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Have you ever experienced “buyer’s remorse” (where you purchased something rather expensive — that you absolutely thought you had to have — only to later regret your decision)? How about the sickening feeling that comes after you’ve invested thousands of dollars into a home improvement project and then realize how much you dislike the way things turned out? If my dear, sweet mother-in-love were to have experienced either of the above scenarios, she probably would have rationalized, “If money can fix it, then it’s not a problem.” That’s generally a good outlook to have. But what about regret that involves something as monumental as life itself―something no amount of money can ever fix or replace? In this vein I ask, “Are you cheating yourself with life? I hear you ask,”What exactly do you mean?” Well, let me explain.
A sense of significance or fulfillment in life is something that we all deeply value. There’s not a person who doesn’t harbor an instinctive longing for his life to count. But we live in a fallen world that has always misunderstood the true meaning or purpose of life. From early on we are programmed to believe that success in life is about having a certain title, landing the right job, earning a certain salary, living in the “right” neighborhood, etc. Virtually everything around us — slogans, commercials, TV shows, movies, and a host of other stimuli — all reinforce this notion.
It’s no wonder people are seemingly running at breakneck speed on the “treadmill of life” in search of success or significance. But although hectic schedules generally leave us exhausted and burned out, our busyness doesn’t necessarily equate to progress or change for the better. So the folly of “running on life’s treadmill” is that it tends to reinforce a mistaken sense of progress―when we pause to take true stock of our lives, we often discover that our frenzied activities haven’t gotten us closer to where we actually desire to be. Worse, they may have taken us further away. (An example would be someone desiring to lower his debt but finding himself in deeper debt three years later).
I think that when this awareness finally sets in, we experience something akin to “buyer’s remorse” or “home improvement remorse.” It’s an unsettling feeling that could be aptly termed “treadmill remorse.” And it gnaws at us. It’s as though we suddenly realize that we’ve given the best part of our days, indeed our very lives, chasing after a puff of smoke. We are then forced to painfully acknowledge that although we are spent, we have simply “gone through the motions,” with little or nothing to show for it. And we can’t help but feel that life has somehow cheated us. But truth be told, we’ve actually cheated ourselves.
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The drive for success is a labyrinth of goals and expectations. I remember the first time that it rudely impacted my personal life. I woke up one morning and it finally dawned on me that though my husband had been proverbially “working his tail off,” the payoff was hardly commensurate with his efforts. He indeed meant well. Yet, his business endeavors had taken him away from home even on weekends, leaving me and our three young children starved for healthy periods of time with him. Thankfully, I recognized this looming danger sign long before my husband’s demanding schedule had dug deep enough roots to subtly unravel our marriage.
But this isn’t always the case. You see, the busyness or urgency of life is a master of deception. It hides “under the radar,” causing us to slowly and imperceptibly lose sight of what’s most important. Indeed, busyness is often an impostor of success. I think we all know very busy people who have unwittingly sacrificed life’s most precious gifts on the altar of success, leaving them with fractured marriages (or even divorce), strained relationships with children, and sometimes both. The irony is that most do so firmly believing that they’re making good and beneficial choices on behalf of their families.
Let’s be honest―dissatisfying marriages and troubled families are but microcosms of life. And it’s hard not to become disillusioned when we realize just how busy yet unfulfilled we really are. But there’s another dimension to this notion of “treadmill remorse.” Actually, it’s an interesting paradox. As strange as it may sound, “going through the motions” of life tends to exert a gravitational pull that, instead of being an impetus for change, causes us to settle more deeply into a rut. In other words, we generally become apathetic when we resign ourselves to mundane day-to-day responsibilities or passionately pursue goals that still leave us feeling empty inside. Our apathy then gives way to discouragement. And protracted discouragement breeds passivity and complacency.
Ever heard the story of the dog that wouldn’t stop barking? A friend asked the dog’s owner why the dog kept on howling. His master replied that the dog was hurting because he was sitting on a nail. His friend then asked, “Why won’t he get up and move?” The dog’s owner replied, “Because it’s not hurting him enough!”
If we’re honest we’d admit that we often act like that dog. It’s as if we become “sick and tired” of our busy yet empty lives, but not quite “sick and tired” enough to do something about it. Far from being energized and inspired, we are left feeling hopeless and unmotivated. Often, we resort to unhealthy ways of coping with our discontentment and despair. Over time, less important activities displace true priorities and obligations. Before long, our God-given passions become buried and we begin to merely exist and cease to live.
This reality wreaks sheer havoc in our lives―a lack of joy, boredom and disillusionment constitute the ingredients for a passionless, mediocre existence, not the lives of significance we so desperately desire. So unlike buyer’s remorse, for example, we can ill afford to just “throw in the towel” and give in to our hum-drum routines. Whether we realize it or not, to do so puts us on the way to forfeiting a life of fulfillment. Yet, life is far too precious to settle for despair, mediocrity or “treadmill remorse.” And we must grasp that not one of us is here because of a mistake or accident. Rather, we have each been endowed with certain gifts and we exist in this unique period of time and history to fulfill a specific purpose.
Yet we have an arch enemy (Satan) who would get a thrill from seeing us waste or squander our lives. Regrettably, many of us have fallen prey to his subtle whisper that we can “grab life by the horns” someday―just not today. The end result is that we then put off living purposeful lives now because we believe we can begin to really live sometime in the future. This is also to say, the wise choices that we should make in the present – with consequences that have profound implications for our futures — are the very choices that we’re prone to unwittingly dismiss altogether or continue deferring to a future time. As Blaise Pascal aptly observed, “…we [then] never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.”
Moreover, even though we know that a meaningful life doesn’t happen without focused effort, we nevertheless justify or rationalize why we aren’t as intentional as we should be. After all, doesn’t work alone keep us very busy? But let’s talk about work. Did you know that according to a recent Gallup poll only twenty-nine percent of the U.S. population enjoys what they do for a living? Yes, startlingly, 71% of Americans dislike their occupation and are “actively disengaged” from their work!
The corollary of this statistic is that 79% of Americans aren’t deriving the sense of personal fulfillment one’s avocation is supposed to naturally engender. This is to say, even though people may be quite proficient at what they do for a living, a marked lack of occupational fulfillment leaves them feeling empty and bored. No wonder so many people dread the work-week! An average of 40 hours a week — doing something one does not enjoy — is undoubtedly part and parcel of the dull, monotonous existence that greatly undermines our pursuit of a purposeful life. In fact, a recent survey found that “one third of adult Americans [or roughly 69 million people] are struggling to live to their “fullest potential.”
You might be reading this blog for this very reason. If deep within your heart, you are longing for more out of life, let me ask, “What are you doing about it?”
Gallo, Carmine. “70% Of Your Employees Hate Their Jobs.” Forbes.com. 11 Nov. 2011. 03 Oct. 2012 <http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2011/11/11/your-emotionally-disconnected-employees/>.
 “One-third of Americans are Struggling to Live to Their “Fullest Potential”.” Barna.org. Barna Group, 03 Nov. 2011. 03 Oct. 2012 <https://www.barna.org/culture-articles/532-70-million-americans-feel-held-back-by-their-past?q=percentage+christians+dissatisfied+life>.