Most of us were good kids: we did what we were told. For some of us that meant working hard at school, going to college, and getting a job. For others, school wasn't really our thing so we paved a road less traveled by for ourselves. Regardless of whether we were born with privilege or earned it all on our own, a pervading message ubiquitous to us all, is be more. Be kinder, be smarter, be better.
We don't live our life just to exist, because if that were the case, all of our needs would be basic: food, water and shelter. No, what we want is all that life has to offer. We want meaning, we want purpose, we want passion, we want satisfaction and we want reward. And when we get all of that, we want more; more from life, more from ourselves and more from others.
Is it such a bad thing to want more? How would we move ahead if we didn't want more? How could someone get a promotion if they didn't push themselves harder? How would Leonardo Da Vinci have become the genius and polymath that he was if it weren't for some kind of ambition or drive? Yet, what we have done in the 21st century, is take Darwinism to a whole new level.
It almost seems as though the survival of our species depends on being the best at something. But all of this competition has wreaked havoc not only on Mother Earth, who doesn't seem to really care about which company made it to the top of Forbes list or which country won the last war (let's face it, I think she cares a lot more about how we contaminated her oceans and usurped her trees), but also on our selves on a much deeper level.
Isn't it tiring? Always climbing, always wanting....more?
"Your house is so small. Get a bigger one!" "Your job? Boring. You should be getting paid more anyway." "You got a raise? Buy a new car!" "Your kitchen is outdated, time to remodel!" "Ugh, why is their grass always greener than mine?"
It is exhausting to live like this and our bodies know it. The 'Golden Cage' has become phenomenon all too prevalent in Western culture.
Most of us know that the grass on the other side isn't really greener. But that hasn't kept us from wanting our grass to be greener. It's not enough to have a Bachelor's degree anymore, now we need a Master's too. And a Ph.D would be nice. Sure, you're the Director of your division, but are you the Senior Director? Your child has a 4.0 GPA? Did you hear about that kid whose GPA was over 9.0? The Smiths went on a $20,000 cruise this year and we're only going to Disney!
No one knows about wanting more—more than me. It was 2005 and I was training to become an Alexander Technique teacher. The Alexander Technique is an educational tool used to recognize habits that interfere with the body's optimal functioning, and subsequently, it helps improve health and posture. The premise of this technique is reducing stress and tension in the body. The training course started at 9am and finished at 1pm. To fund myself for this course, I worked as a private English teacher as well as at an English school from 2-10pm, six days a week. On top of that, I liked to get a workout in there too, so bedtime for me was well after midnight. I loved the training course and my job, but it was a lot to juggle. I also never turned down prospective students and somehow found a way to 'manage' it all. However, as a result of this ridiculous schedule, I was completely exhausted and stressed during the first year of my training course. Giving my training or the job up wasn't an option. Neither was not working out (I felt I needed it for my sanity). What I remember vividly is how I would spend my one day off. I would lie on my wooden Alexander Technique table for hours and just let my body decompress and feel how tired it was.
One day at the training course, I was talking to another student, Dana Steiner, while I was working with her. I was frustrated because I couldn't free myself of tension, I couldn't get it 'right'. Every time I tried, I was just creating more tension in my body. I was emotional and burnt out. As I spoke to her she asked me, "Tami, have you ever thought about only giving 80%?" WHAT??? What did she just say? What does that even mean? That went against everything that I stood for! I started working as a babysitter when I was 12, got my first job with a pay-stub when I was 16, worked through high school and college, after I graduated, I worked as a teacher by day and a waitress at night and after that, my normal was working almost every day of the week--while also in school! Who was I to give anything 80%?!?!? Dana then turned to me and said, "You know what Tami, maybe your 100% is so much more than 100% that if you allowed yourself to just give 80% it would still be enough." And I never forgot what she said, because what I heard for the first time, was that I had permission to do less. No one ever told me that before. Who, in our daily life, gives us permission to do less? No one. We have to give ourselves that permission.
We can never really 'win' if all we’re doing is end gaining. The idea behind end gaining is only focusing on what we can obtain or what result we can achieve, while losing sight of the process, or how taxing that process can be on our health. As long as the lists just keep getting longer, we are always chasing more. When a boss tells their employee that they could get a huge bonus if they put in an extra 20 hours a week (which could also lead to becoming a partner at the firm), what does that contemplation do to their nervous system? Sure, the money sounds great, but how often will they tighten their neck with tension while trying to figure out how they are going to juggle the new workload with an already demanding schedule...not to mention also managing their home life?
Have you ever wondered how your neck and shoulders got so tight? Why your back hurts so much? What do you think happens to your body every time you have to try and figure out how you can fit your next want into your life? How are you going to pay for it? What is it going to cost you in time? How is it going to affect your family? Your body responds to every thought you have. The more things that you try to fit into your budget, your schedule and your life, the more they pile up and sit tight in our thoughts which trigger tension in our necks and tired backs. We hold on to them and that tension is never released because it is replaced with new wants, new things to stack on top.
But what if....we wanted less? What if we did less? What if we gave less than 100% to our work and studies? Would the world end? No, I actually think Mother Earth would breathe a huge sigh of relief. Wouldn't giving a little less take a lot of pressure off of ourselves? I know, it's counter-intuitive to accept what I'm suggesting. That would take a lot of re-wiring of our brains to accept not giving 100% to our livelihood and future, because if we aren't already giving 110% then what does that say about our worth anyway? Do we really want to be average in a world where no matter how much more we give or how much more we do, we are also replaceable? No, we don't. But is there any guarantee that all of our efforts will be rewarded just because we gave more? Of course not.
However, the real kicker here, is that doing less, doesn't mean worse. In fact, when I only gave 80% of myself to my work and training course, my life got a lot happier. I allowed myself to come to the training school an hour late every day, so that I could sleep in. The teachers weren't thrilled about it and it took me longer to graduate, but I needed that for myself. I started turning away new job opportunities with students and referred them to other great teachers that I knew and trusted. I became less stressed and more in-tune with the principles of the technique and their application to my body and environment. And 80% felt pretty complete to me.
I wish that we all allowed ourselves more freedom. We can give 80% to our day and let that 20% that we decide not to engage in go in the bin along with all of the other excess that we can learn to tune out. Like basing our value on what other people think of us or our performance. Just because someone holds a powerful position, doesn't mean they get to determine our worth-- and they most certainly don't get to take a piece of our joy.
We can also give 80% to our social media time and use that extra 20% to lie down on a mat at the end of the day and let our bodies decompress on the floor. We can give ourselves permission to only obey 80% of our own rules. We can workout 20% less if our bodies are tired. We can give 20% less of our energy to an argument that is a waste of time anyway.
We can redirect where and how we use our time and energy. And the truth? We can accomplish so much more by doing so much less.