If we only breathe in we will suffocate.
Seems pretty clear, but we sure do like to forget it. In a time of individualism, self-improvement, and personal achievement we are lured towards this nepotistic definition of success that places us firmly on center stage. If we’re not very, very careful, life becomes all about us.
The push for individualism seems positive enough until we understand exactly how much we are focusing on ourselves throughout that journey - ignoring, or neglecting, the impact of all the people around us. In a hunt for ourselves, we disregard others.
Self-improvement is a consistent effort to make ourselves better. When that journey includes the ability to better serve our network of influence, it can be extremely positive. However, it often turns into an image race in which we care more about how we are viewed by others than who we are actually becoming in the process. As the self is improved, it’s easy to lose sight of one’s purpose.
And, personal achievement is the societal benchmark for success in our world. While it may seem obvious that this is a pursuit centered on self, we continue down the path pounding our chest and demanding our status. At some point we will realize the hollowness of the awards. Hopefully, it’s when we still have time to appreciate the exhale.
Why Should We Care?
To truly live we need to exhale - for ourselves and for those around us.
The exhale turns individualism into understanding and appreciation. No longer do we need to oppose others or condemn another group of people’s way of living. Different becomes ok, even welcomed. It’s not about us, it’s about all of us. In the exhale we realize the futility and ignorance of judgment and appreciate the richness of diversity and freedom of choice.
When we are only breathing in, self-improvement is only about ourselves. When we exhale, we realize the value of service. Improving ourselves becomes a means to better serve those around us. Rather than bolstering our personal brand, we turn our focus to lifting others. The exhale is the true fulfillment of life.
And, in regards to personal achievement, the exhale is the only thing that perspective to the continuous pursuit of more. As we continuously breathe in, we become more and more consumed with collecting accolades and badges of honor that elevate our status while pulling us further and further away from the meaning and purpose our lives were meant for.
It’s a precarious situation - continue breathing in and gain all the recognition and acclaim we’ve been trained to desire or exhale and release yourself of the need to struggle to hold on. Because that’s exactly what we’re doing - holding on.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
For most, we are thrust into a position of forced appreciation for the exhale that eventually leads to the honest appreciation of its value. Of course, we can choose to make that shift, we just don’t very often. Here are a few cues that you may be ready for the change.
If you’ve ever taken a deep breath in an effort to hold your breath as long as you can, you understand the exhilarating feeling of the exhale. In the moments before it’s taken, we begin to long for the relief it will provide. Our life is very similar. At some point we grow tired of the inhale and turn our focus, and desire, to the exhale. Enjoy.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.