We are taught that we should constantly strive to change the world, to be the best version of ourselves, bring value to people, and create goal after goal. And if we reach one dream, then we go find a new dream. On the other hand, is the belief system that is the age-long “be content with what you have and find peace where you are.” Be happy, they say. Accept who we are.
What is the right approach? Are these two mutually exclusive? How do we live a life that recognizes and honours the value of each of these seemingly contradictory schools of thought. Will I be regarded as weird if I am more naturally pulled in one direction?
As I battle with a burning desire to kick things up a notch in certain areas of my life, and yet still long to relish the peace and serenity of contentment, I have had to ponder over these questions on some days.
Fairly recently, I was having a conversation with a lady who owns a little kiosk outside my office. She sells groceries and has been doing that for over 10 years. This particular woman seems to be very happy with her life. She is constantly in a cheerful mood and often greets every customer with a smile. During the day, I see some of her customers happily seated on a bench while she chats with them for hours on end.
She clearly appears to love what she does. She seems content. But while the enthusiasm and cheerfulness she brings to her business is admirable, I can’t help but think: with her consistently positive attitude and willingness to strike up a conversation with almost anyone, could she be doing more with her life? Could she be happier? Could she have more of an impact on the world if she did something outside of what she is currently doing?
On the other hand, I thought to myself, since I neither know her story nor her background, I am in no position to ask these questions.
Perhaps she could even be making a far greater impact through something different from what I see. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think there must be millions of people just like her around the world – people who are seemingly not living up to their potentials but seem to be completely content with their life.
There will be some of us who either lean to one side of the pole or the other, because most of us never seem to maintain the perfect balance of both. This is especially so as we get deeper into the social media age where it is increasingly becoming more difficult to cultivate a contentment culture. Often times, we barely have the time to smell the flowers in our gardens because there’s a new flower about to bloom in our neighbour’s garden that appears to smell better.
This constant struggle between ambition and contentment is a conflict that I think we all have to face sometime in our lives.
In my efforts to regain my peace of mind each time I ponder, I realise that the contradiction lies in our misunderstanding that being content means not wanting to achieve more, that being ambitious to achieve more is a sign that one is not content. This is definitely not the case. In reality, both qualities are honourable and are keys to living a happier life. From a definition point of view, there isn’t much of a contradiction between the two concepts. The states of being “ambitious” and “content” seem to serve different aspects of our drive to be the best – one is driving us (ambition), the other is making us enjoy the ride (contentment). Therefore, ambition and contentment don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Both can be in your life, but they cannot share the same space. One has to drive, and one has to ride.
One God-given tool I believe would help is to cultivate the attitude of being thankful with whatever phase we attain and whatever goal(s) we achieve. I tend to worry so much about things I want to achieve that I sometimes forget about the things that I have now which were once things I hoped for. Yes, we all have “big” things that we want to accomplish in life. We, however, shouldn’t be unaware of the many incredible blessings that we already have in our lives. If ever I start to feel the angst of discontentment or as though I’m taking my blessings for granted, all I have to do is remember the years in my life when I felt like I was in a dark place. There is nothing like absolute darkness to magnify the brilliance of light.
Another related tool is to change the way we view success. We tend to always measure success by looking at where we are (actual) vs. where we think we should be (ideal). We need to start measuring our successes by looking at where we were at some point in the
past compared to where we are today. In doing so, we would be measuring progress, thereby putting us into a state of gratitude as opposed to frustration. Because in a state of progress, we are still moving, and we are still growing.
The most important thing is to find that balance. Be grateful for the steady, seemingly mundane day-to-day life offers. Maximize its potentials while you work towards bigger goals and towards being a better person than you were yesterday, rather than bask in the euphoria of always wanting more.
Photo Credit: © Duncan Marshall | Dreamstime.com