A friend and I were talking recently about the pressure society places on us to be ‘accomplished’ and have boxes ticked off like getting a ‘good’ job, buying a house and getting married, by a certain age. We agreed that this pressure is unhelpful and we agreed that working towards our own goals at our own pace is the best way forward.
Everyone has different circumstances and the unpredictability of life means that each journey will look different and that’s OK.
But is that to say that striving for accomplishments is a bad thing?
According to the Oxford dictionary, ‘striving’ is ‘to try very hard to achieve something’.
Whilst this may seem harmless enough, striving can easily become exhausting and driven by discontentment. It can become negative if we’re not careful and it’s safe to say that this is not what God wants for us.
At the same time, there are many Bible verses which suggest that working hard towards goals is a good thing:
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:7
I think the Bible encourages us to be hardworking and forward-thinking so that we may use our God-given gifts to bless others.
Clearly then, there are good and bad types of striving. So how do we strike a balance? How do we strive in a healthy way i.e without pressure, without comparison and without conjuring up feelings of fear or discontentment?
I think that asking ourselves the three following questions is a good start:
1. Why do I want to achieve my goals?
It may be that, when we think about this carefully, we find we have a desire to impress others. Or perhaps a desire for money or acceptance. Whilst not all of these desires are necessarily bad, it can be unhealthy when they start to become our motivation.
2. Where do I find my Identity?
I think it is easy for our identity to get wrapped up in our accomplishments and what others think of us. However, for Christians, our identity is in Christ. We hear this a lot but if it is really true, our outlook on life should change radically. The core of who we are has little to do with our accomplishments and everything to do with who God says we are. This does not mean we should lose any sense of ambition but it should allow us to cultivate a different relationship with our achievements. They don’t make us who we are and so achieving or not achieving X shouldn’t have a big impact on our sense of self.
3. Is my Perspective healthy?
Understanding the fleetingness of life often helps us to reassess our priorities. We realise that chasing and stressing over status and material things is a poor use of time. Qualities such as kindness, love, and compassion are invaluable and we should always be striving to exemplify these more than we strive to achieve any materialistic goal.
Consider James 4:13-14:
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”