“What if we didn’t define our daily life by what we accomplish?”
As I sat in class this afternoon, fighting the grogginess of insomnia’s aftereffects, I was struck by these words. In the context of a discussion centered on the values of productivity and success that are so prevalent in western societies, this question was raised. But far beyond the specific class discussion, this question set me forth on a broader path of curiosity and introspection.
Indeed, what if our daily lives were not defined by how much we accomplished or the notches of success we proudly mark before retiring for the night? What if we stopped focusing so much on checking off each item on the to-do list? What if we re-created our own individual meanings for the word “accomplishment”? Is smiling at a stranger or hugging a friend or enjoying moments of stillness any less of an “accomplishment” than doing the grocery shopping or completing a work assignment? How do we, individually and collectively, define our daily lives? And does our definition reflect our authentic values?
As my professor pointed out this afternoon, parents often ask their children “what did you DO today” upon their return from school. But how many of us stop to actually think about why we ask such questions? Why is there such a focus on what has been DONE? Our society and our American culture have instilled in us the conditioned belief that we must DO something in order to be worthwhile. It is a belief that many of us have come to accept without question. But is it true, for us?
For me, life’s meaning is not about what I do or don’t do. It is about who I am, who others are, and our being in relationships with one another. For me, life is not about DOING, but rather about BEING.
I spend much of my time occupied with classes, studying, working, and doing the necessary errands that reality demands. The act of “doing” cannot be extinguished, nor should it be. It is not in the “doing” that we lose our meaning and purpose, but when the “doing” becomes more valuable than just “being”.
I admit that I am often guilty of defining my own daily life by what I have accomplished throughout the day. I experience a sense of pride in the completion of tasks, and there is nothing wrong with feeling good about finishing 5 loads of laundry or reading all of the assignments before a particular class. But for me, there is something personally wrong when I define my life by those necessary daily activities.
So what if I defined my daily life in some other way? How would I define it?
Taking away those actions of “accomplishment” or success, I would define my life in a way that much more closely resembles the person that I am and the inherent values that abide within my soul. I would define my life by the love I give and receive. I would define my life by gratitude for blessings and prayers for those in need. I would define my life by a balance of dedication to self and others, moments of excitement and peace, the treasures of beauty and hope. I would define my life in terms of smiles and laughter, hugs and kisses, words and affections. I would define my life through creativity and dreaming, inspiration and taking chances, holding and releasing, knowing and believing.
At the end of our lives, does it really matter if the carpet was vacuumed every Saturday? Does it really matter if we set aside work on a dissertation in favor of an afternoon spent in the company of loved ones and the beauty of Nature? Does it matter if we worked overtime or did the dishes immediately after dinner? For me, these are not the things that matter in the end. At the end of my life, what will matter is that I have known the power and fragility of love, that I have made a difference in my own life and in the life of others. For me, defining my daily life means that I must purposefully embrace it, for what is it worth at the end for a life that was never truly lived?