Make the Brave Choice to Resist the Drive to Strive

We live in a culture that promotes striving, grinding, and achieving.  We often measure our worth based on how hard we push ourselves to grow and accomplish in a day, season, or year.  When faced with a choice of whether to take on a new challenge, we feel pressured to dive in.  The consequence of choosing an alternative is guilt, shame, or feelings of being a failure.

While we know that there are important benefits to pushing ourselves to face challenges and accomplish goals, the problem arises when we feel there is no other option. We default into constantly striving for more.

How well is this really working for you? 

If we believe the cultural message that choosing not to strive is the equivalent of failing, then we trap ourselves in endless pursuit.  We never feel satisfied.  We must constantly seek the next goal to push our growth edge. 

It’s exhausting.

This style of living also has health consequences.  We put our bodies and minds into a state of constant stress as we adjust to each transition.  We may suffer from disrupted sleep, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, anxiety, irritability, mental overwhelm.

Perhaps the real challenge is to allow yourself to choose a path of ease. 

During a hiking trip I took with a friend a few years ago, we encountered a point along the trail where we had to make a choice.  We could follow the other hikers who were scrambling up a tight crevice and continuing to the highest point of the mountain or we could turn down the gentler trail and hike along the lowlands.  We stood there a while assessing the scene.  Some people came back down the trail with beaming faces, talking about the incredible views from the top.  Others were shaking and in tears with fear of the tight space, physical demands, and incredible heights.  Internally, we wrestled with our own inner drives to face the challenge and, quite literally, get to the top of the hill despite joint pain and fatigue.  The default decision was to push ourselves to climb that hill.  Then we turned toward each other with hesitation and almost simultaneously said, “Can we just not?”  We chose the path of ease.  We resisted the idea that we would have a lesser experience if we chose to skip the summit.

This experience taught me a helpful lesson about what growth really means to me.  Despite my cultural indoctrination that prizes achievement, I have recognized that the bravest choice is sometimes doing less, backing off.  We can find our feelings of satisfaction and worth by gently taking care of ourselves.  We can listen to messages from our bodies that signal it’s time for a break to protect our health.  We can look at our calendars and accept that saying no to another commitment would protect our time.  We can choose the option that may not build a resume but instead builds our sense of wellness.

We must learn to find our worth beyond our accomplishments if we’re ever to feel satisfied in our lives.  We can nurture a new culture that values compassionate self-care and balance.  You are worthy because you are, not because of what you do.

Consider the choices you’re facing right now.  How would striving serve you?  How would choosing a path of ease serve you?  Is there an opportunity right now to be brave enough to resist the drive to strive?

Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below.  If you are interested in scheduling a consultation for an appointment with Dr. Smith, please email or use the contact form. 

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