“What a different story people would have to tell if only they would adopt a definite purpose, and stand by that purpose until it had time to become an all-consuming obsession!” -Napoleon Hill
I’ve been accused of it recently. Yesterday, in fact. And it’s true: I want what I want.
I couldn’t deny it. I do want what I want. When I want something, I develop an all-consuming obsession for it. My educational pursuits, opportunities for my children, intimate love, pretty hair, maintaining a nice body, “me” time, friends I can trust, family all around me.
And when I can’t have these things – these things that I obsess over – I unravel. But not at first. At first, I always understand that these things take time and require me to be patient. So at first, I am an angel of patience. I’m always a good Christian at that point. My prayer closet is a haven. I’m praying. I’m coloring in reflective coloring books. I’m full of faith. I’m doing my part, making sacrifices for the dream, even loving the sacrifices- feeling extra holy, all while trusting with everything in me that God has got this thing under control. So I’m good. What I want is coming.
But then, more time passes. Weeks, months, years. Years, and this thing still hasn’t happened. Years, even though I have had faith, walked in love, put in my work with diligence and peace. And still nothing. Helping others, walking the walk, living a life of integrity, giving it a reasonable amount of time to come to pass. And still nothing. By now, especially when these things take years (and for me, it seems that the greatest desires of my heart always takes years), I begin to get agitated. My prayer closet is disheveled and vacant, I’m tired of working diligently, and that holiness wore off two years ago. I find myself resenting those to my left and to my right who seem to easily acquire what I’ve worked so hard for. I resent the tears I’ve had to shed, the money I’ve had to spend, the sweat stains on my back. Why are simple desires so completely out of my reach? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do.
And then the unraveling begins. Good, Christian me flies out the door in a woe-is-me panic. I’m angry, irrational, and in full adult tantrum mode. Tears, screams, name-calling, snot, and writing. Lots of writing. Impulsive decisions, cutting people out of my life, and bringing in others who don’t belong there. I am ready to make this thing happen by myself. I’ll do the demolition and the building myself. To hell with patience and integrity. I’m done being the diplomatic one. Faith for what? Patience for what? I know God hears me, and yet nothing has changed. I’m done.
But even as I sit here in real time, in full transparency, at the heights of being fed up with waiting, grinding, praying, and believing for something I passionately want, I am reminded that I am sitting light years ahead of where I was just five years ago. Light years. Five years ago, I was pleading to God to please allow someone to approve me for a home loan. Today, I own more home than I even need. Five years ago, in faith, I was preparing to send my son to a military high school with hopes that he would turn his life around. Today, he is in college with his own place and a job. Five years ago, I was a new faculty member terrified of what it meant to earn tenure. Today, I’m a tenured associate professor.
It’s not that I’m ungrateful. I express thanks almost daily for all that I have. I am a gratitude guru. When my daughter acts up, her punishment includes writing a list of 100 things she’s grateful for. So I get gratitude. What I often fail to do? I fail to look at what I have now in comparison to where I was in the past. I fail to look at my progression, my journey, the battles I have won, those desires that I obsessed over that actually did come to pass. Looking at where I am today without context, without considering what it took to get here gets me in trouble every single time. Are some elements of my current situation frustrating, even in light of my progress? Absolutely! And it’s okay to be frustrated by those things and to obsessively want something different for my life. It’s often the only way things really change. But even in the midst of that frustration, I have a responsibility- and that is to pull back and to look at the whole of my journey. Looking only at the unfinished parts and griping about what never seems to happen for me is like having my child look me in the face and say that I never do anything for them as I am secretly planning their surprise party- and I know how angering that can be. The unfinished parts of your life are exactly that- unfinished. Unfinished for reasons that you may not understand, for reasons that require your growth, or for reasons that may be totally out if your control.
Ahhhhh, that control thing! My greatest vice of all. The go-getter type like myself grapples with relinquishing control. If I don’t do it, who will? If it doesn’t happen now, it’ll never happen. If it’s not done my way, it’s not done the right way. Control freaks like myself have the obsession thing down, but we often neglect one very important element of getting what we want. Letting go. Sometimes the only way we can achieve our hearts desires is by letting go. Letting go of our own ideas of how it should be done, letting go of rigid timelines, letting go of controlling other people. The more we insist on controlling, the more our dreams and the people we love begin to slowly back away. Letting go is growth. It’s strength. It’s love. It’s often the only road to peace of mind.
Those of us who obsessively want what we want have to watch ourselves as intently as people with diabetes have to watch their blood sugar levels. Daily, we have to watch ourselves. When we first get our hearts set on something, we’re great, but as time passes, we’ve got to check our tendencies to resent those who seem to get there faster, to curb our impulsive behaviors, and to resist taking control in areas where we should be letting go. We need to check daily (even hourly sometimes) how we acknowledge our progress and how we express gratitude for where we are in our journeys. This has to be a continual process, because it’s much too easy to unravel and lose it completely when we don’t get what we want when we want it.
I write this for myself as much as I write this for you. I am an obsessed entrepreneur, an obsessed mom, an obsessed lover (scary as that may sound), and an obsessed scholar. Obsessed with purpose. Obsessed with life. Obsessed with love. As such, I remind you – and myself – to tame your obsessions so that they don’t take over your peace of mind. Have them, but tame them. Want what you want. But remember that you don’t always get to determine the specifics of what you can have and that what you want comes in its own designated time and manner, not in your time and manner. If that were the case, there would be no opportunity for you to grow into the person you need to be to receive it. So, as uncomfortable and as angering as the waiting may be, know that the one thing you can control is how well you master that period of waiting, how much you use it for your own growth, and what you do with that time and energy in the meantime. My advice? Control what you can and kick your feet up for the rest. Life is too short to live it unraveled.
Dr. Pamela Antoinette, The Secret Life of an Obsessed Entrepreneur
Associate Professor of Research
Host of The Live Exchange Radio
Author of Letters to the Brokenhearted