Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.―Zhuangzi
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the delicate balance between striving and thriving. In a culture where we measure success by how much money we make, by how many twitter followers we have, or by the status of our title or position, it’s easy to lose perspective about what’s most important. Then one day, we wake up and realize that our striving is what’s gotten in the way of our thriving. We keep looking for the next mountain to ascend, and believe when we finally get there, then everything will be perfect. But when we finally reach the top, the only thing that’s really different is how exhausted we are from the climb.
As we enter the final quarter of the year, I’ve been looking at the places where my own life is out of balance between striving and thriving. By all accounts, this has been a stellar year. My business is flourishing. I’ve completed my dream of writing a book that will be published early next year. I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with some amazing clients doing work that I love that allows me to use my gifts. And I’ve had the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world and meet some very inspiring people. And for those blessings and experiences, I’m very grateful.
Yet as I reflect on the past six months, my life feels like a blur. I’ve been moving so fast to get to the next destination, to make it to the next appointment, to design the next project or meet the next deadline, I haven’t been as present as I desire to be in my life. At times, I’ve felt more like a human doing than a human being. This has caused me to question whether I’ve been as focused this year on thriving as I’ve been on striving.
Recently I watched a wonderful movie that addressed the tension between striving and thriving well. It’s called, “The Hundred Foot Journey” and spoiler alert, if you haven’t already seen it, you may want to stop reading this post, because the points the movie illustrates require revealing the ending.
The main character in the movie, Hassan, is a fabulous chef, whose mother taught him to cook as a child when his family lived in India. Fast forward following a horrible family tragedy which resulted in the family’s move to a small village in France. Hassan’s family open an Indian restaurant across the street from a renowned French restaurant and a rivalry of epic proportions ensues. The owner of the fine French restaurant, Madam Mallory, realizes Hassan’s talent and offers him a job as her head chef. She is hopeful his talent might gain her another Michelin star, an achievement coveted by restaurateurs throughout the world.
As a result of Hassan’s efforts, Madam Mallory achieves her second Michelin star. Shortly thereafter, Hassan is whisked off to Paris to try for a third star at another high-end restaurant. He remains in Paris for a year and becomes the toast of the town, but also begins to drink too much because he’s so unhappy. We watch as our protagonist sadly reflects on the people he’s loved and left behind. One day, he packs his bags and returns home to his village, where he decides to earn his third Michelin star at the restaurant owned by Madam Mallory that he’d left behind a year before. As he cooks his signature dish and is reunited with his family and the woman he loves, we see Hassan again joyful, surrounded by all he holds dear.
Hassan’s journey is a reminder that we don’t have to give up our goals (which often require some striving) in order to experience thriving. Hassan didn’t sacrifice his goal of attaining his third star, but he redefined how he would get there on his own terms, rather than doing it based on society’s expectations. He made the decision to chart his own course, set the boundaries he needed to make the changes that served his life, and he gathered people around him that he trusted would help him thrive. He created the proper balance between striving and thriving in his life.
As I think about that balance in my life and work, what becomes apparent is the need to create more spaciousness. This includes setting better boundaries that will allow me more time in my days for reflection, for writing, for exercise, for rest, and for quality time with friends and family for play―for all the things that bring me joy and restore me. It’s about making certain I hold sacred the time and space in my life to slow down and appreciate the gifts I already have and becoming more mindful of when striving interferes with thriving.
As you reflect on the balance between striving and thriving in your life, are you satisfied with the balance you’ve created? If not, how do you need to shift that balance and in what ways? How would you know you’d been successful? What would be different in your life than it is now? What’s one step that you could take today to begin to make that shift?