We are a culture of success. We are born and bred to be competitive, to want to win, to be the best, to succeed, to dominate. This is America, and we are the biggest and the best country. We have freedom and we better take that freedom and take over the world.
Even if your parents don’t necessarily raise you to be competitive or to buy into this ideology, you’ll get it from somewhere else. From our media, for example. Or from your friends, or teachers, or coaches, or whoever happens to be around.
This is not necessarily a bad philosophy, but I don’t agree with it.
My best work is not done in competition with others, but rather, in union with others.
Which is not to say that this ideology hasn’t manifested quite nicely in my own mind. Often I find myself making decisions and acting out of scarcity, out of competition, out of the idea that “if I don’t do this first then someone else will do it and my idea will be stolen.” As if someone were to actually go into my brain, see my ideas, and snag them right from their habitat. How ridiculous.
Anyway, so I’m reading Liz Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic. Yes, her name is Elizabeth, but I call her Liz because I think we’re on good terms. She’s my spirit animal, after all, and I’m sure if we were to ever meet we would jump blissfully into one another’s arms as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. Status: fan girl.
The book is about living creatively, and how to incorporate your creativity into your day to day life. She says many things I agree with, and many things that have changed how I interpret the world.
Competition, for example. This never really rang as inner truth to me. I want to play with you, not against you. And yet, I still have this little competitive edge that tells me to be the best. To be successful. But what does that mean, really? What is success? How do you know if you’re a successful artist, or creator, or yoga teacher?
Liz Gilbert’s approach to success is like a yogis. Work, because you love it. Work even when you don’t love it. Work when you don’t love it because you do, and you have to cultivate that love through service, and by showing up, and by refining your craft, and dedicating yourself wholeheartedly to something.
As for success? Work anyway, whether or not you’re successful. Whether or not it becomes profitable.
Some of the most famous artists in history never made a dime from their art during their lives. Van Gogh only sold one painting while alive; his fame and fortunes have come posthumously.
What if Van Gogh had given up, because he wasn’t “successful”? What if he let the critic get to him?
This idea is very much like the niyama of yoga, tapas. Work, with discipline, with austerity, when you don’t want to, when you do want to. Combine this with aparigraha, or non-attachment to results. Work without regard to the outcome. Be ambivalent to “success.” Remind yourself that any “success” or lack thereof is temporary.
As always, I have been struggling with the question, “What do I want to do for the rest of my life?” As if there’s a real answer. I pursued some intuitive counseling to help me decide if school was my next big step, and do you know what she told me?
She told me this: whatever you do will be fine. You just need to make a choice.
Commitment has never been my strong suit. In a world of possibilities, I find myself an opportunist and, like a puppy, easily distracted by what might be the next big thing.
And yet, everything I am learning is saying – no. Allow yourself to be still. Allow yourself to drop the idea that success comes with a job title. Allow yourself to persevere.
Another nice little snippet from Liz I got is this: “What is your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?” Essentially, there’s something shitty to every job or career. What kind of shit sandwich do you prefer?
As a yoga teacher, the shit sandwich is: unpredictability of work, working irregular hours, cutting into “family” time, no health insurance, no guarantees, isoloation, low pay, not a traditional picture of “success,” judgments of “questionable career choice”.
It’s a shit sandwich, alright.
But you know what else you get by being a yoga teacher?
To do something you love, every day. To intertwine what you learn into your classes. To teach movement and breath. To connect mind and body and spirit. To connect other humans to each other. To pursue introspection. To pursue laughter. To be serious and frivolous at the same time. To be able to go to the grocery store at 10 am when there’s no one there. To be able to put your mind and heart and soul into something and give that to others.
And that’s pretty freaking awesome.
I think for me, it’s time to accept the shit sandwich for what it is, and to pursue my work with “stubborn gladness”. And, if all else fails, I can always get a job.
But right now, I’ll consider myself a success. Because I make a living as a yoga teacher, people seek out my classes, and I’m following my joy.
This week, consider: What’s your favorite flavored shit sandwich? Can you let go of the ideas of conventional success? Where can you be more committed?