For all the essays and podcast episodes I’ve done about doing less, knowing your why before you start something, and redefining productive, I do believe there is value in striving. Not fulfilling our life purpose, avoiding effort, and quitting out of fear does not lead to a Sustainably Productive life. In fact it is the exact opposite – it is checking out of the life you are intended to lead. While you are busy being busy, you might be missing the value. Missing the meat of the meal because you are making sure the silverware is set perfectly. (Apologies to the vegetarian readers). 

I have been thinking about this topic a lot in the last few weeks and am starting to get my thoughts to form sentences. I am going to make this a series over a longer period of time so I can workshop these ideas around striving with you. Let’s start where I often go when I am working through a complicated-for-me idea: the dictionary.

Striving has two definitions that I want to introduce you to.

Make great efforts to achieve or obtain something


Struggle or fight vigorously

Using these definitions, I want to talk about striving in terms of activity and inactivity. 

Striving Can Be Doing

I bet most of you reading this related more to the striving as doing. Cake even wrote a song about it:

The arena is empty except for one man

Still driving and striving as fast as he can

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up

And long ago somebody left with the cup

But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns

And thinking of someone for whom he still burns

Cake, The Distance

I believe the key is to consciously choose what you are striving for. I want to call this deliberate practice. This idea of deliberate practice takes a beginner mind. By checking your ego and need to be perfect at the door, you make more space to strive, fail, and learn. To be clear, this is hardly the American way. We don’t want to do or watch the work, we want to see the result.

“With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”

  • We expected Michael Jordan to be a batting All Start just because he was an NBA All Star. Watching him work at it was boring to most people – we wanted the All Star performance. 
  • People often get frustrated at crafts because they can’t replicate the sample or perfect a technique the first (or tenth or hundredth) time they attempt it. We don’t even consider that by failing to copy the sample, we have created an original.
  • Time is considered wasted if the garden didn’t yield a massive harvest. We discount the joy at puttering around in nature and the lessons learned from a smaller than usual crop. 

Don’t miss the experience that striving gives – the effort to achieve or obtain something can be what makes life interesting, fun, productive, and sustainable. 

My Deliberate Practice

One of the ways I recently engaged in this idea of deliberate practice was with quilting. A shop in the mountains of North Carolina runs online classes, which I had not tried – all of my classes had been in person. I wanted to get better at a few techniques that this online class offered so I took the leap. Going into this experiment with a beginner mind was key. Knowing there would be challenges, imperfection, and a lot to learn were things I reminded myself often. I also knew that this quilt would be one I kept or donated (vs. having the gift recipient in mind while I made it like I usually do). This took the pressure off and freed me up to make mistakes. 

While I was not wrong about all of that, this deliberate practice was a challenge. I ripped out portions, resewing them to get it right. Watching the lessons multiple times on half speed became the norm. I have a list of things that are wrong with the quilt now that it is done. And my people use it daily. We can have both.

Which leads to the other half of striving. While striving is doing something, it can also be NOT doing something.

Striving Can Be Not Doing 

As I sit here striving to draft this essay, I just heard the washing machine finish and I desperately want to pop up and put the clothes in the dryer. Because I like the feeling of things flowing easily and getting stuff done, knocking out a chore quickly is a really attractive option. But I believe my purpose is not to just do chores, it is to share the Sustainable Sue message also. To learn to be a better writer – by writing. I know this all sounds woo woo, but the point I am trying to get across is that striving is not always about DOING something, it can also be about NOT doing something. To return to the definition – I am fighting vigorously to not pop up and turn over the laundry.

I wonder if you can relate? Do you want to say no, but instead do what seems easier and say yes to please the person in front of you? Maybe you are feeling some feelings and lash out at whoever is closest because that is easier than removing yourself from the situation and putting yourself in timeout. 

Just because there is less action in the decision, does not mean you are not striving. Not doing something can be harder than doing something. 

Sustainable Productivity Reflections

  • Where are you striving in your life?
  • How is that striving working for you? 
  • Do you relate more to striving while doing or not doing? Why is that?

Until next time remember to create productive results in a way that you can sustain and that work for you.