I’ve heard and used to think being content was a killer of ambition. If you’re content you don’t want more, you’re good with where you are and with what you have. It is hard to find the metrics for being content.
But I don’t think to be content or satisfied means being robbed of your ambition, or of your desire to do or be more. I think of it as the minimum, what you need in your life to feel relaxed, confident, and purposeful.
Content shouldn’t be an ugly or scary word. I used to think that success was some objective matter; professional status, the amount of money in a bank account, or relative influence. Now I see it as much more of a subjective matter. Having autonomy and doing something that I find fun and meaningful daily feels like success to me. This is completely subjective.
I used to think it was important to feel happy all the time. Now I think that transient emotions like happiness pale in comparison to meaning, cultivating talents, and building strong friendships. Good feelings emanate out of these things they do not create these things.
I almost guarantee that my thinking will change over the years. I’m at best slightly wrong and I’m okay with that. But, I just spent a prolonged period of time in the woods and I’m feeling philosophical, so here it goes.
Surround Yourself with Good People
While sitting on his oceanfront house, nearly asleep after rock climbing my friend Patrick said (and I may be paraphrasing), “you’re right, I could lose everything, I mean totally mess up and still be fine”.
This was about an earlier conversation. Your friendships are your most important capital. If we lost it all, really hit rock bottom, we still have family and dozens of friends who would help us.
I think there is a necessity to keeping the people who make you better and support you, and there is a necessity to getting rid of the people who bring you down with negativity. I recently read a quote that resonated with this sentiment:
“souls to souls are like apples to apples, one being rotten rots another”
Whoever your friends are or whoever you decide to date. make sure they are enhancing your life rather than taking away from it.
Experience and Express Gratitude
We recently got an intern at CLIENTEL3. The other day I had connected him with a friend and colleague in NYC where he was moving for a couple of months. He asked me why I was so willing to help him.
As much as possible, for anyone who wants to learn, I like to live up to a promise I made years ago. In 2011 I received help from a professor. She helped me get my internship at Syracuse University. Without that, I predict my life would have been much different. Three years later when she moved, and I ended up getting her job as the head strength coach at SUNY Cortland. A job that I would not have been qualified for had it not been for my experience at Syracuse. I wrote her a letter and ended it saying, “I hope I can pay it forward one day”.
No one makes it alone. Appreciate it when someone helps you up and be grateful when you can help someone else up. Taking a moment out of your day to think or even write down what you are grateful for can immediately enhance your mood. Once you realize that you have so much to be grateful for it makes helping other people easier. Both things, gratitude and helping others, feels good.
Be Physically Active
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to keep your body healthy. If you could put all the health benefits of physical activity into a pill, everyone would be taking it. There is a huge confidence aspect of being fit, too. Confidence in who you are as a person and confidence in your ability to overcome challenges and stress is all a part of your health.
I think confidence is supremely important. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you approach challenges?
A tough workout is euphoric, improving your mood and mind. It’s a way to express yourself with your body. Surpassing your limits and improving your body is a fantastic lesson. You’re in control of whether you become more than what you currently are.
The moment you stop thinking about how other people perceive you, you are free to be authentic.
I recently read Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s thoughts on authenticity. He describes inauthentic (wo)men as men who avoid developing their own uniqueness, people who follow automatic, and uncritical living. They don’t really belong to themselves and they are not really their own person.
I think being authentic stems from being yourself and from following the path you want to follow, rather than the safe path or the path that others think you should follow.
The year before I started my Ph.D. I looked into everything I could do other than a Ph.D. I talked to professors about being a physician’s assistant, I talked to friends who were physical therapist about their job. I even started applications to physical therapy school. But I knew I wasn’t being true to myself, going down those routes would have been challenging but safe, in terms of a guaranteed good job. While it was a tough decision, it was also extremely liberating to follow my gut. If I didn’t follow my passion I would have been inauthentic and regretful.
Be authentic in your personality too. For example, I have no problems talking about my imaginary cat Brian or singing the Jones BBQ and foot massage jingle to clients. Conversely, I enjoy having deep thoughtful conversations or stealing away to some long hike to think. I’ve completely accepted the duality of my own personality.
Find “Your Thing”
I think it’s important to find ‘your thing’. Something you enjoy that you want to work on or something that enhances other areas of your life. This can meld in with all the other metrics I just covered.
Some things I like doing are writing, lifting, running (well sometimes), hiking, and practicing Spanish. I recently picked up rock climbing too. Whenever I get to go on a hike I like to think about what I am grateful for and what I want to work on (point 2). Something about being in nature and away from noise makes this easy.
Writing is a way for me to express myself authentically as is lifting. Writing has been a way for me to enhance my understanding of topics and gives me projects that improve my own professional development. Rock climbing has been a physical activity thing, but it’s also been great to hang out with other good people. I think it is important to have a hobby to occupy your free time.
It can be a solo thing or a group thing. Having a ‘your thing’ also makes you less boring which tends to lead to attracting interesting people, which is also life-enhancing.