Extremes are almost never good. We all are driven to extremes at times. We hate some things and love others. We eat at the best restaurants on the planet or the absolute worst dumps around. Our trips to the beach are the best experiences of our lives and our setbacks are catastrophes that make the Titanic seem like a minor malfunction.
Not only do we explain our life in extremes, we react in extreme ways as well. School shootings make us want to ban all guns forever. Terror attacks make us want to level the offending countries with every tank and fighter jet available. While extremes are unavoidable, success in life most often comes from balancing two equal and opposite extremes. Such is the case with contentment and ambition.
You either are or know someone who is perfectly happy with the status quo. Change is scary, painful, and not fun. They are fond of the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. "Why bother with the flow of things, when things seem ok?" Most of their energy is spent in avoiding pain and discomfort. “Why make changes and deal with an entirely new set of problems? I’m perfectly happy with the problems I have now”. They may start out trying to be content with life, but end up somewhere else. When change is avoided at all costs, contentment becomes stagnation. Stagnation is what happens when we have avoided change and discomfort for so long that we begin to lose our desire for more. Growth is impossible without some level of discomfort, and life is meaningless without growth.
The opposite extreme isn’t much better.
You either are or know someone on this extreme as well. In healthy doses they are ambitious, but in extremes they are compulsively driven. They apply for any new job that hits the boards. If things aren’t constantly changing they become restless. There’s always more to be had, more to be done, and more to achieve. The problem with a compulsive life is that it can’t stop and enjoy all it has accomplished.
So, what’s to be done?
Contentment and ambition can live hand in hand. Their unhealthy extremes of stagnation and compulsivity however, cannot. So, how can you be content and at the same time ambitious? Here are some tips:
Taking time to look back and appreciate what you have accomplished, fights against the compulsion that robs us of joy. While compulsion always looks forward, celebration takes time to look back and to look around. The act of celebration is one of the most overlooked spiritual disciplines. Celebration provides a pause and much needed clarity to life. Take a second and admit that you have actually done and seen some pretty great things.
In order to keep contentment from turning into stagnation, you have to make peace with your own imperfection. One of the reasons so many people become stagnant is that they are unsure of how to take their next step well. If they don’t know how it will all turn out, they often don’t take the step at all. No one wants to fail or look foolish, but failing and looking foolish are an inevitable part of life. Life only works if you can endure looking foolish at times without believing you are a fool. When you realize that you don’t have to be perfect, you are set free to grow (which is not a perfect process).
Choose great ambitions in your life. Tackle big problems, seek to fight enormous injustices. As you do, stop from time to time to enjoy where you are at and the people all around you. Contentment and ambition are not only possible, they are key ingredients to a successful life.
Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo