I’ve recently been asked about whether it’s best to be driven and act on one’s desires, or to just “go with the flow.” In my contemplations of this outstanding thought-question I have come to some realizations, both from investigating my own life, as well as being a student of other peoples’ lives through my work as a dream designer, and as an avid reader of biographies.
I love learning about peoples’ lives, and above all about human behavior. I especially love seeing the unique challenges every individual faces as they make their way through their destiny, and particularly how they overcome their perceived obstacles. One observation I have had is that we all go through repeating cycles of comfort-discomfort in any and all endeavors. These cycles then lead us to enter adjacent and interconnected push-relax cycles, necessary to expand us into the next level of our growth.
When we take on any new endeavor, whether we are simply at the starting point of conceptualization, or in full swing of acting on it, we must by necessity have a definition and goal of what we are attempting to achieve. Take, for instance, a new business: before anything is launched, a blueprint or map must be created, ‘the how’ to ‘the what’ of the entity…in other words, the means to the end.
But even before this stage, a purpose must be established—‘the why’ of the entire undertaking. Without a reason for existing—a void to be filled, a need to be attended to, or a problem to be solved—no business will get off the ground, let alone survive. Aristotle called these two aspects the final cause—the purpose for which a thing exists or is done, and the blueprint, or master plan, to doing it. Without these important factors, it is unlikely that any endeavor will successfully manifest.
So in every one of our endeavors—whether that be creating a business or starting a family—a final cause or purpose, and a planning stage, are necessary. Although these periods are usually filled with some knowns—like what we wish to create, and why; as well as some of the how’s—it is also filled with many unknowns, like how everything will play out. The details, in other words, remain a mystery.
During this stage, it is wholly appropriate to work hard, push, affect, influence, gather information, study, research, and so on. We would call this the ‘pushing’ phase, and it is clearly essential to get things moving. No action = no creation—it’s as simple as that. We have some control here, and it is wise to exert it. Very important is the need to plan, document, blue print and refine the plans, until even the most minute detail is accounted for. Anybody who has ever created anything can attest to the fact that planning, in detail, can save you from a heck of a lot of chaos in the future. Further, anybody who has ever failed to plan can attest to the disorder they soon find themselves in by skipping this important step. So my advice is to take control of this stage—the planning—and then push to get it off the ground.
Once your plan is in place, then letting go and letting it all unfold is the wisest thing to do. We can’t control every single detail, and why would we want to? Could you imagine how boring life would be if we could have command over how everything plays out in its entirety? No, this is a period of unknowing and discomfort, where details just unfold as they will. This is where we encounter the spice of life, the things that makes life interesting; the little curve balls that we don’t expect, and which lead us into areas of our greatest growth. I personally love it—most of my greatest adventures have come as a result of being open to these moments in the great unknown.
During this stage, you will probably find yourself in fight-or-flight, wondering what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into. You’ll question your abilities and what you thought you knew, but hang in there, because it’s usually where miracles happen. It’s highly imperative to be flexible in this phase—in other words, to just go with the flow—because trying to control too much here can make the challenge even worse; and really, you’ll only be holding yourself back, blocking your own success, and maybe even having a hard time learning the associated lessons (don’t worry, you’ll learn eventually anyway) if you push too hard. Further, even if it does all work out for you, the stress you cause by trying to control the uncontrollable will age you unnecessarily.
So, yes, going with the flow is important…but so is pushing. The reality is that an equal balance of the two will provide you with the greatest growth. So be diligent and plan ahead; work on your final cause before undertaking any endeavor. You will take care of all the things you can control that way, and anticipate a few of problems you will encounter along the way. But when it comes time for stepping back and getting flexible—then sway with the wind. You will keep your sanity that way, while very likely discovering some cool things you just hadn’t expected; and you’ll grow in character, too. Not a bad way to approach life in general: Planning…and then going with the flow.