That day in the sand dunes (Part II)

by - June 13, 2020


The desert struggle (part I) made me reflect a while after. What motivates me? Why do I do things?

Sometimes we don't even think about why we do things; we do them out of habit or necessity. Sometimes, out of desperation and survival. Other times, because others like boss, teacher, parents, friends, told or expected us to.

I read this article titled "Why I Try Not To Do Things For Others, But For Myself Instead" by Gretchen Rubin, a candidly honest piece which contends that doing things for other people has a kind of a self-righteous air; which rewards the doer with a feeling of being generous and virtuous. It sometimes also bring a feeling of resentment. Why? Because, there is an underlying desire and expectation to be noticed and appreciated. When that desire is unmet, resentment builds up.

The article candidly points out our human limitations: not only we need each other, we also crave for self actualisation, acceptance and approval. We put commitment and hard work to perform, be recognised and rewarded, to fulfill others' and our own expectations. We look out for each other in social relationships in mutual needs for love, connection and acceptance.

In what I thought was my own "pure" desire to do good for others, upon digging deeper and being very honest, I often, grudgingly, found those exact selfish desires - very human. Aren't we such weak, limited, conditional beings? :)

But I’d like to contend that self will isn’t that powerful and mighty giant we often make it out to be. Admittedly self will and self motivation are very powerful, you feel like you’re riding the waves and on top of the world, like the world is your oyster and you’re rewarded by good feelings and good emotions. But they’re fickle too.

A friend once told me, "Feelings are like the weather. It changes over time". Like one of those new year resolutions to go to the gym or eat healthy, which often fails by February. I used to feel motivated and passionate about blogging. Now, this post has been sitting in draft for more than a year.

For things that require long commitment, when things get hard, when those wonderful feelings desert you; when you see no purpose, no meaning, no reward, no happiness, no end, just burden, toil and exhaustion like the barren desert,... Self will will fail and you’ll feel lost.


Is it possible to become detached from selfish desires and expectations, to do things for someone else, such as someone who relies on, puts hope in you, someone whom you love? Instead of being resentful, will it make you stronger?

Surely, even if limited, we too have the capacity for the unconditional? Surely, as parents toil in their jobs, as they change endless nappies and fold endless laundry; surely they don't just think about being all sacrificial or self righteous, how they want to be appreciated and rewarded? Surely, even though we are limited by our selfish desires and we often fall, fail, hurt each other and ourselves, we have the capacity to be selfless and give our lives away too?

By all means, I need to be very honest with my limitations. When my cup is empty, it needs to be filled before I can get up and start again. Set strong boundaries. Communicate my expectations (working on it. I find those incredibly hard).

Doing things for myself and for others don’t have to be mutually exclusive. When I'm exhausted of doing things for myself, especially something that seems pointless like climbing that sand hill... 

Surprisingly, counter-intuitively, sometimes, when self will fails, doing things for others makes you regain strength again. It refuels the self will that was empty.


It might even make you happy. 


One piece of truth I know for sure: if that day I climbed the sand dunes for myself, I would have already given up.

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