Sometimes I wonder if life's greatest challenge is not finding your purpose in life, but surviving it.
I was born with one of those dangerous change-the-world dispositions.
If you're a problem-solving, cause-lobbying type, you probably know exactly why I say this is dangerous. But just in case you don't, let me quickly paint a picture about how good efforts can quickly turn bad.
First, we world changers get an idea for how we might take up a cause or improve some facet of society. The vision is often gigantic. It seems impossible. Inhuman. Outside of what is practical.
Only a flaming, raging idealist would take such a crazy task on. (Hence, why we are first in line.)
Those people who are busy naysaying and insisting there is no way it could be done? The opportunity to prove them wrong only bolsters our confidence!
"Can I do it?" We ask, as we consider pursuing the mountain of a task before us.
And then we assess it. We mentally list all the task will take. We calculate carefully. We break huge tasks into smaller parts. We create an internal timeline of how we will knock it out, one day at a time.
And we conclude we can.
And in many, if not most cases, we are right.
But here is the problem. In assessing the task, we often have asked the wrong question. Just ever so slightly.
We should not have asked simply, "Can I do it?" We should've asked, "Can I do it and stay healthy?"
Can I do it and stay sane?
Can I do it without my other priorities slipping?
Can I do it without neglecting the people I love?
This is an altogether different question.
Of course, if we ask the question without any qualifiers, we might be able to do it. If we can sideline everything else in our lives. If we can stay up until 3 a.m. every night working late into the night. If we can eat crackers or bananas or any food that comes fast and allows us to stay glued to our computer. If we can let dirty laundry pile into mountains around us. If we can take our laptop to the pool and a stack of papers to the couch or the bleachers, where we pretend to participate in family life.
But when we ask the more appropriate question, we find it often impacts how we answer "Can I do it?"
Can I do it? Yes.
Can I do it and stay healthy? Probably not.
And it's okay sometimes to say, no, I cannot do this good, giant thing and continue to function healthily as a person.
No, I cannot take this sure-to-burn-me-out project on and still stay steadily committed to my cause for the years it requires.
There is no failure in this!
After all, there is no accomplishment in nobly hoisting some cause on your shoulders if the only way you can do it is by sacrificing your health, your sanity, your family or your future energy for the work.
Paying that price to achieve doesn't make you a superhero. It makes you foolish!
And taking on such heavy workloads doesn't necessarily make you smarter or stronger than the next guy. In fact, maybe a lot of other people could workaholic their well-being away too if they were foolish enough to try.
If we want to stand for what we believe, to change the world for the better, I am convinced we must learn to make choices not just based on "what we can do," but based on "what we can do and still stay sane and healthy."
This piece was modified from content found in Sarah Cunningham's new book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane While Doing Good (Moody, October 2013).
The Well Balanced World Changer is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. You can also find great shareable content like the graphic below at her book's Pinterest page. And you can contribute your own life lessons to an online collection of wisdom using the hashtag #worldchangerbook.