I remember thinking 40-plus years ago, “If we can just make $25,000 a year, we’ll have it made!” Then it was $30,000, then $50,000, then $75,000. Enough was never enough. “Having it made” was always just … out … of … reach.
Little did I understand at the time that “having it made” isn’t about having money, expensive cars, or the latest and greatest anything. I learned that the hard way. I now know that it really means being content with what I have, where I am, while having a healthy desire to do and be more than I am today. It doesn’t have to be either/or; it can be both/and.
What does it mean to be content?
When you consider your work, relationships, trophies, titles, your bank account or the number on the bathroom scale, what is contentment? When is “enough,” enough? Is “good enough” ever good enough?
Contentment doesn’t have a long shelf-life. It’s here one moment, evaporating in the next, and like steam rising off hot coffee, contentment is difficult, if not impossible, to hold onto because it’s experienced in the moment.
I have noticed that the more I have of something I desire, the more of that thing I want – not necessarily need. And the more I want something the harder I work to get more of it even when I don’t need it. In the heat of striving, we often don’t recognize the difference between “wants” and “needs” because the dopamine dump in our brain is so powerful that feeling good becomes the real goal of our achievement. We want it because it feels good to get it.
Then it occurred to me that if I’m always chasing something, I’ll never enjoy what I have now; I’ll never be content. Until I am content now, there won’t be a satisfying “next” because the next thing will never be good enough and I’ll miss its beauty and value as I scramble past it in my discontentment and want for more.
ASK YOURSELF ...
- What are you willing to risk failing at in order to gain the lessons learned through the pain of growing, achieving and accomplishing?
- If you do fail, could you be content in your failure?
- Could you truly embrace and appreciate the lessons learned through the failure and know that the lesson you learn is the true achievement after all?
Those are tough questions for me to answer, as well.
Please let me be clear: Achievement and the desire to achieve is good. There would be no contentment without achievement. But being content isn’t about coasting downhill with the engine off after the long climb. I think it’s more about having an attitude of appreciation for “what is” in the here-and-now on both sides of the hill.
A dynamic tension exists between contentment and striving to achieve. Unless I am striving to achieve something worthwhile, I feel that I am missing my purpose in being and I feel discontented. Yet if I am not content with where I am right now, I miss out on living life in the present and I fail to appreciate the fruit of my labor or the lessons learned along the way. I may even minimize or entirely miss the moment.
Unfortunately, I often forget to live today like it’s my last one and let tomorrow worry for itself. Some day – hopefully not too soon – my last day will come, as it will for all of us, and I don’t want to regret missing any more of life’s little moments than I already have.
Embrace and live in the tension between contentment and achievement; enjoy the bright sunshine and the dark storm; rest in the glow of a job well done and in the struggle of the pursuit for something more; take time to taste the bland and relish the richness of the unique.
Striving for and achieving contentment! That’s a worthy struggle all by itself.
John Trombley retired from The Village Business Institute in 2019. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo where he serves as an adjunct faculty member. He is a motivational speaker with over 20 years of experience in providing training programs and consulting services in a wide variety of organization development scenarios. John is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator under ADR Rule 114, and is also certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.
Previously, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.