The Never-Ending Chase For Completion

For all the self-help and philosophy we consume and apply, there is this “something” always lurking in the background. Something that makes us quite uneasy.

A simple question, one that is sure to break us if we dare to dig deeper:

What if it doesn’t fulfil me?

What if there is not something? Something in the future we can achieve to give us the happiness we’ve been desperately looking for?

What if we’re doomed to live in a never-ending cycle of:

Desiring something -> Working towards said thing -> Achieving it -> Realizing that it won’t make us happy -> Moving on to the next thing

Should we reject the idea of this loop to start with, assuming that there is something in the future to make us happy, or instead, strive to let go of the need for something in the future, knowing that it may be impossible to start with?

If you can’t already tell, this is something I struggle with quite a lot so, now, I will make a case for both options and what the pros/cons appear to be:

Rejecting It

This is the attitude that decides to reject the idea of the loop completely, assuming that the only reason why we haven’t achieved that never-ending happiness is due to a lack of something we haven’t yet achieved.

This one is where I would say most of humanity falls into, meaning that almost everyone feels like the reason for their current unhappiness is a lack of something. Usually, money.

Pros:

  1. Unshakeable Faith: By adopting this belief, that is, that something to be achieved in the future will give us all that we want, we can become almost unstoppable towards our goal.
    We will push through even the hardest of tasks because we know what awaits us on the other side.
  2. Sense Of Purpose: While you are on this journey, from personal experience, you will feel incredibly fulfilled and with a sense of meaning… However! Only when you are working towards your goals(I explain it in the cons below)
  3. Material Gains: Seeing that this approach focuses on the external to fulfil the internal, you will inevitably achieve a lot of material possessions by the sheer power of your hard-work… At least in the short-term.

Being honest, those are all the pros I could think of from my personal experience adopting the paradigm. However, as you probably noticed, all of these benefits come with a big “*” next to them, let’s explore what they are, shall we?

Cons:

  1. Not So Unshakeable Faith: While on the way to your big goal, it is true that you will have incredible faith that once you get there, everything will be fine…
    Now, what happens when you get there and everything is the opposite of fine? When you actually achieve the thing you set out for, but now that you have it, you feel completely empty?
    This is what happened to me, and at the time, all of the hope I had succumbed to a feeling of emptiness, as if nothing was worth it anymore. After all, this was the thing I NEEDED to make me happy! If that didn’t do it, what would?
  2. Conditional Sense of Purpose: Yes, while working towards your ultimate goal you will feel incredibly fulfiled and motivated. However, from personal experience, this feeling only lasts as long as you’re working.
    As soon as you take a break, everything seems to fall apart internally. There will always be an urge to be working every minute of your waking hours because, the more hours you work the closer you will get to your end goal.
    Now, as you can probably tell, this will lead to extremely addictive behaviour, not only with work itself but also with other substances to keep you going and, then, to help you relax.
  3. Short-Lived Wealth: Since you will be in a rush to get to the finish line, it will be almost inevitable that, along the way, you will take some shortcuts. Maybe you don’t lay a solid foundation, you overlook the numbers, rush the process, or all of them combined. What you will find is that, while when you get there everything will seem like what you envisioned, what comes after is nothing like it. Due to all the shortcuts taken you will either spend everything you earned trying to fix the problems they caused or straight out see everything you worked so hard for crumble to pieces.

Big disclaimer! This is what I gathered from my own experience and of other people I could study, with limited information, of course, so take it with a grain of salt.

With that in mind, it seems pretty clear why this approach wouldn’t be your first choice… if you could change your paradigm immediately.

Essentially, what it does is sacrifice the present with hopes of something better in the future.

Those who actually get there soon realize how meaningless it all was, leaving them with a sense of hopelessness that a lot of times will lead to anxiety, depression, and in the worst possible scenario, suicide.

We have examples from this all across the world from celebrities to athletes, to musicians, and pretty much every other career path out there.

People who placed all of their happiness in a future event, only to get extremely disappointed when arriving there.

But if this approach is clearly not healthy(or worth it), will the other one be any better?

Embracing It

A much more stoic approach to the problem. One that recognizes our own impulses and short-comings, focusing on doing the best possible with them in mind.

This is the one that decides to embrace the fact that we will always struggle with being grateful and fulfilled, but decides that we will do our best to find our meaning and happiness while struggling with it.

This is the one I’ve adopted after the “Rejecting It” approach fell flat multiple times, and before giving my personal opinions, let’s try and look at it from a neutral standpoint:

Pros:

  1. Appreciation For The “Common”: Seeing as we will be putting our focus towards what we already have to make us happy, we will start seeing beauty where once we didn’t even bother to look. This could be a run through the park, a nice evening with friends, a peaceful afternoon reading, etc.
  2. Sense Of Peace: Following the previous point, since we won’t be looking at the future for completion, we will find ourselves much more at peace with our own life. By removing expectation, anxiety will find it much harder to creep upon us.
  3. Morals Over Results: A critical one. By not seeing the result of our actions as the end goal itself, we make it much easier on ourselves to follow what we know to be right. In other words, our moral code. Since we learn to recognize that no external benefit we may gain reigns supreme over our conduct, we will actually do what is right, as opposed to what will bring us closer to our goal.

To keep it balanced, I will keep it at 3 points each, being the ones above some of the most important.

As you can see, they are much different from the previous paradigm. You may notice how they may look quite boring when being compared. There are no fast-results, romantic “zero-to-hero” stories, or, for the most part, great actions involving a lot of risks. This is a much more grounded and mature approach, one that requires doing things for the sake of themselves, not for what is seen by others.

What should come next is the cons. The bad things about this type of approach. However, there is a problem!

While trying to figure out the negative aspects of this approach, I couldn’t find any that would be relevant enough to dissuade anyone from it. None that was big enough. So, seeing as this was also a writing exercise for me, to get my thoughts straight, it seems pretty clear the conclusion we can draw from it

Conclusion

Going through both of them, reviewing the pros and cons of each one, it seems pretty clear which one you would want to pick.

I don’t think any of us would consciously opt for a life of short-term gains and long-term disappointment. Now, while this may be true, it isn’t necessarily up to us to make this choice.

Just because we know what is right doesn’t mean we will follow through with it. The simple fact of recognizing a problem is but the first step.

To give you my personal example, when I recognized that the paradigm I was operating from wasn’t necessarily the best, the first thing I did was to deny it. I focused on working even harder to maintain my belief. Only after I monumentally failed, emotionally feeling the impact of my actions, was I able to start the transformation process.

Despite going through it myself, bearing the pain it brought, sometimes I still fall off course. There are days when I take the shortcut. When I neglect the long-term for instant gratification.

However, the critical part in all of this is making the conscious decision to live according to what you know is right. To stick to it as much as you can.

And the bad days? The ones where you fall off course?

Embrace them, do the best you can, and prepare to make the next ones much better.

Changing paradigms won’t be easy, romantic or filled with extreme high emotions. You’ll succumb to temptation. You’ll feel lost and hopeless. It will be hard.

However, it will be the course that leads you to a sense meaning and internal fulfilment, to a life that you can look back and be proud of, a life that others can look back at in admiration, a life of doing what is right despite what sacrifices had to be made. A life worth living.

To summarize all of the above: Look inside, embrace what is, do good, be good, trust the process, and always remember — no one gets out alive, so enjoy it while you can. The good, the bad, the average, your family, your friends, the heartbreaks and the moments of love that made it possible to even get broken in the first place. The pain of failure and the joy of glory.

Enjoy all of it, and then, when the time comes, go out knowing that you gave it your all.

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Stoicism & Philosophy | Building @pathsofmeaning

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