Last Monday when I got back from vacation I made quite a big effort to get back in the swing of things.

I tried hard to wake up on time and get to work ASAP. I tried hard to review all the plans I’d made for this quarter and I tried REALLY hard to figure out whether or not I’m really heading in the right direction. I also tried pretty hard to figure out how many days I could reasonably make a pair of underwear last if I was stranded on Mars like Mark Watney from The Martian, but we won’t get into that now. (4. Inside out and backwards. He doesn’t even address this in the book–preposterous, if you ask me.)

Lots of trying, over-thinking, resisting. Struggling. A good bit of doing, too–but not without making things way harder than they needed to be.

And I felt this. I felt the unsettling buzz you get when you’re stressed. Not the nice, comfy buzz you get after sneaking a few sips from your flask at a mandatory family gathering–the buzz that feels like not being able to grab hold of something in just the right way. So I did what I know helps pull me out of this frenzy: I ran. And then I listened to Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle for the jillionth time. And here’s what I heard, though I’m not sure I’d ever heard it quite like this before:

Your willingness to surrender is what determines your success in life, not how much effort you make.

I often go to Eckhart Tolle to calm down and help me restore a sense of lightness about life, so I know I’d heard it at least 20 times before. But this time, I really heard it. They say you only see what you want to see when you’re ready to see it. Guess I was ready this time.

Kind of Sounds Like Spiritual Mumbo-Jumbo

Doesn’t it?

Maybe to you, and I get that. But I’ll let you in on how I see it.

Eckhart’s right, no matter how questionable his accent or how goofy his laugh. (Seriously, how does one get an accent like that?) He’s not telling you to stop working–to give up making choices about your career or life in general.

He’s not telling you to stop participating in life or to drift through it aloof.

He’s not saying you shouldn’t care. He’s advising you to Let It Be.

Your willingness to surrender is what determines your success in life.

Your willingness to surrender. AKA letting life flow through your fingers instead of strangling it. Even the bad stuff–just let it flow. Even the annoying next door neighbor (who leaves his loud-ass motorcycle running for 10 minutes before going ANYWHERE) who you, in all fairness, have probably thought about strangling. I know I have.

Eckhart’s talking about letting go of resistance and how much easier life gets when you’re not actively opposing it. Have you ever dreaded doing a paper or some other awful assignment for days and realized that–once you actually sat down to do it–it only took a couple of hours?

That’s the perfect example of this. I mean, think about it: what if you hadn’t resisted it for those 10 hours and instead just sat down to commit to it for 2? Or what if you just decided to either do it or don’t? Do it or don’t do it–but worrying about doing it or not doing it won’t change a damn thing.

What does all this mean, though?

Like, in a practical sense?

To me, it means that working yourself to death isn’t the answer. Trying–and working–as hard as you can isn’t the answer.

Working 80 hours a week isn’t admirable, it’s unhuman. Sure, it might get you where you want to go. Maybe. But you’ll probably be empty when you get there.

Thinking of how I always try to fit in as much work as possible into my day while listening to Eckhart’s funny-accented wisdom sing in my ears, I asked myself quite rhetorically, “If you’re working all the time, when do you get to be you?”

If you’re working all the time–if you’re always on–when do you read? When do you take care of yourself? When do you sleep in or savor the happy, hazy feeling you get after a nap? When do you cook yourself a hearty, homemade meal? When do you give yourself the space and stillness to let game-changing ideas float up from your subconscious? And for god’s sake, when do you watch great TV?! God, I love great TV. (Still coming down from a post-True Detective finale high, but I’ll be fine.)

If you’re always on, how do you even know who you are without work? For instance, recently I was helping a friend brainstorm a gift for another friend and–though we both know her very well–we couldn’t come up with a damn thing. The reason? She’d worked so hard and had been so busy during the last couple years that we didn’t even know if she had hobbies anymore. She didn’t play the piano anymore. She didn’t have time to read anymore. She hardly had any interests at all.

Is it so crazy to think that success might come more easily to someone who isn’t strangling life than to someone who works so much they hardly have a personality anymore? Is it so crazy to think that–when you consider the 80/20 principle and how your mental state affects your quality of work–that working a bit less is the answer you’re looking for? Or at least taking the work you are doing a little bit less seriously?

I don’t think it is. And I think it is the answer I’ve been looking for.

So. I don’t know about you, but next time I start worrying about finding more clients, or squeezing all my work hours in, or writing a blog post that passes on great advice from Eckhart Tolle without being cliche or nonsensical or a little too emotional, I’ll remind myself to take a step back. To either do the damn thing–or don’t do the damn thing–and to get on with enjoying my part in this crazy cosmic dance.