I’ve managed to be involved in more than one career in my short time in the working world. Does that mean I have answers about how to go about starting a new one, or changing yours to suit your circumstances? Of course not. Does it mean I’ve had plenty of time to submit some incorrect or incomplete solutions to this problem? Absolutely.
Sure, it’s great to get a job. To get that job that you wanted is even better. You’ve made it this far – so what now?
It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you, and forget about the rest. If you don’t define what it means to be successful and happy in your own life, it can leave you feeling empty, lost, and incomplete.
Maybe your priority is money. Maybe it’s family. Maybe it’s influence or change. Maybe it’s serving a purpose. Maybe, just maybe, it’s about being happy. Whatever it is – you need to know. You need to know what you want and, more importantly, what you don’t want.
Something I’ve observed a lot is that we’re seemingly never happy with what we have; we want what others have too. This is especially true about money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default becomes thus: more. And more. And so, your critical energy is diverted from your calling and toward filling your bank account.
We seem to start out with a vision of what’s important to us, but once we’ve achieved what we want, it can be easy to lose sight of our priorities. We go down the path of wanting to have more than everyone else – to have more success, to get that promotion, to make more money, to get more credit.
We can all get trapped in this regard in our work – we can all say “yes” unthinkingly, because we think it’s what we should be doing, out of some vague attraction or, even worse, out of greed or vanity. It’s easy to think that saying “yes” will let us accomplish more, because we might miss something if we say “no” instead. Some people pride themselves on the mantra that “if I’m good at my job, I can do someone else’s”. Is that a good thing? These extra responsibilities prevent us achieving the very thing that we set out to accomplish. All of us can waste our time doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want or need.
It can be easy to forget or overlook this when you’re just starting out, but so many of us jump right into the middle of something else before we’ve mastered what we began with. When you combine insecurity and ambition, you get an inability to say “no” to things. Eventually, you can say “yes” to too much, chasing Moby Dick like Captain Ahab for reasons we don’t even understand any more.
Why is it that we do this? Most of us begin with a clear idea of what we want in life. We know what’s important to us. However, the success we achieve, especially if it comes early on in our careers, or in large quantities, puts us in an unusual place. Because now, we’re in a new place and have trouble keeping our bearings. The farther you travel down the path of success, whatever it may be, the more often you can meet other people who can make you feel insignificant. It doesn’t matter how well you’re doing, how much of what you originally set out to achieve has been done, their accomplishments can make you feel like nothing. It’s a cycle that goes on to infinity – whilst our time here does not.
We unconsciously pick up the pace to keep up with others. But what if different people are running for different reasons? What if there’s more than one race going on? There’s a certain irony in how badly we chase those things that are of no value to us.
If only we could all stop for a second.
Seneca’s Euthymia (translated as The Tranquillity) establishes and emboldens a sense of our own path and how to stay on it, without becoming distracted by all the others that intersect it. In other words, it’s not about beating someone else, it’s not about having more than others. It’s about being who and what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without giving in to all the things that draw you away from it. It’s about going where you set out to go. About accomplishing the most that you’re capable of in what you choose. That’s it.
I’m not saying that competitiveness is not important. Because it is. It can drive some of humankind’s most impressive accomplishments. It’s on an individual level, however, where it’s critical to have a clear sense of the space you’re in, who you’re competing with and why.
Only you know the race that you’re running. That is, unless you decide that the only way you can have value is to be better than, have more than, everyone. Each one of us has a unique potential and purpose; that means we’re the only ones who can evaluate and set the terms of our lives. Far too often, we look at other people and make their approval the standard we feel compelled to meet and, as a result, squander our potential and purpose.
So here you are, on the precipice. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? Only you can answer these questions. Only when you do, can you understand what matters and what is nothing but a waste of your time and energy. Only then can you say “no”, can you opt out of races that don’t matter or even exist.
Anybody can buy into the myth that if only they had that thing that someone else has, they would be happy. It took me a few times getting burned to realise how empty this illusion is. It can be easy to find yourself in the middle of some task and not understand why you’re there. It will take courage and faith to stop yourself.
Find out why you’re after what it is you’re after, and set your targets based on those things. Write them down and stare at them. If you had achieved these things, would you feel good? How do you know you’ve made the right choices? Trust me, you’ll just know.
Stand by your reasoning and ignore anyone else who tries to sway you from your course. Let them covet what you have, and not the other way around. To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom: happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold. Happiness resides in the soul.