How many times have you heard the saying “If you stop trying, it’ll just happen”? Yeah, those people used to annoy me too, until I came to the conclusion that had I heeded this advice, I could've saved myself years of comparison, disappointment, and frustration. Because for me, setting goals aren’t the hard part. I LOVE that stuff. No, the difficult task for me is trying to not race to the finish line once I set them.
When I look back over the years, I see that I’ve never been content with just doing okay or halfway with anything I’ve started. Meaning if I’ve taken the leap and allowed my heart to get attached or invested (which is usually a long, drawn-out process in itself), you’d better believe I’m going to plan, prepare and perform it to death. Relationships, jobs, hobbies, vacations, friendships, parties - all have fallen victim to Hurricane Jantzen. And rather than seeing lasting fruit from the seeds I was planting, what I kept finding was dry soil left by a wrecking ball of forced progress.
My Growth Story
This all started coming to light last year when I made a Powersheets goal to 'have a green thumb' and embarked on the journey of growing plants. To a rational human being, this would be as simple as buying a pot, a bag or two of dirt and some seeds and plants of choice and throwing it together to let it grow. Not me. No, I wrestled with anxiety all the way to Lowe’s (it took about four months to get there).
What if I don’t know what plants to get?
What if it doesn’t turn out the same as how I picture it in my head?
What if the plants don’t live?
I finally made it to Lowe’s, did some shopping and made it home to plant a pot full of flowers, complete with a thriller, filler and spiller, and a little container full of parsley and rosemary seeds. I felt so invigorated, so proud, and so in control.
Every day for two months I’d wake up and head to our apartment balcony to check on those plants outside the window where my desk faced. I watered them, trimmed them and practically heavy breathed over their shoulder, just waiting for them to grow and thrive. But after a few weeks, my green thumb dream started to die off faster than those cheap seeds. When the sweet potato vine (spiller) leaves started turning yellow, I anxiously searched for an answer. When the geraniums (filler) began to wither, I got frustrated and blamed the spike plant (thriller) for stealing all the nutrients. When the parsley started popping up but my rosemary sprigs were nowhere to be found, I told myself I didn’t do it right.
Want to know what REALLY happened to my dying plants? I tried too hard. I planned, compared and controlled, all for the sake of growth. I was obsessed with the picture of the end result I had in my head, and refused to settle for the mediocrity of the journey. I took my goals and made them something they weren’t meant to be: black and white rules.
Ever feel like that’s how it goes in life? You go over the top with ‘trying’ and end up feeling awful because you’re too focused on progress instead of enjoying the time it takes to grow. While it’s hard enough to motivate ourselves to grow, finding the perfect breaking point from going too far can be just hard. But we have to get comfortable with the in between, the slow and steady progress. Because when we do things just so we can check a box and meet a goal, we skip over the joyful moments and purposeful memories God doesn’t want us to miss.
We run races just to cross the finish line under a certain amount of time or compete against others, not to soak in the views and the endorphins.
We plan and document elaborate dates nights and outings so we can tell ourselves and our Instagram followers that we’re thriving in our relationships, but then forget to look up from our phones and engage in real conversation once we're there.
We get so wrapped up in our visions of where we want to or ‘should be’ that we end up quickly settling for honorable mentions (jobs, boyfriends, friend groups, house payments we don’t need, etc.)
As I did with the plants, we often take something good, intentionality, and make it dark. We let rules, plans, comparison and Google tell us what life should look like. Rather than taking the small, slow, steady steps to grow, we pump our goals full of steroids to see faster progress.
Looking back, I see how my flowers on our small apartment balcony wilted for a reason. After recognizing my downfall, I stopped over watering them. I just rested and let them be. You can probably guess what happened next. My flowers started thriving again, on that balcony and in my heart. I learned that when we give ourselves the time and grace to grow slow instead of overthinking and forcing progress, we gain joyful perspective and lasting results.
What areas of your life are you trying too hard? Whether it be a weight loss goal, a career change, your relationship (or lack thereof) or to be able to hold a yoga pose for more than ten seconds, stop. Give yourself a week, or if you’re crazy, a month to go without obsessing over it and see how you feel. When we make our lives a nourishing environment for growth (cultivating joy and embracing where we are), we shouldn't be surprised to wake up one day and find that good things seemed to pop up overnight.
Let’s not be so focused on the end goal that we don’t look down to see the flowers along the path. Stop reeling and start resting.
Joyful Takeaway: When we do things just so we can check a box, we skip over the joyful moments and purposeful memories God doesn’t want us to miss.