Can Contentment and Ambition Co-Exist?

In the modern world, we are more likely to encounter people who are always busy and on-the-go, than those without much to do and content. However, there is a paradox that exists in our society, because as much as we all want to be ambitious, “successful” and make money, we also WISH we could slow down. Well, can we? It is possible to be content and ambitious at the same time?

Let us first consider the root of our “busy,” problem. The root of this problem is our incessant search for fulfillment. We are running away from insecurities by keeping ourselves busy, motivated to get a promotion or make more money. But, what if we had found fulfillment without having to do all of this running around? Would we then be considered unambitious, unmotivated and lazy? To some, perhaps.

Contentment is the other end of the spectrum, where one might find themselves totally at peace with where they are and feeling like they have everything they could ever want in this moment without promotion, monetary bonus or achievement of a higher status.

Unfortunately, we will continue to battle this paradoxical wanting to have ambition yet be content, but we most definitely can find a common ground if we choose to. I believe the sweet spot between the two is detachment.

In being content with where you are and what you have in the moment, it already sets you up to solve for the challenge of ambition. With being content, ambition acts as a hobby or sport in our already fulfilling lives. When we think of it as a sport we can relate to the want for friendly competition, accomplishment and play but we do not take it so seriously. You know that winning in that game of pickup basketball with a friend will not add lasting fulfillment your life (hopefully for most of us), but it is a fun addition to the day.

Similarly, living life with contentment allows for us to find pleasures in the small things, remain humble in great accomplishments and most important, and always remain grateful for where we are whether our ambitions grows or diminishes.

To answer the initial question whether contentment and ambition can co-exist, I would argue, yes, but in order for this to be achieved, it is important for our mindset to remain in contentment and pursue our ambitions with a detached approach to its role in the fulfillment in our lives.

Today, take a moment from the “busy” day to appreciate all you have. And, isn’t it enough? It’s beautiful! 🙂

“How Long Is It Going to Be Before I Demand the Best For Myself?”

This quote from Epictetus forces us to be honest with ourselves. We question whether we are doing the best for ourselves at this time. If not, why? Are we waiting for the “perfect time” to be a better person or take action? It’s so easy to make excuses for a number of things, but is putting this off making you any better?

The Stoics often speak on the theme of perfectionism and how we can never expect perfection in life. Instead, we must be resilient to the obstacles in our path and continue our journey with persistence. How often do we find ourselves saying things like “Oh, I’ll do [   ] 3 years from now,” “Right now I am just too busy for [   ]” You fill in the blank. We all say these sort of phrases but, will there ever be the perfect time to do anything, or is it really just procrastination? (Feel free to answer but it is a rhetorical question). So now back to Epictetus’s question, “How long is it going to be before I demand the best for myself?”

New Year’s resolutions are a perfect example of the idea that Epictetus is trying to get across. Every year we wait for a new start of the year to get healthy, read more, get a degree, etc. Why do we wait for this time when we can start right now?

The reality is, there will never be a more perfect time than now. We do not know what will become of our lives in the future and the new challenges it will pose. Rather, let’s make the decision to demand the best for ourselves while we can, in this very moment. What better time?!

For myself, there are definitely goals that I have set and not accomplished. Perhaps I am making excuses and procrastinating on these feats. Let’s see…

For example, it has been a year since I first began looking for an investment property. The potentially procrastinating side of me says, “There are no homes I am interesting in purchasing, maybe it is just not a good time in the market for me to buy.” Though I am always looking every day, I am WAITING for the right property to appear. Furthermore, I have not made offers on any properties and, at times, I find myself reasoning about the inflated nature of the current real estate market does not allow for me to make a BIG investment mistake. Will there ever be the perfect time to buy in the market? Will there ever be the perfect house? The answer is no, Alex. It is okay to be cautious, just make sure you are not making excuses for yourself.

In conclusion, what I am trying to present here is that we all have goals we are putting off for the “right time,” but understand that we can only have influence over what is happening right now in this moment, not later. Whether it is a specific action-goal or simply being a better parent, being a healthier person, being a better teacher, etc. Ask yourself this question, “How long is it going to be before I demand the best for myself?” And answer, “No longer.”

Practicing Detachment

Recently I began to better understand what Buddhists and philosophers, such as Alan Watts, have explained as detachment. The meaning of detachment is not being attached to a particular feeling or pleasure (Also my interpretive definition). Conversely, we are encouraged to accept our feelings and let them pass, without having to question or reason them. We are not attached. They are not us. They are simply a feeling in the present time and only in the present time. Thus, it will also soon pass.

As advocates of this practice suggest, being attached to a positive feeling or an indulgent pleasure, for example, can only lead to disappointment due to our desire to infinitely feel this elation. Think about how often our feelings change in just a day’s time. We are constantly experiencing the fluctuation, yet rather than accepting this as normal, we beat ourselves up over not maintaining ecstasy.

I would have to argue that life would be much easier if we could recognize, accept and let go of the need to feel good all of the time. I mean, it would put so much less pressure on ourselves if we can understand that feelings are not infinite, they are contrarily meant to last for only a short period of time.

If we can detach ourselves from this unrealistic expectation we set for feelings we can often not control, we can have peace, be free from worry and even better, free from thought. Perhaps some might argue this is “setting low expectations” for our lives, and maybe it does sound that way. But rather it is about not having expectation AT ALL. Being free from expectation, not to have them low or high, just to not have it at all.

Expectation is a product of perception, something we anticipate, try to predict and try to fabricate as a result of this attachment to a desire to feel satisfied. Let me ask you a few questions….

How many times did something or someone not meet your expectations? I’ll take a guess and say….

Hundred, thousands of times.

How many times DID something or someone meet your expectations? I would assume…

Far less often.

Were you more satisfied in the achievement of reaching an expectation or more disappointed by not meeting an expectation? I’ll take one last guess and say…

It felt much worse experiencing that disappointment than it felt good to meet expectation because of how much more intensely it is in our nature to remember a negative emotion greater than the positive.

With all of this being said…

What was the culprit of this feeling you so greatly tried to avoid all along?

Expectation and our attachment to the desire for it to be fulfilled.

Conclusion to this thought is, once again easier said than done, the practice of detaching from our feelings and pleasures allows us to just experience and move forward without judgment, thought or question.

Unconditional.

Free from conditioning.

Think of all of the things we do, the thoughts we have, and our perceptions that are a result of conditioning. Conditioning is often the product of our upbringing and environments. All of our lives we are told what things are “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong” before even being given the opportunity to create an unbiased opinion for ourselves. These conditions can have us grow up close-minded, only attracted to people with similar conditioning and worldly lifestyles.

An example of common conditioning is the stereotypes we are told of others that we may carry with us throughout our lives. For (personal) example, I grew up in a town of people who were predominantly of Italian descent. I myself being of Italian descent, had been encouraged to make friends with those of the kind since we all went to the same school, same church, and were from the same culture. Sounds compatible, right? Well, maybe on paper. However, as a child, none of my friends were of Italian descent at all. Other Italian kids would then question me, “Alex, why do you hang out with them?” In my child-mind, I truly did not understand this question since my answer was simply, “Because they are my friends.” Was I to elaborate? Were they looking for an explanation? What were they looking for? Now, as an adult, it is interesting to think about the conditioning we learn as children and the judgment of others that may even continue into adulthood if we are not aware of it.

In having this deeper understanding of conditioning, I can now understand why people have trouble connecting with one another. We are sometimes so conditioned to judge someone for their status, background, culture, job, net worth, we ignore the true source of connection, the soul, the inner self. In not being aware of this, we allow for worldly factors to blind us of our potential for TRUE connection of soul to soul, rather than the connection of human to human. While the soul to soul connection is one built by common values of kindness, love, vulnerability, genuineness, warmth, and care, the human to human connection is often build by common interest such as culture, gossip, circumstance, proximity and other worldly, fleeting factors.

Most times in our lives we are quick to assume connection because of our first encounter of it on a worldly level—these are common interests, common friends, common situations one may share with another. But, sometimes we may fail to look further into the values of a person to see if there are also shared commonalities there, between the inner self.

Here we find unconditional connection and judgment-free love for one another. Here there cannot be conditioning, for we are freeing ourselves of worldly influence, recognizing values of the inner self, unclouded by the outer world. Here we find love. Here we find genuine connection. Here we find friends. Here we find partners. Here we find ourselves.

 

 

Staying Present

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Staying present is a difficult discipline for even the most disciplined. Many encourage a daily practice of mindful meditation to keep us grounded in the present moment. Still, how often do we find ourselves in some other mindless dimension throughout all other parts of the day? It is easy to do! I was doing it right before I started writing this post, which in turn, prompted me to become present in the writing of this post. (Ha.)

We can find ourselves thinking about the strangest things in the strangest moments. For example, I was washing my hands at the sink the other day and questioned, “Why don’t we have upper and lower case numbers? Would we have use for upper and lower case numbers even if we did?” Thought provoking stuff, right? I mean, what exactly in that moment would have prompted such a thought…. Absolutely nothing. This is a prime example of the wondering of the mind. I doubt so many of us are very in touch with the actual action of washing our hands. Do we consider the feel of the water on our skin? The rubbing of our hands together? Unless the water is scorching hot or freezing cold, this is generally a mindless task.

Although I am by no means an expert, probably not even an intermediate-level present-stayer, there are certain practices I try to do throughout the day to remind me of the present moment. One of these practices is the simple, attention to one’s own breath. For me, I enjoy this practice because it is a short and easy way task, listening to a few deep breaths lasting for maybe less than a minute. Here, I am only listening to my breath, not the office chatter around me or thinking about what I am going to eat for dinner tonight. I am only with myself. Next, at work I keep a coin in my pocket, feeling for it when I find myself getting anxious about a task or worrying about something else that I anticipate will soon be asked of me. I then reach into my pocket to find my solace and stops with its touch. Finally, writing. Writing in my journal or writing this very post about a specific thought or idea forces me to focus on just that task at hand. The moment. I encourage the practice of journaling for this very reason.

Find whatever works for you to remind yourself of NOW. After all, as Marcus Aurelius has said, “The present moment is the only thing of which anyone can be deprived, at least if this is the only thing he has and he cannot lose what he has not got.”

 

“What is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me…”

Ahh, the classic question posed by a 90s one-hit-wonder, along with the rest of humanity.

Throughout our lives, many of us are both hexed and fortunate to experience love. Recently, for myself I have been experiencing love for the first time and it truly is unlike any other emotion. It is ambiguous, cannot be understood nor described.

If you’re anything like me, you might have previously thought, “I’m so fine with being the cool single aunt the rest of my life,” set on doing everything on your own, not feeling like you need anyone because of your independence. Well, let me tell you, if you come to find someone who challenges all of those inclinations, please give it a shot. It is easy to stay in your comfortable world where you only have to worry about you and there is no need to ever be vulnerable. Plus, the word “vulnerable” alone probably makes you sick. So, rather just avoid it, right? I get it.

However, at the same time (I have learned and am still learning) vulnerability is both critical to wholly love and it is beautiful. To be further sickened by the thought, listen to Brene Brown’s –Power of Vulnerability or read her book, Daring Greatly—(Listed in ‘Books’). Both of these journals have opened my eyes to the importance of vulnerability and also made me realize how much I unknowingly avoid it. The way Brene Brown describes, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”

How beautiful is that? To share your thoughts and emotions with someone and allow them to accept them without judgement. Talk about being naked! Sheesh. Meanwhile, all this time I thought my biggest fear was physically being naked?! I don’t know. It sounds like no contest compared to the deep expression of vulnerability.

Honestly, love has no definition because everyone is different, every relationship is different, which is why so many of us go on 100+ dates in our lives to find no one who clicks. Yet, that same guy who showed up 20 minutes late in ripped jeans and a baseball hat on your first date found the love of his life a week later!

We are not all compatible, so we cannot expect love to be an apples to apples experience for everyone. It is unrealistic. All we can strive to do is embrace love, let love in, love love but most importantly love yourself. And, to quote Brene Brown one more time, tell yourself, “I am enough.”

So, what is love? Well… You’ll have to find out for yourself.