On suffering

I used to be a hard worker. I thought that all my accomplishments were made of blood, sweat and tears. That stressing out and not resting until I was completely exhausted was a necessary part of the process. That that was basically what got me the good results. Yet there were times where I didn’t study as much as I thought I should, and I still got good results. And although the thought occurred to me that maybe I really didn’t feel like studying more because it wasn’t necessary, I never trusted that part of me. I thought I was lazy – and lucky, if I got good grades despite my “laziness”!

I think differently now: I believe that everything I have ever succeeded at was not thanks to hard work. I think I succeeded despite it. Of course I can’t know how things would have turned out if I’d done things differently. But when I look back at all the things I have done because I thought I had to, it turns out they were not that important. And the things that were important happened even when I did things that could have jeopardized them. More on this in my post On Control. I do know that it was doing too many things for the wrong reasons, the main one being that misguided work ethic, according to which work equals hardship. Eh, it was not just work, I was under the illusion that basically everything worth having requires sacrifice. Except when you believe it, it’s not an illusion. It’s your reality.

Fortunately, even going down the “wrong” path eventually gets you on the right track. Like Eckhart Tolle says: Suffering is necessary until you realize it’s not. Up until a year ago I thought that as long as I was suffering all was well (I always thought that if I was unhappy, I wasn’t done adjusting to whatever it was that made me unhappy …).

I have always had a voice in the back of my head that wouldn’t shut up when things were at its worst. That voice kept saying that this cannot be the way life is supposed to be. I want to be happy, that voice insisted, and I cannot accept a life where there is no way for me to be happy. For the most part, I managed to negotiate with that voice, reminding it that I was happy, just not in some parts of my life. But that, of course, was normal. Last year everything just kind of crashed and it felt like there was nothing left. That was when there was no bargaining anymore with that voice. First health, then work, then marriage. Once you allow yourself to see that basically all areas of your life have been ruled by the belief in sacrifice and hardship, you can’t help but admit that the only lesson is this: you cannot go on this way. That is when the suffering finally becomes unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong: there have always been moments of happiness in my life. I am not ungrateful. That is what made it possible to negotiate with that voice in the back of my head in the first place. The ability to make lemonade can be a bitch, though. Because in reality there is more than one choice. Life may be handing you lemons, and maybe you enjoy lemonade. But the thing is: you could also pass on the lemons altogether, trusting that life will offer you something else.

I’m not going to lie: there are a lot of days when my head is having a difficult time trusting that I will be fine if I follow my gut instinct on what I want and what not. (I am having one of those days right now.) But I’ve done it enough times now to know it’s worth it. I never have to wait long for the proof that it is the right thing to do. Same goes for the opposite: whenever I catch myself making a decision based on the fear that I have no other options, I can almost physically feel how this is only setting me back on the path that I have just left. And I am not interested in going in circles.

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