“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.”
Dalai Lama XIV
Many of us, at some point in our lives have been obsessed with accomplishments and what it takes to get there. We have goals that we really want to achieve and then say that we’re going to do as much as we can in order to get there.
What happens when we don’t?
Do we blame ourselves for not doing enough or just accept what happened and become proud of our efforts?
It’s likely the former and that is a problem.
The end is all that matters
There is an unfair emphasis on the outcome of the work rather than the work itself.
“If we don’t win, what’s the point in trying?”
“If I didn’t get an A on the paper, why did I bother working so hard on it?”
“Since didn’t get that internship, I’m not trying for something so competitive next time.”
When we make the outcome of our efforts the only important part of the goal we have or project we try to complete, we become disappointed. This discourages to trying again in the future due to fear of simply being disappointed again.
The obsession with outcomes is a problem.
It’s can important cause of anxiety (what if I don’t get to where I want to be?), strong self-criticism (I’m terrible for not getting to where I want to be), anger, sadness and the like. Failure is far more likely to be ego shattering:
As a result, we will be better off slowly removing our stringent attachment to the outcome of our actions and simply experiencing things as they are and as they come.
The Myth of Control
In a very American Dream fashion, many of us believe that if we work hard, we will be successful. For all the Olympic swimmers, thriving business women and award-winning students, the reason for their success is because they worked hard. Clearly, a part of that is that if you don’t work hard you won’t be “successful”.
Are both sayings true? Let’s think about them.
- “If you don’t work hard, you won’t be successful”.
If we think of success as accomplishing something by yourself, it’s unlikely you’ll accomplish anything if you do nothing. It would be like saying you want to write a book but never sitting down to write. In The Aspiring Writer, we can see two writers having the intentions to write but continually avoiding it.
Of course there are a few outliers who can get extremely lucky. Donald Trump. To a number of people, he is a successful businessman who owns a number of luxurious real estates. However, lest we forget that he was given a very generous small start of $1 million. No one picks where they were born and as many philosophers say, it is a “lottery of birth”.
Onto the next one:
- “If you work hard, you will be successful”
By saying this, we argue that hard work is the sole cause of success. It’s short and snappy but runs very close to telling the future. There is no guarantee that working hard will lead to success especially if we take extremely risky ventures.
For some events, you have more direct control over them. Losing weight is an example. If we work hard to expend more calories than we consume, we will lose weight. The path to the goal is clear and laid out for you – though not easy to achieve.
For others, you have much less control over what happens even if you think you have a lot. Academic grades are an example. They do not reward effort, but content. You may work hard on an essay (or inefficiently and make the work very hard to do), and still produce a poor essay. Or you could work hard, but have a particularly harsh marker who allows their personal bias to affect their grading. You couldn’t have controlled that at all.
Or you apply for a job, spend ages on the application, but have your desired job taken by a personal friend of the CEO.
Or you could train for years in a sport, only to get injured or beaten by people who are have genetic advantages.
A large number of hidden factors affect the outcome of events in ways you cannot control. Blaming yourself for something that you cannot control is a great recipe for near uncontrollable self-loathing because there is no path for action. Only a path for thinking about your apparent short-comings.
This isn’t to say that we should say if you’re successful you were only lucky. That’s going from one extreme to the other. Rather, it is saying that success definitely comes with some good fortune and it ignore that influence is unfair on those who haven’t received similar luck.
Allowing yourself to commit to something and working at it consistently is likely to open yourself up to more opportunities. Those opportunities, you might view as lucky but it would be you who put yourself in the right place at the right time.
A helpful way to put it is this:
Your hard work makes your desired outcome more likely but never guaranteed.
Because of this, we should celebrate and assess the effort that we put into achieving things without hating ourselves if we fall short.
After some calm reflection, perhaps you realise there is more you can do. Slow down, assess the things you can improve upon and pledge to take action. Then do so.
If there isn’t, then there isn’t anything to do apart from accept things as they are and as they come.
Defining yourself by the outcome of your actions is unnecessary. It regularly leads to an over-inflated ego or excessive self-criticism.
Spend time celebrating your effort and your actions. It’s the one thing you have the most control over.
 I asked my GP who in turn asked a psychologist – I don’t know how to reference this otherwise. One method for identifying this was bad events or failures tend to become personal (this is my fault) and permanent (this because of who I am).
 Which none of us can do.
As always, thanks for reading.
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