Zen is Balancing Success with Contentment

photo by euart via PhotoRee

One of the greatest places to be in life is in that sweet spot of contentment. This is a belief I have had for quite some time now, but didn’t really put my finger on it up until recently. I think I always avoided the idea of being content because in a way that seemed to mean that I wasn’t continuing to push myself to the limits of my full potential. If I was content then this must mean I gave up on striving for more successes and decided to “settle.”

I think a lot of young professionals like myself, struggle with being content. We are led to believe that we aren’t successful unless we are doing more, doing better or moving higher than we currently are. To me this is a blessing and a curse. On one hand it gives you the drive to improve and achieve and on the other it causes you to miss the accomplishments and happiness that are right in front of you. For me, I seem to struggle with this more when I lose sight of my values or that I am not taking the time to plot my course and determine what success really means to me and not external influences. When this happens I become unhappy with my life and refuse to acknowledge the many successes I have achieved, because they are no longer “good enough.”

Now I am NOT advocating complacency. To me complacency means you just don’t care anymore, which in some ways is even worse than discontent. My wife and I were talking the other day and I started to think about how laid back I have been the last few years. It wasn’t always that way. I used to have a chip on my shoulder and never cut myself much slack. When I stopped to look back I realized that I have come a very long way both personally and professionally. I earned bachelors and masters degrees in a family where most of my relatives didn’t have the option to go to college. I went from working in my dad’s factory in a town of 600 people in rural Illinois to a corporate strategy manager at one of the largest health insurance companies in the US. I used to scrape by each month to pay bills and get groceries to not wanting for anything and being virtually debt free.

Some could argue that I wouldn’t be this successful if I didn’t push myself harder and harder and they may be right. But what I can say is that during that time I was never truly happy. That didn’t come until I stopped and took stock of my accomplishments determined where I wanted to be and realized that I was in control of my on professional destiny. Has this sapped my drive? Not really, I still work hard and want to do a good job but I know myself well enough now to know that I don’t need to kill myself to push to the next level. If I get there great, but now it’s on my terms not someone else’s.

How do you find and maintain the balance between drive and contentment? I would love to hear!

About the author: Heath

4 comments to “Zen is Balancing Success with Contentment”

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  1. Marc Sokol - February 12, 2011 at 7:04 PM Reply

    Many years ago I was exploring different career directions and my mentor asked me how serious of a career I wanted for myself. I replied, “Somehow I expect that 10 years from now I will either be asking myself why I haven’t achieved more, or I will be asking myself why I have felt driven to try and achieve so much”. He just smiled and said he hopes I never lose that tension. Twenty-five years later that same sense is still with me!

    So, yes there is a zen to balancing career ambition with being content and present in the moment. My hope is that, rather than see it as either/or, you can experience it as both/and.

    • Heath - February 14, 2011 at 12:55 PM Reply

      Thanks Marc. I agree that it definitely should be a both/and. Otherwise you run the risk of being ambitious with no real direction or target to shoot for, or you run the risk of being complacent. You might go far with a lot of ambition and no target but can one be happy? With complacency you just don’t care which typically doesn’t make for a happy person. Granted, there may be people out there who can sustain happiness in either of these scenarios. Would love to hear their perspectives if they do!

  2. Anwar Salandy - February 14, 2011 at 12:41 AM Reply

    Interesting question, I think you can strike a delicate balance between contentment and drive. To do this, you first need to identify what you want and value, this is what Stewart Friedman call authenticity, after you determine your values, then you must seek to make those values manifest in each and every domain of your life i.e. self, home, work, and community so that your life has integrity. Lastly, you must creatively work these values into your life with the use of technology and other innovative means. I’ll cite an example to illustrate this point. Let’s suppose I want to become a writer. As a writer, I value excellence, precision, and accuracy. As a writer, I seek to make those values clearly evident in every thing I do, from email writing to transcription. Lastly, as a writer I use various technological devices to communicate or write. I use MS Word, digital recorders, and text messaging to hone my creatively hone my craft. If you ever want to check out my blog, please see the link below:


    • Heath - February 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM Reply

      Thanks Anwar. I agree that one must first be able to identify their values to successfully navigate the balance of drive and contentment. If we don’t understand ourselves then how can we expect a career to align to our passions? Thanks for the comment!

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