Flipping Ambition: Achieving More by Effectively Slacking Off (Part 1 of 5)

This is part one of a five-part series “Flipping Ambition: Achieving More by Effectively Slacking Off”.  Click here to read the rest of the series.

Work and more work. Grocery shopping. Car repairs. Cello lessons with Roger; yoga with Angie; and volunteering at the thrift shop every Saturday. Welcome to your overstuffed world. Your busy-bee life scurrying from one activity to another may have become so automatic that you feel that’s the way you’re supposed to live.

While you may think your o-so-busy schedule goes a long way in proving just how ambitious and skillful you all are, it instead goes a long way to prove just how crappy you can be at a lot of little things. Put another way, if you spread yourself too thin by trying to accomplish or excel at an unrealistic amount of things, you’ll usually end up getting really good at and accomplishing very little.

It’s also a ripe breeding ground for stress and anxiety.

This series of articles is aimed at helping you alleviate stress and anxiety in your life while pumping up ambition by showing you doing less can actually accomplish much more. For real! You’ll learn the dangers of spreading yourself too thin, how to weed out unnecessary activities and how to switch your focus to things that really matter.

You’ll then see how it’s beneficial and incredibly possible to accomplish the goals you want to accomplish without spinning in stressful circles with too much to do and no real direction. Sounds good? Let’s roll.

Think of your life as a garden. When you start cramming all types of flowers mixed with vegetables mixed with cactus mixed with trees in too little space with too little nourishment it’s not going to go too well. You end up with a garden so confused and overwrought that the only thing that thrives may be the weeds.

Don’t let your life become a miserable weed patch. The first step to preventing that patch can be figuring out what ambition really is.

What is ambition, anyway?

Part of the problem is the whole concept of ambition, or what many people think it means versus what it really is. One of the definitions of ambition is simply “the desire to achieve a particular end.”

We also learn, and society tends to focus on, an alternative definition that says ambition is “an ardent desire for rank, fame or power.” In the modern world, that rank, fame and power comes from titles like “Super Boss” and “Renaissance Woman” and “Guy Who Can Do Everything.” OK, perhaps no one really uses the title “Renaissance Woman,” but you get the idea.

Go back to the age-old concept that being a jack-of-all-trades makes you master of none. Herein lies your garden packed with weeds and slouching with half-grown stems that never have the energy to blossom.

It’s not your fault. Society has become a major impetus in this unhealthy and anxiety-ridden push that expects you to accomplish extra-ordinary amounts of stuff all in the name of ambition.

After all, how ambitious can you be if you actually have time to do what you feel like doing instead of the next item up on your schedule? Another fallacy says if your schedule is not packed to the hilt, perhaps you are not well-liked enough or popular enough or caring enough to have invitations for zillions of things to do.

Ambition has come to be defined in today’s day and age by doing more, more and more. The outcome is often enjoying and accomplishing less, less and less.

Enter the bucket list

The obsequious “bucket lists” are a prime example of so-called ambition gone awry. Bucket lists are the seeds that are going to fill your garden, and some people may have an overload of seeds. While a bucket list, used wisely, can serve as a useful tool for achieving goals or scheduling personal time, it can also serve as an overloaded list of, to put it nicely, crap.

Many people pack their bucket lists with things they think sound good or things they actually believe they should want to do, but the reality is often much different. Do you really want to spend the time, effort, training, expense and travel it would take to successfully climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

But it sounds good, looks good, and proves you are ambitious, right?

The same thing goes for any bucket lists you may have created or, worse yet, let others create for you by trying to keep up with them. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you’re not doing yoga poses as effortlessly as Angie, who practices yoga three hours every day, or playing cello like Roger, who practices the instrument four hours each day. You are not a failure either way.

But those bucket lists may serve to make you think you are a failure. Stress and anxiety can become an intimate friend if you do not accomplish everything in your bucket or even have the desire to attempt half of the items. Maybe you prefer tai chi over yoga or would rather learn to cook gourmet meals instead of play the cello.

Sounds like it’s time for a bucket list review.

Exercise: Dump the bucket!

You need not dump your bucket list altogether, but you should review and dump specific items that do not thrill you to the core. Keep your main bucket but also create a new one called, to not put it nicely, the “F-k it Bucket.” Here you will put all items from your main bucket list that you simply don’t want to spend the time and effort it would take to achieve – no matter how many other people say climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is the in thing to do.

Instead of constantly trying to find new things to put on your bucket list, try to take things off. This lets you effectively focus on the few things that are left. The remaining items are the seeds in your garden you really want to sow, things about which you truly care and are truly passionate. Use the following set of questions to guide you through the process.

Go through each item and ask:

Do I really want to do this thing? A simple yes or no may cover it, or it may not.

Why do I want to do this thing? If it’s for personal pleasure, keep it on the list. If it’s only to look good, to say you did it, or to attempt to measure up to some ridiculous set of societal standards, dump it!

Am I willing and able to put the time, effort, money and energy into accomplishing this thing? Be honest, now. You don’t get to Carnegie Hall without a lot of practice (and a pretty expensive cello).

Am I willing to work on this thing at the expense of giving up other goals that I may enjoy much more?

Your revised bucket lists should be lighter, brighter and much happier once it’s filled with goals you have the honest desire and wherewithal to accomplish.

Dumping the slop out of your bucket can also serve as a major step in creating a garden that blossoms instead of one riddled with energy-sucking weeds. Our next article will outline five major dangers of overstuffing your garden. Be forewarned, bad things can happen!

This is part one of a five-part series “Flipping Ambition: Achieving More by Effectively Slacking Off”.  Click here to read the rest of the series.