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Why Achievement?

Why are we so obsessed with achievement? Or, to be more honest, why do I find myself so defined by it, even if it’s by trying to disentangle myself from its seductive net? I wonder about my conflicting values. On the one hand, I’m an avid achiever, and I value myself by what I accomplish (even if these days that’s doing the laundry, dishes, or completing basic items on my to-do list….and yes, I’m attached to my to-do list). On the other hand, I see this way of orienting as a distraction from the more simple, whole, spiritually grounded life I most love and want to embody.

This weekend is the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City. Reading through the program, I am struck by rushes of admiration, excitement, and envy. Wow, a 14-year-old girl who sailed around the world for 2 years to become the youngest person ever to do so, and made a film about it. Really??!! I thought I was inventive for doing a solo trip to New Zealand when I was 17, a story my ego could consistently rely on, but this girl, yowzah, she really did it in style. Of course when I actually go see the film this weekend my heart will soar with love and amazement, but I still have to admit that initial twinge of…what, exactly? Jealousy? Comparison? Regret? Inspiration? And this even from a person who’s devoted much of my adult life to supporting young people in following their adventurous passions.

Marianne Williamson’s now ubiquitous but still fitting words remind me to contemplate how through my words, work, and energy I can continue inviting both myself and others into happy collaborative exploration of our gifts, the places we shine and in which we find surprise and delight. You know the one….“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.” For a great read, my friend and collaborator Lyla Johnston recently wrote a lovely piece on her own walk with fame, prayer and love during her time at a youth-organized Peace Summit in Geneva, Switzerland: Fractal.

Comparison is a tricky creature, one I find usually leads to feeling less well rather than more happy, but that can also be a motivating if somewhat uncomfortable propeller into greater awareness and life. So I invite my admiration of others to inspire me toward my own bliss, my own quiet spaces, my own daring projects of the imagination…and anytime others may look at me with similar regard, may we have the chance to laugh and realize how we are so lucky to be co-creating different and complementary-necessary experiences within this conscious universe.

On a great blog by Mark Brady called The Committed Parent, I recently read Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware’s “Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” In her experience, the things she most commonly hears people approaching death say they wish they’d done differently are:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not a life others expected of me.
  • I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish I had let myself be happier.

There are many moments these days when I question my work—both with Movimiento and earning hours toward becoming a licensed therapist—thinking instead how good it would be if I spent most of the day every day with my son, following his favorite activities like looking for birds (“burrrrrr?” pointing up into the trees), climbing rocks, and picking up acorns. Some people close to me have asked some tough questions along the lines of, “Are you doing Movi because you’re attached to your identity as an Executive Director? Is it because you want to be seen in a particular way? Of course you want to do good, but how much is purely altruistic and how much is really about you?” I’m still feeling into the answers to these questions and the inquiries they engender. I know that as a mother I find myself seeking balance between beautiful immersive presence with this young fine being who steadily reminds me what is most important, and continuing to follow my sense of purpose in this lifetime, my ever-emergent callings in the world. I’m finding that when I really listen, these impulses are not divergent but symbiotic. Becoming a mother has made my feelings about climate change and love of the sweet dark earth swell ever stronger. Alder’s presence brings even more light to the work with young people, and he seems fascinated and content in their midst. But throughout it all, I want to let myself be happy, I want to write unabashedly without worrying too much what anyone will think, I want to not work so hard, I want to look for birds and collect acorns and press my fingers into moss and drink tea with friends. I don’t want to lose myself to email or to-do lists only to find that the most important life morsels have passed all too quickly. So here’s to each day remembering, in whatever little way, to be awake again to love, connectedness, earth, here.