The Pressure To Do Something Bigger
This little thought of “shouldn’t I be doing more with my life?” niggles away at me. This is what I have learned.
I ran into my 8th-grade algebra teacher while visiting family for the holidays. After a bit of catching up she mentioned she was still teaching algebra. She said she followed my blog where I write about my surfing and travel adventures. Then she asked a load question,
“How long are you going to keep that up?”
I knew exactly what the subtext of the question was.
In the moment I let the comment roll off of me, but the truth was that it stung. It stung because the question was actually a question I’ve been trying to avoid asking myself: “Am I actually doing anything of value with my life?”
I tried to do it the “right” way, but I was miserable.
I went to college to be a math teacher. Then I taught for a few years and hated it. So then I went to graduate school, and afterward got a good job with a tech company. After a year, I hated that job too but I forced myself to stick it out for a couple more years. Then I tried my hand at starting my own business which didn’t go so well.
Desire is like a road map.
And then I heard something that got inside my head. I must have read it in an Abraham Hicks book but I can’t remember which one now. It was an analogy for life, and it went like this:
Desire is like a river flowing toward all that is good. We are corks floating in that river. If we relax and go with the flow of desire, then we get closer to all things good. But when we resist, we experience negative emotions like discouragement, anger, and stress.
“Ok,” I thought to myself, “So all I have to do is follow my desires and I’ll be okay.” Building faith that desire wouldn’t steer me wrong, was not easy. Especially since I was raised in evangelical Christianity which taught that desire was sinful. Trusting my desire started with small things like choosing the foods I wanted to eat rather than the ones I thought I should eat. Or not going on out on second dates with guys who bored me, even if it felt rude. But eventually, this idea that desire can and should be trusted, led me to quit everything that wasn’t making me happy (my whole life!) and just go surfing (since that was the one thing getting me out of bed in the morning).
The Life of a surf bum
That was a couple of years ago and I’m still just kinda wandering around the world, surfing to my heart’s content. Of course, I do more than just surf. I’ve had to create a way to sustain this lifestyle and so I do whatever work I can get my hands on while I travel and surf. It’s not much money but somehow it works and I get to surf every day if I want to. My life is so different than it was, and I’m so much happier.
Last year I lived in Bali, Hawaii and Mexico. It seems like a dream come true, and it is. But also it isn’t. The question Mrs. W was really asking is the same question that haunts me, “Shouldn’t I be doing something more important with my life?”
I arrived to my ocean view apartment, overlooking Sunset beach on the North Shore of Oahu last week. I’m in paradise. And I’m overwhelmed with anxiety. A wave of what feels like coffee jitters grip my body every hour or so.
Do educated women owe it to the world to do something right?
If you are on this website reading this article, then demographic research tells me you are probably fairly educated yourself. Do you ever feel some sort of responsibility to use your intelligence for something more important, like ending pollution or reversing global warming? I just feel like I should be leaving a bigger mark on this world, leaving a legacy or something! I have thousands of dollars in student debt and here I am throwing my expensive education away in the ocean.
Or shouldn’t I be pushing out some babies?
And never mind the fact that I’m educated, I’m a woman. So shouldn’t I be investing into the next generation by having babies right now? Hell, couldn’t I even be making a bigger impact in people lives if I was like an Amazon delivery guy or something. Improving the quality of life of the people I serve and work with by being a dedicated employee? I mean surfing and traveling around the world is pretty selfish, isn’t it?
Okay, I know there are a dozen arguments we can make to say my life is indeed not that selfish – I teach yoga and that helps people. I write and that makes people think, etc. But the reality is, that I surf for me because it is what I want to do. And I spend a huge amount of my life force, time, energy, and money on surfing. But that same energy, if focused elsewhere, could be used to contribution “more” to the world.
Do more, become more, accomplish more
We live in a society obsessed with accomplishments. Our parents’ generation was obsessed with stuff – who can have the nicest car or the biggest house. But we are too new age for that. Now it’s all about how many businesses can you start by the age of 35. How big of an “influencer” can you be with your social media following? How much accomplishing can you cram into the span of one day?
This little thought of “shouldn’t I be doing more?” sometimes feels like a microscopic piece of glass lodged in my heal. I try to ignore it because it’s so small, but every once in a while it makes me wince in pain. When the swell drops or when I’m injured and I can’t surf, when I’m lonely in bed at night or especially when I see on social media how successful some of the women I went to high school with have become. That’s when those feeling of insecurity creep in.
“What the hell are you doing with your life? Who will remember you when you are gone? What lasting mark will you leave on this world? How will you leave the planet a better place than you found it?”
I was made for greatness.
The truth is I don’t know how to answer these questions. Deep down inside I feel like I was indeed made for something big. A part of me is terrified I’m blowing it.
But another part of me is convinced that I have to follow my heart. I tried to do it the “right” way. I got a good education, graduated with honors and then got a good job, but I hated it. There is no way I was of service to anyone when I was hating every minute of my day.
I like to think that before I was born, I was molded by some greater consciousness to do something powerful and amazing with this short time I will have on earth. Or even if you don’t believe in greater consciousness. You could say I evolved into who and what I am, so I should be cultivating who and what I am, not fighting it. In fact, I think each of us was molded for our own unique greatness. I was given this body, this athletic body, to do athletics! Then I have this love of the ocean, to draw me near to the ocean. I was given massive hands to paddle and a great dislike for 9-5 work schedules so I could plan my days around the tides.
Each and every one of my preferences was specifically implanted in me for the specific purpose of doing something great. Even though I don’t know what that something is, I believe my preferences and desires are the road map to get me there. I believe if I wake up each day and truly listen to what my desires are, then I will inevitably end up the highest version of myself.
The whole point is joy!
I believe the engine that runs this whole thing we call life is joy. I believe this whole game is rigged in our favor. The only way to screw it up is to resist joy. And so each day I do the three things I love – I surf, I write and I connect with other humans. Somehow this is going to lead me to whatever big thing it is I’m supposed to be doing. Even if that thing is just more surfing, more writing and more connecting.
So Mrs. W, how long will I keep this up? Well, that’s a good question. How long will you keep teaching the quadratic formula? Until it’s not fun anymore I guess. And inevitably there will come a day when either my body hurts too much to continue, or I just don’t feel like it anymore. What will I do then? I suppose I’ll keep right on letting joy lead the way.
PS: Thinking this way didn’t happen overnight.
By the way, none of the ideas I wrote about above are my own. I’ve stolen them all from my favorite spiritual teachers:
Rob Bell says, “The engine is Joy” and “it’s all rigged in our favor.” My favorite book of his is How to be Here.
Abraham Hicks gave me the idea that moving toward joy only brings more joy in the book The Law of attraction.
Louise Hay first introduced me to the idea that desire can be trusted in her book You can heal your life.
Lastly, there is a podcast I’m in love with called C.R.E.A.T.E which is all about following your bliss.