Don’t Lose Your Edge
Warning: Do not read this post if you are looking for something immediately applicable for your life – instead, read on to see what the process of self-development looks like and what actually goes on in my head. For the past few weeks, a disturbing habit has crept up on me and has seized my life – I’ve started to get lazy. I’ve not done as well in my work, I’ve not worked out as hard as I should, I’ve hardly done work at all, and, on the whole, my performance in every aspect of my life has fallen. I don’t feel as good as I did, I don’t work as hard as I did, and I stopped performing a lot of my good habits. My to-do list, for example, has stuff from two weeks ago that’s important and that I need to get done, but I’ve been procrastinating. Some of this is just me realigning my priorities with the onset of hockey season (hockey and school eat up about 12 hours of my time per day), but the other part of it is something much more insidious, much more damaging… I’ve been losing my edge. Ever so slowly, the thing that I was most proud of – my ability to work harder and longer than anyone else, to perform at my peak all the time – has slipped away from me, to be replaced by “self-acceptance”. I “accepted” myself so completely that I began to do nothing as well as I could’ve. After all, no matter what, no matter how badly I did, I could live with it. My standards plummeted, and I began to do the bare minimum to get by. The results of all this: worse performance, lower energy, lower self-esteem. More laziness. And, actually, at the end of it all – decreased happiness, even with my new sense of “self-acceptance”. I’ve been resting on my laurels. That, my friends, is ending now.
The Edge = My Values “Wait, what?” you ask. “How can you accept yourself but feel less happy?” Answer: because I was committing an act of fraud towards myself. I didn’t actually “accept” myself as I was – I just learned to “accept” my own bad behavior. At its core, I actually allowed myself to act against my values, which then created an internal schism that made me feel even more lethargic and disconnected from myself. Because I was continually acting against my values of hard work, doing my best, and never giving in to the resistance, I ended up making a habit out of it. The resulting inner conflict made me feel deeply unhappy, and for the longest time, I couldn’t find out why. Luckily, I was using my free time – since I wasn’t working – to read books, and I decided to take a run through Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, since it’s one of my favorite books. As soon as I started reading about the background of Francisco d’Anconia and the exploits of Dagny Taggart, I realized why I was feeling so bad all the time. It’s not because I was tired. It’s because I wasn’t taking responsibility for myself and because I was taking the “easy way” in everything that I did. Shortcuts. Not bothering to put in the real time and effort, so I could have more time to do things that I “enjoyed”, like reading. I wasn’t being as great as I could be. No, I was doing just enough to get by, while my performance in every aspect of my life – athletics, school, writing, anything else you can think of – went down the drain. I allowed laziness to infiltrate my life and take away my edge, that desire to always improve, the desire to chase my dreams. All because I wanted to “accept” myself no matter what, because I let myself think that things like values and desires and performance all didn’t matter. They do. Making life all about feeling a good emotion all the time – happiness or inner peace or “flow” or whatever you want to call it – is shallow and empty. I could get that high by being a heroin addict and waste my days away, always trying to feel that euphoria. But I’m human. I’m meant for something greater than just being a couch potato, reading books, and meditating all day. No, I have a personal code I must abide by, an unwritten set of rules that governs my behavior at every instant. Those are my values. And adhering to my values, no matter how much I may hate it, no matter how much I can’t bear to work anymore, no matter how much pain I have to go through to keep going, is what gives me true fulfillment. It’s about keeping my integrity instead of giving in to pressure – pressure from other self-help guys telling you you’re great no matter what, that you deserve your own happiness. They’re wrong. I was wrong.
Committing A Sin If you murdered someone in cold blood, would you be wracked with regret for the rest of your life? Could you just accept yourself as a murderer? I know I couldn’t. Or, at least, I would end up accepting it after being tortured by regret, then end up trying to avenge my wrong, trying to compensate for the negativity I’ve introduced in the world with some positivity, a la Jean Valjean in Hugo’s Lés Miserables. What I’ve been doing – losing my edge – has been a direct violation against my code of values. As it turns out, the statement that “you are enough” actually comes with a caveat – it presupposes that you are living in accordance with your values at all times. If you can be the embodiment of your values, then you will find that you will be a person of integrity, a person deserving of your own acceptance. However, if you’re living against your values, your mind will scream at you to get back on board with them – and with good reason. You’re not living your life as you should, and your mind will push you to get back on track. I don’t think that that’s something you should fear or try to get rid of – though, so often, we say that we’re being “too judgmental” when that happens. It’s not. It’s your mind trying to unite you, making you into the person you want to be. Living against your values will make you feel “off”, almost like you’re sick. It’s because your spirit has been cut in two, and you need to make the conscious decision to come back to your values if you want to feel whole. Your values – and how well you act to make them a reality – are the ultimate determinant of how you feel in any given moment. Do not – I repeat – do not sacrifice your values in order to feel good. It’s a bad trade. You’ll end up without values and without the good emotions you sought. Integrity and being true to yourself – doing what you truly want from your core – is the root of all fulfillment and good emotion. Do not gamble it away for the sake of pleasure. Be strong. Keep to your values, even when it hurts to do so. I don’t know how else to tell you guys this – do not sell yourself out, looking for “inner peace”, looking for anything else. Sure, looking for those things are perfectly okay – I know how much they’ve benefited my life – but if you trade your values away for them, you’ll come up empty-handed. Instead, seek peace and fulfillment while acting on your values. That way, you’ll be able to draw energy from within when you feel like giving up.