The Importance Of Doing Right (Even If No One Is Watching)
We’ve all followed through on an action we believe is wrong, especially when no one is watching.
You know the ones I’m talking about.
Keeping the extra change the cashier mistakenly gave us, fill up a super big gulp at a gas station when we’re on a diet, or simply procrastinate on the habits we know we should be attacking.
We’ve all succumbed to some form of it.
Before they happen, the justification in our minds always sounds bullet-proof, however, after the fact, they get exposed for what they really are: excuses.
“Why did I do that” — You may find yourself wondering — “This is the last time I ever allow it to happen!”
A hopeful promise that tends to be as short-lived as my Sunday afternoon bucket of Ben & Jerry’s, bringing with our failure, not only guilt but also shame to the party.
This rings especially true for long-term pursuits.
Sure, you may even get a few consistent weeks, full of excitement and motivation, only to find those rapidly decreasing, bringing along with it your consistency and quality of effort.
We know who we want to be, who we should be, however, we don’t have the power of will to get there.
In low moments like the ones just described, it’s easier than not to feel like you are the only one struggling to get yourself in order, after all, everyone on social media is living their best lives and here you are sipping on 2 liters of fizzy drink when you should be on a diet instead.
“Something must be wrong with me.” — A thought that crossed my mind multiple times in the past — “Only if I had better looks/finances/health/social skills, then I’d be happy.” If only my circumstances were better, everything would be solved.
A comforting thought to have, however, one that couldn’t be further from the truth.
A Timeless Struggle
More than 2000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius would write in his journal, likely as a reminder to himself:
“No more arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
The most powerful man at the time, emperor of Rome, possessing an army of thousands of soldiers, as rich as one can be, struggling with his actions.
While this assumption could be false, to be specific, that the passage above was written in a moment of internal struggle, the bottom line still holds. He was reminding himself.
Reminding that at any moment he, and any of us for that matter, always knew the right thing to do based on the current information he had, so above arguing, above debating, what mattered is that he took those actions known to be right.
The actions that move the needle of our life forward. Physically, financially, and spiritually.
“What if I don’t know what is right to do?” — You may fire back, especially if you’ve been confused about the right approach to a certain pursuit.
For those of you questioning the same, let me put it this way:
If you are confused about the best way to attack your goals, then you know the right thing to do is to find that path.
If, on the other hand, you have already discovered it, then you know it’s time to fulfill it.
Why This Matters
At the end of the day, doing what we believe is right, especially in a consistent fashion, is tremendously difficult and exhausting, increasingly so when starting out.
With the bait of short-term rewards being dangled in front of us, having only the requirement of delaying our long-term goals “one more day” into the future, why wouldn’t we take it?
“If life is made to be lived, why not do it?” — May a tiny figure on your left shoulder whisper.
Well, allow me to be the figure on your other shoulder and bring some reason into the debate.
While a life of instant rewards may feel good if all you focus on is the immediate present, you are attaining them by sacrificing something of immeasurable more value. The most fulfilling of prizes.
What is that you may ask? Nothing less than the person you know you can become, as Jocko Willink put it, “Faster. Stronger. Smarter. More humble. Less ego.”, a person who fulfilled their potential to the fullest.
“Why does that matter? At the end we all fall in similar graves.” — Will the little devil likely challenge.
A strong argument, at face-value, that similar to the hedonistic pursuit of short-term pleasure, falls flat when given some thought.
No one, for how seemingly uncaring about reaching a higher level of self-mastery than they are at today, is free of having to dialogue with themselves at the end of the day. When the lights turn off and we find ourselves in the stillness of our dark bedroom, trying to fall asleep, the distractions to escape thoughts that short-term pleasures push away is gone.
It’s then, and quite often, only then that we realize how, as Seneca once put it:
“So called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments.”,
Not only for the body but, even more damaging, to the mind.
During nights when the battle happening between our ears doesn’t seem to seize, quite often, we are confronted with the deeply sharp pain of knowing we are throwing our life away, building up regret in our lives.
Worst of all, we know that if things keep going in a similar fashion, inevitably, we will reach the end never truly experiencing the long-term rewards we craved. I’m not even talking about the material ones such as owning a big house or driving a Mercedes. No, those are fleeting and futile.
I’m talking about the ones that give meaning to our lives, the ones you get to share with others and be proud of the work that got you there:
- A strong, healthy relationship you’ve built with your partner over the years;
- A job you’ve grown and developed in, allowing you to reach a position you never thought possible;
- A body you’re proud to look at in the mirror, knowing the effort and consistency it took you to get there.
- The son/daughter you’ve raised in a fashion you wish your parents never provided to you, leading by example and preparing them in the best way possible for their adulthood
- The creative passion you’ve pursued over the years, giving the deep fulfillment that is to fully express ourselves.
These are all “pleasures” that, in my experience, make life truly worth living. They bring meaning and a sense of fulfillment that no short-term pleasure can ever give. Ever.
Similar to eating healthy, which, in the short-term, never gives as big a rush of mouth pleasure as fast food, it brings a longer, more consistent type of pleasure.
The type that allows you to sit down and be happy with yourself, knowing that you are well off today because of the sacrifices you've made in the past.
An overall state of being that can only be achieved, bringing it all the way to the beginning, by stop arguing what a good man/woman should be, and start becoming one right now.
It isn’t easy, we all struggle with it, and quite often, we all fail to do what is right. It’s just part of the process.
Because no matter how hard, how tough the road ahead may seem, we are allowing ourselves to go gentle into that good night, knowing we gave it our all.
Thank you for reading.