Did you ever wish you could just take off from work and get away from it all? Last summer I had the opportunity to do just that.
I was wrapping up an almost twenty year career in corporate America. My son was in summer camp. So, my husband and I decided to go spend a week in Islamorada.
The weather was everything you would expect it to be: sunny, warm, and gorgeous.
Being away from the daily grind of work prompted deep reflection on my part. As a result, I came to some unexpected insights about my career and my life.
I learned that to some degree, ambition can make you miserable.
When you’re on the fast track, you’ve always got this nagging, stomach-knotting anxiety that you’ve got to go and make it happen or else you’ll be left behind, unable to take your place at the table of materialistic plenty. Worse yet, you start to worry that others will elbow you out and grab your share.
For sure, our competitive society is full of this kind of attitude. And it’s easy to get pulled into it yourself.
I’m not saying that ambition is bad – especially when pursued for good reasons, like taking care of yourself and improving your state in life.
But the dark side of ambition is that it can pile on the stress. Remember that knot in the stomach I talked about?
I learned that only when you take a break from the grind can you realize the impact of your ambition on your spirit.
Only then can you discover what’s driving you and sort out whether it’s truly important or not.
For my part, I discovered that “climbing the ladder” in an organization was no longer important to me.
What emerged as most important was using my strengths and experience to coach leaders, help them solve their problems, and make their own marks.
I also learned that I was more stressed than I realized.
After just a few days of sleeping in and waking up to the sound of waves and tropical birds, I realized the knot in my stomach was gone. What’s more, I didn’t realize how big of a knot it was.
A good chunk of the stress knot was present because of my own doing.
For many of us, this knot of stress is the price we pay for trying to make a living and get ahead. The price includes responsibilities that bear down on you. Maybe over time your health and wellness starts to slip away.
The next thing you know you’re in the grind.
But what’s being ground up is you.
At this point, I learned I had a choice: I could go back to the grind or I could use the strengths I developed over my career to serve others in a more balanced way.
I’ll give you one guess what I chose.
I learned that we really don’t need a lot to live well.
While we were in the Keys, my husband and I were in a small one-bedroom studio. The sum total of our possessions amounted to a couple of suitcases of clothes. And our guitars.
And that was plenty. In fact, it was more than enough.
Living this stripped-down lifestyle removed the hidden burden of having material things to worry about. I’m talking about things like a house, two cars, furnishings, bikes, golf clubs, lawn mowers, washers and dryers, and all the other things we buy to simplify our lives.
The radical downsizing opened me up to experience the rhythm of a simpler life.
And it wasn’t boring at all.
On the contrary – with the hustle, bustle, noise, and possessions gone, I had time to notice the little things that make life rich and enjoyable.
Like the cooling ocean breeze or the small birds that jumped from branch to branch in the trees outside our studio window.
Like connecting more with family, friends, and the transcendent.
Living with less clears away the clutter of our go-go modern lives and allows us to get reacquainted with our authentic human selves.
I’ve learned that we often like to think that we have unlimited time, but all that we can truly count on is this moment.
Practicing gratitude for all that you do have, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with the people who matter, doing random acts of kindness, and not being afraid to show others your authentic, imperfect, and beautiful self-is what we should all be striving for.
We are given this one life, and I encourage you to dig deep and think about how you want to spend your time and energy. I don’t know about you, but while I’m here I want to go on more adventures, learn new things, connect with people in an authentic and meaningful way, build the kinds of relationships that I deserve, taste delicious foods, travel, help others who are struggling, and let myself experience and feel every emotion-pleasant and unpleasant.
I would urge you to think about what your values are. If you are living a life that is not in accordance with you true values-it may be time to be courageous and to start making some changes. After all, nobody is going to give a crap about any of those materialistic achievements at your funeral or thereafter.
See you Sunday on the sand!