Everything in life has a certain push and pull, a positive and negative. So it is with ambition and acceptance.
I use the word ambition here to address all types of personal development; it’s that constant forward motion of “bettering ourselves.” Acceptance, then, would be a state of stillness; the act of sitting with who you are and where you are.
The catch-22 with ambition is that only by fully accepting who you are can you fully realize who you can be. Resentment doesn’t stimulate true change, although it can be short-term motivation. Comparison might trigger an initial action, but it won’t deliver lasting positive results.
In a similar way, covering up that which we don’t find acceptable is a surefire way to sabotage our growth. It’s difficult to maintain energy, love, and motivation when drawing from a source of lack, shame, or unworthiness.It is only by fully accepting who you are that you can fully realize who you can be. Click To Tweet
Within the last year, I discovered the word eudaimonia. It’s an Aristotelian term that is often translated in English as “happiness,” but a translation as “human flourishing” more appropriately hits the mark.
Imagine a long, arduous task or project that finally comes to fruition. Then think of the feeling that emanates from an experience like that. That’s eudaimonia.
It’s the joy that comes from worthy, effortful action.
Eudaimonia is a lifestyle. It’s a state of constant striving—working to better oneself through simple, virtuous actions and holding yourself to a high standard.
It’s the perfect description for why the best things in life are never easy. It’s why living a good life is difficult yet so thoroughly satisfying.
It’s personal development in a nutshell.
However, as with most things in life, balance is key.
I see balance as the necessary counterpoints to any extreme. Even the best of characteristics, actions, or intentions has a negative side. You can be the kindest person in the world while letting people walk all over you—and, really, that’s not helping anyone.
In the same sense, even a worthy pursuit like bettering yourself can lead to some undesirable results.
It can feed dissatisfaction...
Constantly pushing yourself to be better can result in an intolerance for your current state. You get stuck in the feeling of never measuring up, of continually falling short.
It can be isolating…
Always focusing on the “best” way to live can leave you out of touch with the way things actually are—AKA real life and real people. Ridiculously high standards are— sorry to say—quite off-putting. People won’t want to be around you if you’re constantly critiquing your life, their life, and everything around you.
It can cloud your vision…
Always looking towards some ideal or goal puts your attention on the result instead of the process. You get caught up in whether you succeed instead of developing an appreciation for the wide range of experiences you will face.
Setting some safeguards
It’s helpful to notice our personal ambitious tendencies, and then intentionally put safeguards (“balance-keepers”, if you’d like) in place, so that we’re not teetering off to the side and losing that ideal equilibrium.
Here are a few of my safeguards:
1. Don’t avert your eyes
Key growth comes from a willingness to see things as they are—flaws and all—and to sit with uncomfortable emotions. When we’re able to assess what we’re feeling—and why—in any given moment, we know we’re on the path of growth.
In his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson calls those uncomfortable emotions a “call to action.” They’re a way of signalling that there’s something that needs attention. They prompt recognition of that which isn’t serving us or is causing undue suffering to ourselves or others.
Knowledge is power.
2. Be grateful
Gratitude is awesome. It’s like a sugar high for your soul. It shows you the beauty in your life as well as the silver lining of the challenges you’re facing. It allows for situational reframing that gets you out of your own head. It leaves behind time-wasting pity parties that leave you in a powerless state of victimhood.
Gratitude also highlights what you find valuable and that, in turn, helps guide you in your approach of bettering yourself.
3. Own it
Acceptance is power. We too often give away our power when we try to hide our weaknesses. We always try to present our best face to the world whether it’s because we’re trying to get a job, find a partner, or make friends.
The irony is that owning our flaws is the sexiest, most powerful move we can make! Who doesn’t admire the person who is unbothered by people’s opinion of them?
It’s not about aggressively and defiantly saying, “This is me. Deal with it!” It’s about being focused on being the best you can be in each moment, even if that “best” falls short of some external standard.
It’s knowing that you are inherently worthy, just by existing. You are worthy to be loved and treated with respect, as we all are. As we cultivate that feeling for ourselves, it has a lovely side effect: that love and respect reverberates outwardly to those around us.Acceptance is power. We give away our power as soon as we try to hide our flaws. Click To Tweet
4. Be where your feet are
Life is what’s going on right now. We’re not just building for some distant future. Even while we’re envisioning our ideal self, it’s extremely important that we like who we are in the present—that’s who we are after all!
There’s a calmness and certaintly that comes from being able to sit with who you are in the present moment. That includes your current emotional state, your current financial state, your current opinion of yourself, and your current state of familial affairs. The list goes on.
The willingness to face difficult emotions and fully appreciate pleasurable ones is—I believe—one of the most incredible skills we can develop.
Walking the Line
So where exactly is that fine line between striving and accepting? I couldn’t tell you. You have to figure that out by yourself. But approaching life with an attitude of acceptance and gratefulness whilst holding yourself responsible for your personal growth means you’re on the right path. We best learn by doing, so get to it!