Have you ever felt like none of it is worth it? You’ve worked ceaselessly taking on the ultimate challenge that will define your existence on this planet, your most significant contribution to humanity. You’ve taken pride in the endless hours worked, the sleepless nights, the sacrifices made, because in the end you’ll be proud of what you’ve achieved and how you’ve chosen to spend your days.
It’s been an arduous road and it’s gotten tougher as you’ve gotten stronger. You enthusiastically embrace the struggle because you know its making your living worthwhile. Others notice too and you’re often commended for your ambition. You feel like you’re doing the most with your life. All of this helps you swim harder and harder against the raging currents with a fierce determination matched only by the storm around you.
You take a brief glance back and you pause to think of how much you’ve achieved. You think of the person you were before the journey. The anxious day dreamer, always lost in thought but never having a sense of where to go. Still wet behind the ears, forever waiting on someone else’s word and hesitant to take control. So much growth since then, growth born out of hardship, vulnerability and a painful introspection of the soul. The clouds are still swirling and the grey sky is only getting darker.
As difficult as it’s already been, it’s about to get much worse. You see the approaching Goliath of a wave and you envision yourself riding its crest as it crashes down into the sea. At this point, fear and apprehension have become near after thoughts. Almost robotically, you paddle forward.
But amidst the storm and the ensuing wave, you’re still asking yourself: is it all really worth it? Your shoulders are sore and your back is hunched from the weight of your ambitions. You think of how you have no choice but to swim on because now, it’s no longer only about yourself. Others depend on your labors to have a house to sleep in, to come home to a warm dinner.
For those veterans who have weathered the storm, your fight allows their old and tired bodies much needed rest. Most pressing, perhaps, is that others have come to admire your outward confidence and tenacity despite the stormy waters. Your cool demeanor and youthful grin have come to be sources of calm for others who are lost in their own battles. My presence has become warmly reassuring to my colleagues who are more afraid than I am. How could I let them down? But still, is it all really worth it?
Growing up, I used to idolize my father for his uncompromising stoicism. Witnessing the violence of quick tempered brutes, the incoherent stumbling drunks of my neighborhood, the petty bickering of the supposed adults in my family, by father stood tall with his hard, steely gaze. Yet unfortunately, I soon learned that even the strongest backs eventually break. The house lost, twenty years of savings down the drain, and his prized truck just repossessed, my father sat at the kitchen table with a look of utter defeat in his eyes. Uncertain of what to do, almost hopeless. My dad was a mere mortal, just a man. Oh how disappointed I was.
As unforgiving as I was to my father, I feel the same pitiless shame towards myself. Why can’t I allow myself to be just a man? To submit myself to my anger? To indulge in my own selfishness? To feel fatigue and sometimes wish it all away? What if I just dropped everything and left? The life of the peaceful paddle boarder, drifting slowly in the water, staring out into the compassionate blue sky, completely withdrawn from the perilous dilemmas of 21st century mankind. Is it selfish to live a life of recluse and comfort? To think only of one’s self? Am I weak for having these thoughts?
I want to say that this is a story of courage and purpose. That the moral is that everyone faces internal struggle but that with enough determination it can be overcome. Those who really want to can change the world, no matter what the odds. A quote that really spoke to me is from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
But what if I’m tired of caring?
The storm is still raging, and the worst is yet to come. Maybe one day I’ll get to enjoy my lovely, dark and deep woods but today is not that day. I’ve come this far, and instinctively I’m paddling forward. Is it all really worth it?
I honestly do not know.