December 15

How to be content with what you have

Introduction

I remember the day I finally became content with what I had. Over the past month, I had been trying desperately to find a job. I had been jobless for a month.

But that night, something changed.

As I reflected on where I was, tears came to my eyes. It was easy to be filled with self-pity, and to take the 56 rejections I had received personally. It felt that no one wanted me. How could I ever be content with this hole I found myself in?

But something clicked.

I realised that if I kept wallowing in self-pity, not being content with where I was at this moment, I would never be happy. I would continue torturing myself. I would continue being unhappy. Was this what I truly wanted?

Being content with what you have sounds like an irony. How do you be content, and also be driven enough to push yourself to the next level? If we were content with what we had, wouldn’t we be spending all day lying in bed, not wanting to work hard? Wouldn’t you be lazy?

Let me share with you my own story. I admit.

I find it hard to slack. I’m never content with what I have. I frequently look at what I have, and think:

  • How can I get more?
  • How can I achieve more?
  • Why am I not doing better?

Recently, when I went back to serve reservist in the army, I barely took time to rest. If you’re not familiar with the concept of reservist, it’s when people who have served National Service go back to refresh their understanding of their skills.

Most of my peers took it as a holiday. They saw it as a time when they could put their work aside, and rest. They were content with doing nothing for the week they were there.

I couldn’t be content. I thought I had to work harder and harder to get more.

Being content has been difficult for me. When I met my therapist in the U.K., I once described to her how I felt internally.

I feel like there’s a clock inside me. I can hear it thinking.

I feel this furious drive within me to achieve more and more. I’m never content.

My therapist pauses and looks at me.

Furious? That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone describe it that way. Furious. Interesting.

My transformation

Then I left my job in October 2021. Over the past few months, my income has dropped by more than 5 times. Earning 5 times less is a humbling experience. You learn how to be content with what you have.

Because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be content. I would be pained to see myself falling behind what everyone else was doing.

I learnt that for so much of my life, I was spending money to assuage the deep disappointment within me that I wasn’t doing what I was truly meant to do. Because I wasn’t content with who I was, what I had, and who I was becoming, I was never content.

How about you?

Are you filled with a furious drive too?

Maybe today, you struggle with being content. You look around you, and you feel this sense that you’re falling behind. You scroll through instagram, and you see the achievements your friends are having, and you think to yourself,

I need more. I need to work harder. I need to do more!

You’re not content with what you have in front of you.

The question is,

How do you become more content? Can you be more content?

I don’t want to give you pointless platitudes that don’t work. This is not a series of how-tos that enable you to suddenly wake up happy tomorrow. But it’s more a way of ordering your life so that you come to find a deep sense of contentment wherever you are – whether you have plenty, or whether you’re poor.

Thank yourself for being discontent

I used to think that my discontentment was something that I needed to get rid of. When you’re driven to succeed, you may think that discontentment is another character trait you need to work on to remove. But looking at it as something positive can be helpful.

Thank yourself for being discontent. Thank yourself for being dissatisfied with the status quo, and constantly wanting to improve things. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Try being content and driven

You may think that it’s impossible to be both content and driven! It sounds like an irony, doesn’t it? To hold these two disparate ends of contentment, and drive. But as Jim Collins points out in Good to Great, we sometimes hold the myth of the either/or approach. We think we need to be content or driven. We cannot be both.

It's possible to do both, and. Don't just hold on to the either/or continuum.
It’s possible to do both, and. Don’t just hold on to the either/or continuum.

But why not take time to try being both content and driven? It helps to start by being thankful. Each day, start by writing down 5 things you’re thankful for, even if you don’t feel particularly grateful that morning.

Then, write down 3 things you want to accomplish at the end of the day. This ensures that you’re looking at how you can move things forward, each and every day, rather than working without any sign of progress.

Celebrate progress, not perfection

Being content is not about being sloppy. It’s not about having a poor expectation of your work.

Rather, it’s acknowledging that you aren’t perfect. And that each time, you’re doing your best, and that’s enough. Sometimes, when we look at the work we do, it can be easy to rip into it, thinking that we have to do much more in order to make it better. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Instead, celebrating the end of your day each day by stating two things you’re proud of achieving, and one thing you can improve on reminds you of the good that you have in yourself. It reminds you to be content about the progress you’ve made, whilst looking forward to the day when you can do even more.

Conclusion

Let me end with this story. For years, I was never content with where I was. It wasn’t enough that I got a first class honours and a job. I was also trying to be an entrepreneur, a global speaker, and a professional writer. But all these idealistic expectations of myself were brought cruelly to reality when I tried for 8 months to get a job. I sent 62 applications, and failed more than 14 interviews.

None gave me a job.

That’s when I realised that rather than being constantly discontented with the ‘small’ job I was doing, it might have been better to be thankful for the job that I still had. Rather than constantly looking outwards at what more I could do outside of my job, being thankful for what I already had was the first step to greater fulfilment with life.

I left my job in October 2021 unhappy, discontent, and dissatisfied. I was sad, serious, and somber.

I never seemed to break a smile. In fact, people teased me whenever they managed to make me laugh, pointing out to themselves,

Eh look look, John is laughing!

personal problems at work
Do people drain your energy? Why not be the one who adds energy to them?

That was how bad my discontentment was.

Discontentment is a choice. Contentment is a chance.

It’s a chance to say,

Whatever the world throws at me, I will choose to be content. I will choose to play judo with it, making the best out of it.

I will not complain.

And I will be thankful.


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