The Myth of Achievement

In this life, can I really achieve anything?  I think of achievement as if it is something important with intrinsic and lasting meaning.  But someday I will die and whatever achievements I have made will be forgotten over time.  Not even the Earth will last forever.  Not even the universe will last forever.  And yet I feel the need to achieve something in this lifetime.  I want to leave my mark.  I wonder, however, how much of this desire to achieve is motivated by shame and ego.  In other words could my need to achieve actually be the need to avoid humiliation of not achieving brought on by comparing myself to others or some idealized version of myself?

If I remove the ego from the equation then I can see two legitimate reasons to achieve in life.  The first reason is the awareness of being in the moment and enjoying the act of achieving.  If I am enjoying what I am achieving while I am achieving then that has value regardless of whether it lasts in time.  The second legitimate reason to achieve is true compassion.  This can be compassion for others but also includes compassion for the self (which may be the same thing – see The Universe is Solipsistic).  For example I might choose to achieve to make a living to support my family (and myself).  This seems to have value as well.  I call this true compassion, as opposed to false compassion which is motivated by ego or shame.  For example I might choose to appear to be compassionate to make myself look good in the eyes of others.

So it seems that achievement for its own sake or out of compassion is good perhaps because it is truthful.  And achievement that serves the ego is bad perhaps because it is untruthful.  It is untruthful because there is an implicit assumption that life will go on forever (which it will not) and achievements are stored like wealth forever (which they cannot).  It is also deceptive about what its motive appears to be.

What about no achievement at all?  I suppose this could be either desirable or undesirable.  Obviously if I do nothing for too long I will starve to death.  That is not desirable.  I could also become a drug addict and loose all motivation to achieve.  That also seems undesirable.  I could simply “be” without achieving for a period of time not long enough to starve to death.  There is something desirable about that akin to meditation.  Although I would probably struggle with that because sometimes when I am not achieving I feel lazy (a shame based emotion) and it becomes difficult to enjoy the act of not achieving.  That is not a desirable situation either.  And even if I could not achieve without feeling shame then it becomes some kind of spiritual achievement.   That sounds desirable.   Spiritual growth comes from venturing out of my comfort zone.  But why do I need to grow?  Is this not also the need for achievement, only bumped up to the spiritual level?  I suppose there is the expectation that the spirit exists eternally, so maybe that is the difference and the motivation appears to be true.  I suppose when I boil it all down it’s about Truth.  If achievement is true then it is worth pursuing and if it is untrue it’s not but I still feel like I’m missing something here.

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Filed under Achievement, Shame

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