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Be Grateful or Push Harder?

Ah – the eternal struggle for happiness.  Should we just be grateful for what we have or should we push harder to get more?

Some of it is Western culture.  We tend to equate pushing with success.  You can’t be too rich or too thin, remember?  (I don’t know about rich, but you sure as hell can be too thin.)  The problem with this pushing is that we are never happy.  You can always try to lose more weight or make more money or run faster or further or whatever your thing is.  Our culture is built on working hard and becoming the best you can be.

But there’s another school of thought.  Just being grateful for what you have.  Not wanting more.  Acceptance.  You make peace with your body or your income or your run time.  Humans have little control anyway – you just let go and let God (or the Universe or whoever/whatever).

I’m just too Western to completely roll with option two.  I tend to be a firm believer in the old adage, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  If I gave up and let the Universe take over, I’d sit around eating chocolate all day.  I might apply for part time work at Krispy Kreme to have immediate access to hot doughnuts.  Just being grateful seems suspiciously like giving up, settling.

I think you have to find the path that’s right for you, but I think you have to be careful not to be lulled into complacence by the siren’s song of acceptance. I don’t think our greatest accomplishments were made by someone being happy with the way things were.  Edison wouldn’t have invented the light bulb if he was sitting around being grateful for his oil lamp.   I’m pretty darn glad Winston Churchill never gave up and men were brave enough to storm the beaches at Normandy.  

I know a young man who I believe has great potential.  He has fairly good grades in school and hasn’t had to work very hard to get them.  Now he’s in some advanced classes and is doing poorly.  Not because he’s not intelligent, but because he doesn’t want to do the work.  He says he’s just not that smart and is doing his best.  But he never does homework – he plays video games.  He’s far, far from doing his best.  He wants to drop the advanced classes and go back to where he can excel with no effort.

Maybe he should just follow the path of least resistance, be grateful, and enjoy school.  But I don’t agree.

The impact this decision will have on his future is vast in my eyes – he will give up when things get hard, he will never become the person he could be if he applied himself.  When he has to train a little harder for an athletic event, he won’t.  When he has to work a little longer for a promotion or to support his family, he won’t.  When the going gets tough, he’ll walk away.

He’s at a crossroads – he can learn the power of discipline now and make many of his dreams come true.  Or he will never learn the lesson, and he will forever be a victim.  Can you see the progression?  The advanced classes were too hard, the coach was unreasonable, his wife is too demanding, his boss expects too much, life is too hard.  

It becomes a cycle – no discipline (no hard work) = poor results.  Poor results = no success, no advancement.  No success = failure.  Failure = blame.  And since you have turned everything over to others = others are responsible for your poor results = you are a victim.

How do you avoid all this?  You take control of your life.   How?  By setting goals and applying discipline.  Do you get every goal – nope.  But you get some.  And you grow from the attempt.  You get stronger and smarter.  And you learn who you are.

But if you don’t even have goals – if you just let the Universe determine your fate – I believe you won’t become the diamond you were meant to be.  We all know how diamonds are formed – pressure.  How do humans become great?  Pressure.  Much of it self imposed.  Great people run for office (no one has to do such a thing); they keep learning (some people just check out); they work at getting better (in whatever endeavor they choose).  They push.

I think you have to push to have the life you want.  I think the act of pushing causes you to grow, to become better.  I think that’s what it’s all about – becoming the best version of you (as defined by you) that you can become.  This effort, this journey, makes you who you are meant to be.  Do you integrate gratitude?  Absolutely – you can be thankful for many things.  You just don’t slip into complacency.  You even accept certain things – I understand we can’t all be great in everything.  But you sure as hell won’t be if you don’t even try.  

Don’t you want to push a little harder and see who you can become?  What an incredible life you could have?  Are there areas in your life where you are using acceptance or gratitude as an excuse?  Where you’ve just set the bar too low?  Are you the best you you can be?


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Barbara Gilbert
10 years ago

Heard you speak at Essentially Women 2013 I would love to be on your e-mail list and receive your wonderful e-mails I own Barbara’s New Beginnings In Ft. Wayne IN. and Indianapolis IN.
Thank you so much

10 years ago

You are absolutely right! Being grateful is very different from settling.