There seems to be a recurring topic that continues to come up in my life—the balance between contentment and goals. Do I appreciate what I have, and am I working towards something meaningful that forces me to grow?
An either/or approach never works. On one hand, you lend yourself to apathy and stagnation. On the other, you live under the tyranny of nothing ever being enough, endless striving that costs you something you never intended.
I don’t pretend to have this figured out. Every once in a while I sense the alignment between the two within myself, but it’s normally a fleeting moment followed by the pendulum tipping back towards one side.
I lean into gratitude, I acknowledge “this is enough,” I admit that no amount of striving will satisfy the soul in a sense of grounded peace, then I lose sight of the growth mindset that brought me to the place that allowed me to say “this is enough.”
The pendulum shifts, and I’m pushing myself again, setting higher goals, working towards a new normal, driven by the discontent that can serve as a double-edged sword.
There are two natures at war within me. One, when I look at my life I must admit that if nothing improved from now until the time I died, I would still be truly blessed. Two, because of the resources, abilities, opportunities, and time I’ve been blessed with, I have not only the chance but an obligation to make much of it.
“What are you going to do with this one wild life?” Mary Oliver wrote. To anyone privileged enough to ask themself that question knows it ignites something inside you that can’t settle, won’t settle, for the status quo.
But how do you maintain the balance, live in that place of perfect contentment and focused effort? It’s not easy, and if you have the answer, I invite you to write the next best-selling personal development book.
I do have a few thoughts, though, and to my long-term readers, these ideas won’t necessarily be new (as most good ideas are not)...
I believe the uniting factor, the overarching umbrella that shields your life from unbalance and trying circumstances, is vision. Vision is the ultimate aim, the life principle that undergirds every action, thought, choice, and goal.
It’s who you’re becoming, the man, the woman, the spouse, the friend, the whatever role you have. When faced with any choice I ask myself, “Does this support who I’ve decided I want to be? When I find myself in a wooden box at the end of my life, with those I love surrounding me, do I want to be remembered for this?”
Do I want to be remembered as lazy, unwilling, apathetic? Do I want to be remembered as someone who put their job before their family, always working late, never saying no to any opportunity? Do I want to be known for floating through life, settling for the path of least resistance? Do I want to be known for a laser focus that tuned out anything that didn’t serve my self interest and destroyed my presence?
We’d all say, “Of course not!” but do our lives reflect it?
Periodically, I try to review and rewrite the vision for my life, and without fail, it always begins with my relationships. As one example, before running a great business, I want to be a great husband. In this example, it’s the guiding force when I look at my schedule, what I commit to, and what I say no to.
It sounds so simple, but I’ve learned the most basic principles radically shape who we become, serving as guides and guard rails in our day-to-day. I either make a conscious decision, or the decision is made for me by other people or outside forces.
Though it’s personal, I’d like to share a portion of my own vision, because if you’re thinking through this for the first time an example might be helpful:
I want to be a committed servant to every person I’ve been blessed to be in relationship with, first and foremost to my wife, Lacie. I prioritize our relationship above all others, and I will not make a decision that doesn’t contribute to the health of our relationship and Lacie’s well being.
I will be grateful for all that I have, and I will utilize every blessing for the benefit of others. I believe meaningful work empowers and illuminates every aspect of our life, not only in how I help provide but in what I create and release into the world to influence others.
Ultimately, my life is brief, a mist, a mere breath, but in this blip on the timeline of history, I will strive to make my mark. I value exploration, adventure, experience, creativity, compassion, generosity, gratitude, excellence, continuous learning, and above all else, truly sacrificial love.
When I think about the end of my life, there are things I see that I want—a welcoming home on a large piece of property, financial freedom, and so on. But more than that, I see people, a safe and encouraging place/community I’ve helped create, legacy, influence, impact, something that doesn’t die when my physical body dies.
I want to live in a way that my life outlasts me, so even when my name isn’t remembered, what I believed and put out into the world is carried on in the way other people live, and progress continues long after my own small contribution.