I am tired of striving.
We live in a world where striving is valued, almost above all other virtues. Take the Olympics, recently completed. What is that but a contest of striving? We admire the grit, courage, and determination required to get there. We draw inspiration from these athletes to go forth and do the same in our working lives; individuals, press on!
Except, I am tired of that. Like, bone-deep, world-weary, this-needs-to-end-now tired.
I am 43 years old. I have striven for my entire life. First in school, for good grades. Then in sports, so that my Dad would not think I was a wimp. Then in orchestra, because I needed a challenge. Then as an artist, because I wanted my work seen.
I strove in college to be a double major, because I was curious, but also because I wanted to prove I could. Then I strove after college to prove that I could be employed. I have striven in job after job after job, with varying degrees of success, because I needed money, but mostly to prove to others that I was responsible.
I strove in church to be good because, well, the best investments are the long-term ones, and what could be longer-term than eternal life? Stephen Covey told me “Begin With The End In Mind” (one of his Seven Habits). The Bible says that God is the goal and end of all things. That twin idealism led me to strive after being a pastor, to uproot my life and move many times to go through seminary and internship and become ordained and lead a church, because people all over evidently needed help living toward that End, and that End would reward all this endless striving.
I strove to stay married. Way, way longer than I should have. Because I had a script running in my head that said, this is what you do. I strove to build a life around that narrative, to fix up a house (mighty striving), to have in-laws (mighty, mighty striving), and to suppress some of my most important thoughts and desires (mighty, mighty, mighty striving) so that I could fulfill my vows, so that I could preserve and protect that contract.
In the end I didn’t preserve it. My marriage ended on nearly the same day as my pastoring. I found myself striving again, this time to see my children, and to find money wherever I could. I strove to gain legal footing, to get out from under a penal family law system that held me in arrears even before we started, to be recognized as a co-parent. Just to live near my kids took a heroic effort, but that was only the beginning. Oh the striving, to land in a new community and be treated as an outsider, to try to find work that would actually pay the rent and child support, to repair the career boat while sailing it out on the open sea in stormy weather.
Five years later, and I am finally back on my feet, with a modest income again, able to make consistent child support payments, and living with a committed long-term partner. Life feels stable again. The career boat is repaired and has entered calmer waters.
Yet I still find myself striving. To switch metaphors, if someone decided to come and give this Jenga tower of mine a little push, it would topple easily. I don’t have enough emergency savings, I don’t have enough income, I don’t possess enough to have any strength in any sort of legal conflict.
A significant consulting project, which lasted about six months, ended recently. It was a successful, peaceable exit, albeit an abrupt one. It involved a third party who was potentially able to cause me great trouble, legally and professionally. I’m relieved to be away from that potential source of trouble. But I’m also finding myself contemplating why it was that I entered the agreement, since it only meant more striving.
This is the reason: I want a better life, a secure life, a life where I can have my values and the freedom to live them without fear of someone taking basic necessities away. I want my partner not to have to work as many hours as she does just so we can pay rent.
I want society to recognize me, and everyone else, for the work we do and the contribution we make, by crafting a safety net so that we don’t live with this sense of constant anxiety that if we don’t strive, and strive, and strive, we aren’t any good, we won’t make it.
I want to be part of a community that believes that we create together out of a sense of wonder, rather than a stoic, individual Olympic-style sense of sacrifice. I want a religion that doesn’t involve an Individual Who Died To Be Resurrected, and instead has a Cosmos That Became Ever More Grand And Beautiful.
I want to birth a new way that is dynamic and where work has a place but does not involve our entire selves. I want a life where money flows but is not the whole river. Where relationships are good in whatever form they take and for the time they need, but we aren’t asked to strive for what they cannot give. I want a culture that pays for everyone to have certain basic care and basic needs met, without having to work three jobs or take no vacation. I want a legal system that is not so penal and retributive, and more assistance-oriented. I want my children to live in a world where art and music and love and sex shine as brightly as any office building they might work in or car they might drive, because they come from a place of goodness, wholeness, and natural morality.
I know these things are possible. In the real world, not some utopia, and not some 60s Woodstock. But I wonder, Who can help? Who else wants these things?
Can we feel this boat we are in together move along the water, without such toxic and dis-empowering sense of scurrying? Can we run without judging each other when someone isn’t able to keep up the pace? Can we worship without enthroning a cross-carrying mentality? Is there space for patient discovery and failure? Is there curiosity in exploration and navigation of our world? Is there time in which to rest and enjoy it, without having constantly to push it forward, forward, forward?
Is anyone else tired of the endless striving?