What’s at the end of the chase?

What’s at the end of the chase?

TLDR: Having a set of goals to work towards gives us a sense of direction in life. Our society prizes this go-get-it attitude as a self-improvement hack; many of us strive for this mindset. However, there could be a risk of doing something just for the sake of it and we may end up beating ourselves for getting lost in the pursuit of excellence. 

Many of us have been conditioned to chase something, consciously or unconsciously. We race with others to prove our worth, ever since birth – to be the first to crawl/walk/run, the top rank in class, the one to get into a famous university, the first to be office management level, the one who found ‘the one’ and have family……The list continues. 

The neverending chase has been fuelled by the comparison trap we adopt from our parents, society and ourselves. 

Have we ever pondered what is the source of our chasing mindset?

I was so used to the chase that I rushed from one achievement to another, not sparing time to truly soak in whatever I was doing and its outcome. After landing my first job as an accountant, I quickly enrolled on a professional certified course. 

Upon completion, I thought, ‘what’s next?’. Before long, I was looking to register for a postgraduate degree. 

I must admit those learnings were not in vain. I gained something out of them – both technical skills and soft skills like time-management, relational skills, self-organisation. These skills have been helpful to me in my personal and professional life. But whether or not I could use the effort on a more targeted outcome, that’s another question altogether.

To outsiders, I may look like someone with a thirst for knowledge (or paper certificate, for that matter). 

Little did I know this chase was masked as self-improvement; there would always be a better thing to go for next if I don’t consciously define the outcome that I want to achieve. 

This deceptive ‘self-improvement’ is not limited only to the worldly chase – I realised that I wanted to keep improving myself spiritually too. While spiritual advancement may be a sensible goal, my underlying intention was warped, at least initially. 

I kept myself immersed in spiritual talks one after another. I sat meditating even when the heart refused to – just to prove that I, too, can evolve in my spiritual practice. 

This spiritual chase resulted in resistance between the mind and the heart, not to mention the sense of dejection when I didn’t see the improvement I expected. Definitely not a fun experience!

The source of my chasing mindset was a sense of lacking self-worth. I wanted to prove myself a  deserving human being by reaching the level that is deemed ‘good enough’. And we know that ‘good enough’ is a subjective measurement and may not serve as a good gauge. 

Comparing myself today with who I was 3 years ago, for example, I can honestly say I have grown into a different and (hopefully) a better, more mature person. This is probably a better use of the comparison mind for improvement measurement.

Be kind to ourselves and others

I chanced upon an apt Dhamma talk by Venerable Ajahn Brahm on how we often hold on to ‘I need to be better’ thoughts just because everyone else thinks or expects so. Ajahn Brahm further taught that this ‘I’m not good enough’ mindset is neither kind nor helpful to ourselves. 

Of course, we need to carefully distinguish between accepting ourselves with kindness and not growing out of unconstructive habits. 

There could be a risk of not improving the mind under the false pretence of self-acceptance. Learn to be at peace with what we already have, then improvement would flow naturally. 

Many of us may be performing good deeds and consciously express kindness to others. Doing so not only keeps the mind at peace but also elicits joy during and after the act. I identify with this definition of living a blessed life in the spirit of Mangala Sutta, when I can share and contribute what I have with others. However, with the chasing mentality, I might have forgotten about the one person who would benefit from such good deeds as well – myself. 

How many times do we speak harsh words inside our head when we act less than ‘perfect’? 

‘Why did you do that silly thing?’

‘How could you forget about that important event?’

‘What is wrong with you?’

I probably would not say such things to my close friends or even strangers, so why do I say them to myself? Am I unworthy of the same kindness I have so freely and joyfully shared with others? 

Nowadays, I decide to contemplate my pursuits with an objective mind, even if it seems like an improvement on the surface: 

‘Does this course/workshop feel aligned with the heart or is there another reason why I want to join?’

‘Do I feel joyful in learning or is it another medal on my chest to show the world?’

Suffering arises when we don’t get what we want and when we get what we don’t want

I recently read separate teaching from Venerable Ajahn Chah1 on “wanting with right understanding”. The teaching explained that desire towards and away from something can arise from us as worldly beings. I find resonance to this gentle outlook towards self and am aware that setting goals can start off my self-improvement actions – but blindly chasing and grasping the desire tightly is not right either. Instead, taking action accompanied by gradual and reflective practice would be more helpful. 

For example, I started this article with the intention to write about chasing struggles. It has developed into deeper contemplation of my underlying beliefs and expanded thoughts that I am sharing now.

Trying to be mindful of my wanting and not-wanting, I do my best at the moment and allow the outcome to unfold. 

I realise that telling myself to let go of expectation, is an expectation by itself – another debacle to untangle! 

Rather, it is much more peaceful to put in my best effort for the situation; watch the result arise and take the next step from there. 

When a learning experience concludes as expected or not, I try to take time to settle down and truly embrace the event. When another learning opportunity comes, I will then be able to jump in wholeheartedly. Even if I failed, I could learn from it. Failure is just another piece of feedback! With this outlook, I hopefully lessen the suffering created for myself.  

I conclude that having a goal is necessary, especially for myself and many others who are just entering the ‘real’ life of the professional and social world. 

Clarity of true motivation is essential as we take on the path, paired with conscious kindness towards ourselves when the comparison mind takes a negative turn. The next time I look at others and start to put them on the pedestal with an unreasonable expectation of myself, I will remind myself: ‘remember how far you have gone’ and ‘we all have our own path to take’.

Notes:

  1. Source: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah – Single Volume, Aruna Publications, 2011, Chapter 22, page 237, https://forestsangha.org/teachings/books/the-collected-teachings-of-ajahn-chah-single-volume?language=English

Wise steps:

  • Pair working on goals with a mindful review of underlying reason in choosing these goals, it could provide clarity on the true nature of our motivation
  • When harsh reprimand arises within, ask if these are the words we will give to others 
  • Refrain from punishing ourselves when we could not let go immediately. Be still, the conditions for letting go will arise.
Having the courage to quit my job and start again. #Mindfulchats with Yanda

Having the courage to quit my job and start again. #Mindfulchats with Yanda

TLDR: Why quit your job during a pandemic? How do we help our friends who are thinking about quitting?

When the pandemic plunged the world into recession, university graduates felt nervous. The fear of not finding a job or having your job offer rescinded was real.

Hence, to land a job and then quit your stable, full-time job during a pandemic makes you pause and say “Huh, why?”. Yanda has a different take. He asks ‘Why not?’.

Sipping coffee as Yanda shares his story

The Job Hunt Hype

Yanda, a final year student in 2020, took his time to enjoy university while it lasted. He mentioned that “everyone was rushing to secure a job. There was great hype for job hunting.”

It was definitely not an easy climate to be in. Rather than worrying about uncertainty, Yanda volunteered for Buddhist Organisations such as NTU Buddhist Society/ BYN (Buddhist Youth Network). He then took on the job search in his own time.

(No. Yanda doesn’t come from an uber-rich family where a job falls on his lap. He didn’t see the need for an all-or-nothing chase.)

Eventually, Yanda obtained a few offers in the engineering space and took on a role he thought he might enjoy. That is where things changed.

Is This It?

Work soon became monotonous and a routine for him. He noticed a routine of “working, going out for lunch, sitting back down and going home.”

This made him wonder, “Is this it? Is this how I am going to spend my life? What do I want? If I lived to 60 years, will I be content with doing 40 years of the same thing?”

In response to his musing, I mumbled: “Definitely not me.”

His attempt at sharing work struggles with some friends did not yield something he could relate to. They alluded to “finding meaning in your job rather than have the meaning come to you.” It was cold comfort.

I could see his thought process unfold and why that advice didn’t sit well. Yes, there was this sense of job security during a pandemic but it brought little meaning to him. That meaning was nearly impossible to find.

The turning point came when this question popped to mind, “If tomorrow, I am going to die, I would only remember that I did paperwork here and there. That’s it”. That spurred him into action. He tendered his resignation and left the company to the shock of his peers. New hires are usually expected to stay in that job for at least 2 years, but he stayed in that role for less than 6 months.

The Pains Of Change

“I had fear and felt scared”, he gulped when recalling the moment he quit and had no job offer on the horizon.

“So what helped you through the uncertainty?” I quizzed.

The fellowship of his Buddhist circle who listened patiently was what brought him to a brighter state of mind. Friends that were slow to advise but quick to listen to his pain helped him greatly. “That is what matters…being there for me,” he concluded.

“Confidence in the Buddha’s teaching, knowing that all these negative emotions would fade,” he added, gave him strength when he was alone. He viewed the transition as “uncertainty at its very core.”

Over the years, having done mindfulness practice enabled him to watch his emotions and to make  necessary changes without attachment. That gave him the conviction that it was not an impulsive move but an informed one.

Starting Again

Smiling as he recalled his Buddhist work, “I have done a lot of Buddhist work that brought joy to me. If this (engineering) job doesn’t fit me, what can I do?”

As causes and conditions came together, Yanda didn’t need to wait long for an answer.

“A friend told me that she had an opening at a preschool where they wanted a Dhamma friend to help build the school’s curriculum.” He recalled. He mulled on the idea of facing kids all day and decided to take the plunge.

Yanda is now studying for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education while working to help build the preschool’s curriculum.

“Uncertainty,” he answers immediately when asked what he loves about his job. “What the children can bring to you every day with every interaction presents uncertainty,” he added.

When he dived deeper, he felt lifted about being able to help kids appreciate this ‘thing’ called the mind. Letting them know that there are ways to develop their minds. Equipping them with Buddhist concepts, techniques and emotional awareness to thrive in a stressful world really motivated him.

“Kids are easy to teach, as they are free of concepts,” he quipped. At that moment, I recalled being an inquisitive child, something I felt I have lost along the way. It was interesting to see how uncertainty could bring us pain (job transition) and joy (teaching kids).

Helping Others Start Again

I was curious to hear Yanda’s take on how we can help our friends’ transition from one job to another.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but what I can say is that this is something cliché,” Yanda shared.

“Listen to them and be genuinely happy for them. Recognise that they took a courageous decision to step out of something that did not fit them,” he added.

On a practical side, Yanda shared that we should remind our friends to also financially plan ahead if they choose to resign without a job offer. As a rule of thumb, one should have at least 3-6 months of expenses saved in cash to weather them through their job search.

His advice was grounded heavily on the Buddhist idea of appreciative joy which is a joy in the achievements/victories of others.

“How can I support you? Do you need resources/contacts?” has been one of the most helpful questions friends asked. I instantly agreed by nodding furiously as I felt that we often are quick to develop solutions without considering our friends’ needs.

Turning Back Time

“Your first job is super important” is one piece of advice that Yanda recommends ignoring for graduating students. It adds unnecessary stress to the individual. That person may then seek out the perfect job which may not exist.

Having wisdom is crucial in helping us see the world properly. If he could turn back time to advise his graduating self, he would say this: “Have an attitude in life that let the results take care of themselves once I try my best. If it doesn’t go my way, what can I do next?” and “We are our own boss, only we can understand our emotions and the true nature of our mind.” 

Asking that question gives us the courage to be open to what life can bring. What we can do is to create conditions for success while developing a sense of non-attachment to the outcome.

“Understand we have a mind, and emotions are never truly ours. Just like a cup. The reason why we wash it is that we are confident that the dirt can be washed off. The dirt was never the cup.” he summarised.

It was a mind-blowing summary of expectations and emotions. Recognising emotions as transitory and being at ease with the unpleasant is a skill set we all need as we go through the different changing phases of life.

Yanda showed that Singapore youths are hungry for life and meaning. We need not stay in the same job just to clock a magical number of years before leaving. Asking ourselves “Is this it?” can spark conversations and paths we never dreamt of.

Yanda is currently working in Blue Lion Preschool as an early childhood educator trainee.