October 18, 2021
How many times have you “started” to do something in your life?
For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the clichéd example of going to the gym or starting a diet regimen. I’ve done this countless times, mostly to fall off the wagon the first week or even first day! It’s easy and even fun to talk about doing something, and many times we may even bridge the expanse between “talking about” to actually starting the process. But that’s the first of many hurdles we face along the way if we actually commit to a process.
I’ve also finished many things in my life, and for the most part, it feels good – even great! For a moment. A fleeting moment. Then my mind so quickly moves to a “what’s next?” mentality, I don’t even catch my breath. I don’t think this quality is inherently good or evil. I think it’s just an innately human characteristic. We are wired for growth. It’s written into our DNA from conception. Things are always changing & evolving in us, so why wouldn’t our outside world change & evolve? Except this is a harder concept to live through than it is to grasp at its most fundamental level. Because the natural world tends to change & evolve very slowly compared to our human experience.
The simplest reason this is true is because of one of the greatest gifts we have been given as human beings: death. That’s right, I said death. How many times have you thought of death as a gift? My guess is, not many. But the reality is, the finite state of our being on this planet gives us reason to change, grow, adapt, and do all we can to better ourselves and our surroundings. It’s with that reality in our minds that has spurred the greatest innovations we have seen in our lifetimes. Our constant endeavor to maximize the time we have here.
So that’s why we are attracted to and motivated to grow. Some would say we have a creator that breathed all of that into us from the start. But is it about growth so we reach our destination? With every passing year, I discover more and more joy in the growth process rather than the places it takes me.
1. There’s a growth “hump” you have to get over when you start something new.
Like I said, for me, starting is the easy part. My mind is always spinning with ideas on how I can improve myself. How I can get more disciplined. How I can optimize my time and the tasks that must get done to maximize effectiveness and time for personal enjoyment. The struggle for me is the subsequent moments of repeated decision. My best friend & confidant has been reading a book by the late, great Eugene Peterson called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”. I haven’t read it yet, but the title struck me when thinking about the growth process journey. I make the first decision rather easily, because it’s exciting, and I fantasize about what the future me looks like as a result of that decision. But the decision to do it again, and again, and one more time, that’s where I lose natural steam. That’s when you decide, “This time is going to be different” or “On second thought, I’m comfortable with how things were”. Staying dedicated to the steps is where real character is formed. Practically speaking, for me, this obstacle usually comes in the first week of starting something new. If I can keep my head down and push through that first week, I already have at least a 50% better shot of achieving my goal.
“For me, starting is the easy part…but the decision to do it again, and again, and one more time, that’s where I lose natural steam.”
2. The destination never quite delivers what it promises
This is something else I picked up from my friend. I’ll call it the “dreamer’s fallacy”. The idea that once the dream is realized, then you will be happy. The problem for dreamers like me is what I can concoct in my own head is far more refined and fantastical than anything reality can deliver. The reason for this, of course, is in my head I have total control of not only myself but the outside world and everyone in it. I can’t factor in unforeseen circumstances, different decisions and emotions from those I want as part of the journey, and other macro factors at play. My goal always gets accomplished the way I envision it in my head. But of course, that is never reality.
The end result may be ultimately better or disappointing compared to what we had in mind, but one thing we can count on for certain: it will be different. So that’s why it’s imperative that we find joy in the process. I think that helps us realize the beauty of what’s happening along the way. The way others add their thoughts and experiences helps us craft even better decisions. The way outside forces and obstacles pop up creates resiliency in us. It is only through resistance that our muscles fail, heal, and ultimately grow back stronger than before. The same is true in our personal growth journey.
3. The beauty is in the “doing”
This is what I have discovered to be true. My first gut reaction to the inevitable letdown of finishing a process is to say “This was a waste of time” and “It’s not worth it to go through all of that just to be disappointed”. But after I get over that and myself, I’m left with a realization and deep satisfaction knowing it wasn’t about the destination, it was about the process of growth I just went through. I got stronger, hardier and more refined. I didn’t succumb to laziness or self-loathing. I did something important with my time, and it’s going to pay dividends not only for me, but my family and those around me. And, most importantly, I enjoyed the process!
It’s in those moments that I see the beauty of doing for what it really is. I get excited when I’m doing something. I feel better about myself when I’m doing something. And it’s ok that my mind goes too far at times, and I have to be jostled back on track with reality. It was worth it to experience the endorphins you get along the way, and the ultimate reward of the hard work.
Speaking practically to what I do for a living, when we discipline ourselves to live on a budget and save a healthy percentage of our income for retirement, it’s not just about the ultimate reward of being able to retire. It’s about the growth you experience making the same decision month by month, year by year along the way. You will be able to look back with tremendous satisfaction of a life and career well-lived. Delayed gratification is healthy and right, even though culture says the opposite.
This process plays out the same no matter what the goal is. Whether financial, spiritual, physical, or relational. Whatever your goal is, lean into the PROCESS of achieving that goal rather than getting fixated only on the DESTINATION that goal will take you. This will give you the rocket fuel you need to keep going and achieve more than you even thought possible in your life. Because you only get this one. Find the beauty in it!
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