“Sometimes swimming upstream is too tiring that one opts to swim downstream” – one friend telling another friend when he found out that this person had decided to switch job. The repetition of the word “stream” caught my attention and made me think. Upstream … downstream … Regardless of up or down, we all are in a stream of life. And, if you are in a stream, what do you do? You keep on swimming as Dory advised Nemo in the movie “Finding Nemo” by Pixar.
Why do people want to swim upstream? It is commonly understood that somewhere upstream is the destination of wealth and prestige. People assume that the further upstream they go, the more riches and social statuses they are going to acquire. Moreover, the journey upstream can be exciting. As we make our way upstream, every time we hit a milestone, every time we overcome a challenge, we satisfy our personal ego, which in turn encourages us to look for the next challenge.
Have you ever tried to swim upstream a river? If so, you would agree that swimming upstream requires great physical exertion and mental alertness. As we work hard, it is natural that we spend all our energy and attention to the task at hands. If the task at hands is so large, and with our eyes on the destination, is it possible for us to forget that we are still in a stream, surrounded with water and other things in life? Many people work so hard to climb the ladder of success only to find out later that they have lost their health, family, and other meaningful relationships in the process.
Jim Collins, the author of the best seller “Good to Great”, said “For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life”.
Even if you are sitting on the top of the world and have acquired all the riches and prestige that life has to offer, what are you gonna do if you have no one to enjoy it with?
Why do people swim downstream? Is it because it is easier? As you swim downstream a river, you can effortlessly gain distance while relaxing and letting the current do the work. You can go with the flow of the river and let it take you where it may. This idea sounds very fun at the beginning; but imagine doing this for a long time, you may end up in places that you don’t want to be. Letting the river drive you, how do you know that you will end up in a place that is good for you? Would you be okay with the feeling of “not knowing” and of randomness? What’s about the people you love? Are they going with you or will they change directions to leave the randomness and find what’s best for them?
Here and Now
As I examine the idea of upstream and downstream, I’m struck with the thought that it doesn’t matter whether we are going up or down, we are still in a stream. In a stream, there is water, and there are currents which I think of as forces in life that pull you and try to take you in certain directions. However, there is much more in a stream; there are beautiful plants, interesting fishes (or people), and exciting events that happen in the stream right where we are. As we swim and focus on our destination, don’t lose track of the here and now. Life is right here and right now. Life doesn’t occur at some destination upstream or downstream. As we are swimming through the stream of life, it is important to pay attention to our present moment – who do we have with us? what values are we bringing to life right here and now in our current position?
I don’t propose us to swim upstream or downstream. Only you know what is best for you at this moment in life, and you alone can make the decision to swim up or down or even sideway. There are different seasons in life – season to plant, season to harvest, and season to rest. I advocate living a life with purpose and awareness – knowing where you are going, why you are going there, who you have with you, and what happens around you. Life is a stream, and while you are in it, enjoy and do whatever you can to make it better.
I believe that as you focus on doing your best where you are at, as you focus on serving a great cause that add value to life at this present moment, you are destined to have a great life, regardless of whether you are upstream or downstream in other people’s opinions.