Non-Attachment To Results


I was having a mid-sabbatical crisis, finding myself suddenly needing justification for taking this year off rather than padding my retirement fund, when I read this statement:

"Non-attachment to results".

This seemingly ridiculous concept is mentioned near the end of Dan Harris' book '10% Happier--How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story' in which he struggles to find balance between ambition and equanimity, a level-headed calmness, especially during difficult situations or when things don't turn out as you had hoped for.

My German upbringing had ingrained in me that "making something of yourself" and "working hard to get results" got you somewhere and made you into someone. One of my fundamental principles of living was under attack. This was bordering on heresy.

My parents had taught me to simply do my best in all things 'regardless' of the outcome; but, somewhere along the way, I discovered that doing my best gets me benefits. As an adult, I learned to expect something in return, on some level, for everything I do, both personally and professionally. And now, this expectation was infiltrating my time off with a relentless inner critic, calculating endpoints, goals, and gains.

In my mind, I had convinced myself that if my time off did not lead to some incredible outcome, I was at risk of being selfish, wasteful and frivolous, or worse, incompetent. I had to admit that I was not OK going through this year and having "nothing" to show for it. I had become attached to the results, yet again, and it was making me miserable.

As I struggled with how I could possibly buy into this notion of "non-attachment to results", I could see glimpses of the benefits of letting go. Rationally, it makes total sense--how utterly freeing it would be to simply learn for the sake of learning, to draw for joy and pleasure, to write and explore my thoughts and ideas regardless of whether they ever went to print; and finally, to give without expectation...detached from the outcome, impact or 'thank you' card I should have received.

I could also project the unnecessary suffering, anxiety and pressure that would continue if I didn't change course or loosen my grip, and instead, insisted on chasing after that imaginary "Made The Best Of Her Time Off" trophy or "Look What I Have Accomplished" award.

How do you become fully "non-attached to results" without forfeiting your commitment to excellence or ambition to be successful in your dreams and goals? How do you give unconditionally?

I do not know--yet. But, as Dan Harris' mentor challenges him: "What Matters Most?"

And what I have come to understand in grappling with my ego is this--whether I am working on myself, my art, my writing or my ideas to 'change the world''--in order to avoid the distractions of seeking validation or worrying over falling short, I must approach this year with humility and gratitude for this time, clarity of purpose, and a commitment to executing each day with excellence and focus in the present moment--this has to be what matters most. 

All I can do is everything I can do. Then, I must let go. The results are beyond my control. 

Separate. Independent. Unattached.

As my crisis slowly subsided in reviewing all that I had learned, I remembered the mantra I had embraced for earlier this year after reading 'Ego Is The Enemy' by Ryan Holiday:

Humble in aspirations. Gracious in success. Resilient in failure.