Pain is inevitable. Suffering is Optional. It’s an old maxim echoed across all physical disciplines, and like most cliches, expresses a great truth.
I have found the value of a practice is generally proportionate to the effort the endeavor requires. The most meaningful aspects of my life: my relationships, my health, my school, and my study, are all demanding to the degree that they are worthwhile. As we pursue our highest selves, we are fueled by our conscientiousness: the need to be dutiful as we strive toward a preconceived ideal.
For many, especially the high achievers, this trait is simultaneously the reason for success and the cause of much frustration. We must learn how to properly navigate this inner compulsion if we are to achieve our optimal well-being.
The 2 Modes of Expression
The most common expression of this work ethic is being driven. I have been driven my whole life. If you have ever committed to a sport, craft, or occupation, you know this feeling: daily striving toward a goal, sacrificing sleep, relationships, and the present moment as you cast aside everything but your chosen pursuit. Burning the candle at both ends, you inevitably exhaust yourself and require extended periods of rest to recover.
This mode of being requires energy.
But then there is a second, higher version of conscientiousness which fuels you. As Gabor Mate said in Tribe of Mentors:
“And don’t confuse being driven with being authentically animated by an inner calling. One state leaves you depleted and unfulfilled; the other fuels your soul and makes your heart sing.”
Authentically animated. This is the goal. To be so consumed with the pursuit and expression of a worthy ideal, a mode of being in which our motivation bubbles up from an unlimited source. Rather than push ourselves, we are pulled in the direction of our dreams.
Being Authentically Animated
Being driven or being authentically animated are gifts. We daily stoke our fire as we, like the phoenix, burn off our feathers as we grow to something more. But being driven tacitly expresses a fundamental discontent with the present moment. We are driven toward a goal and away from ourselves.
Being authentically animated, however, is a deeper and more meaningful mode of being. We are not working toward our goal. We are our goal. We are an expression of a fundamental truth derived from intimate experience with reality. A truth we breath in each moment.
The Pain of Life
Pain is inevitable. All worthwhile things require sacrifice. But suffering is different. When we are inspired toward a worthy ideal, we consciously choose pain over comfort as we make manifest our will. But that pain never becomes suffering. Because suffering arises out of dissatisfaction with experience.
When that experience is the unavoidable step in the growth process of one who is authentically animated, the suffering stops. When we accept the difficulty of a noble life, we transcend it.
Call to Action
I have been driven for much of my life, with a subtle aversion of what is in hopes of what could be. I am no longer driven. I have found a motivation that fills me rather than empties me. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m young, but I’m aging. I feel my body giving way to the stress of a difficult life. Me at thirty-one requires a much different fuel source than I did in my twenties. I’m glad I’ve found one.
Being driven gets you to your destination, but you’ll empty your tank in the attempt. Being authentically animated, however, fills your tank while increasing its depths.
In a life committed to self-actualization, this is a paramount distinction. I wish you a life of authentic animation.