prosperity.
But we tend to approach the future in a way that debilitates us mentally and physically: everything is rooted in the fear of falling behind. This brings about short-sighted beliefs of success and it’s why workaholic culture exists in the first place. It’s why people get panic attacks whenever they miss a day of work. It’s why people beat themselves up for not doing enough, even when it’s to the detriment of their health. It’s why people pull all-nighters in hopes that it will get them ahead of the competition. Because we live in a society that views the bottom 25% as burdensome and the top 1% as sources of inspiration, a lot of us have done things in order to avoid being in the bottom of the pile and hustle hard to reach the top 1% or at least get closer to there than we were before.
This is a backward approach to life. If we’re so caught up in the struggle and race to the top and if we’re in such a hurry to reach the next level in hopes that we “don’t have to worry about anything anymore,” then we’ve missed the whole point of life — we need to evaluate ourselves honestly and be ruthless in weeding out ideas of success that are ingrained within us because they might not even be what’s best for us.
The truth is, struggles, anxieties, and insecurities will always be with us until we’ve made a conscious effort to create a lifestyle that’s effortless to us, even when it might not look as polished as someone else’s. There will always be things to worry about and fears that control us, no matter where we end up in life.
You can’t expect goals to fulfill you if you don’t feel fulfilled as you are now because fulfillment is something you create within yourself, not something you seek or chase after outside of yourself. It’s important to carve out some time in a day to reflect on where you’re going and how you’re feeling so that you can adjust accordingly and make any changes that would help you ensure that your next steps are purposeful and relevant to who you are as a distinct individual.
Here are some key takeaways for a balanced way of living:
- Have a life purpose that isn’t so abstract or vague. Make it concrete, relevant, and specific to you.
- Instead of meticulously adding over-the-top details to your 5-year-plan or a 10-year-plan, have a vision board. It’s good to have an idea of where you’d like to be, or else you’d be wandering ahead aimlessly, but it’s not good to be bogged down by so many details or overly attached to your plans because the future is ultimately a mystery with lessons and experiences that you can’t identify ahead of time. Expecting the future to go exactly as planned down to the littlest details only exacerbates inner conflict and holds you back from discovering new things that could help you grow in ways you haven’t been able to think of yet.
- Create a life that feels wholeheartedly good and balanced to you, as opposed to a life that makes you keep up in a race that makes you feel like you’re heading nowhere.
- Understand that you aren’t guaranteed years and years to postpone a life that you have been denying yourself, but at the same time, you can’t expect everything to change overnight.
- Love who you are, but to evolve, you must demand yourself to do better and never stagnate.
- Everything is transitory and everyone is mortal. But in spite of that, it is better for your mental and physical wellbeing to focus on becoming a victor and not remain a victim.
- Make sure that each day you do something that fulfills you. End the day feeling at peace with the fact that you’ve completed all that you could have possibly done today, and even if the world were to end tomorrow, you’d still be content with the life you’ve created for yourself.
Originally published at christinefchen.com.