My daily to-do list is often overwhelming. There are tasks and goals to complete, competing priorities, and the weight of expectation. It is easy to get lost and confused. I often find myself wanting to just stay in bed, or staring at the wall and wondering what all this hustle is for.
We talk a lot at The Crossroad about different kinds of theres – goals, milestones, strategies, and a Transcendent There. In order to live a meaningful life, we need alignment with our different kinds of theres, so that they build upon one another rather than competing with one another. This has been extremely helpful for me in my life.
Recently, I have been thinking about another element of this. When my daily tasks and goals are working toward something bigger (a milestone and, really, a Transcendent There), it actually takes some of the pressure off of my day.
It is no secret that every single one of us wants to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. In order to live a meaningful life, we have to find something grand worth contributing to. This is what we mean by a Transcendent There.
Our strategies and milestones are microcosms of this “bigger than yourself” vision. They are out there a ways, beyond the grasp of today.
There is something really freeing in that.
I have discovered that, in the absence of a clearly defined bigger-than-myself vision, I tend to make my daily tasks Transcendent. I start to think that just completing my to-do list is the meaningful life I long for.
Every single day, then, becomes this zero-sum game. I have to do it all. I cannot fail. I cannot leave things unaccomplished. If I do, in a sense my world crumbles, because I have made the tasks of today the end all, and be all of my existence.
If I fail today, I feel as though I have failed at life. And if I succeed today, the prize is that I instantly start to worry about the fast-approaching tomorrow, where I have to do it all over again.
It is no wonder we are so full of angst. No wonder mental health issues are plaguing mankind.
This is an untenable situation. If everything is eternal, failure on any given day becomes an issue of identity rather than of circumstance.
If I am pursuing a milestone, something bigger and a little further off, it provides some breathing room. I can fail at something today, learn, and still be on track to achieve the milestone. In fact, failing somewhere along the way is probably helpful. I have time to learn the lessons of suffering, to navigate the boundary lines of my limitations, and to bring in other people to help.
And if this is true of pursuing a milestone (like graduating college, planning a wedding, training for a marathon, i.e.), how much more so for strategies and truly Transcendent Theres (unity, peace, joy, i.e.)
All of this gets rushed if today is mistaken as Transcendent. There is no time to have hard conversations. Little time to breathe and collect my thoughts. No real room to try something ambitious, risky, that might not work out.
When I feel overwhelmed on any given day, I think it is because I am not able to get enough done. The truth is, I am most often overwhelmed because of an improper perspective of today. I am making it more transcendent than it truly is.
Each day is meaningful. Every day I get the opportunity to participate in something bigger than myself, a Transcendent There. But I cannot accomplish anything transcendent in a day. I cannot even accomplish a milestone in a day. Today is a chance to work toward a meaningful life, not to complete one. An important distinction. The key to a meaningful life is not completing all of my hopes and dreams today; it is not about finishing my to-do list that might serve as a mental placeholder for those hopes and dreams. The key is to try with courage, to participate daily in the grand things of life that are paradoxically bigger than today and also available within today.