“To know that enough is enough, this is ever to have enough.”
Tao Te Ching
In his book Stillness Is The Key, Ryan Holiday shares a story of two great writers, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, who attended a luxurious party in a billionaire’s home somewhere outside New York City. Vonnegut teased Heller, “Joe, how does it feel that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel has earned in its entire history?”
“I’ve got something he can never have,” Heller responded.
“And what on Earth can that be?” Vonnegut asked.
“The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
“Enough” is a beautiful word isn’t it? To have that level of contentment, to have the assurance that whatever you crave for, you could find them within your own self.
Like most people, I used to view my life largely in terms of the pursuing and attaining of goals. Needless to say, I was a motivation nut, tuning in to blazing speeches to set the tone for the day, sticking my butt to the seat and working hard to the bone. The thought of those goals were almost never not with me while I ate or went to bed.
But after an extended period of time, I somehow grew out of that frame of mind. It’s actually tiring when you think about it — You’re continuously in hunt mode, seguing from one goal to another with hunger in your heart. You’re never at rest. Because in the motivation world of success gurus, rest and inactivity are often seen as a weakness.
And as Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “There is a special sadness in achievement, in the knowledge that a long-desired goal has been attained at last, and that life must now be shaped towards new ends.”
It’s no different from certain people who can’t stop going on shopping sprees, as they hope for that one purchase or another that could give their lives more substance — Only to find that what they really get is a temporary release of endorphins. And the cycle goes on and on, ad infinitum.
That’s what tends to happen when you tether your definition of success or failure to something external, like a goal. I guess jumping from goal to goal is really a way to mask over that empty feeling you get after achieving something you’ve longed for. It’s a kind of disillusionment, because you feel that life is still the same, or at least that it hasn’t changed in the ways that you imagined it to be. Because that is reality — Life is always gonna be the same.
I got lazier too, which might have been a very good thing. I learned that you don’t have to make easy things difficult by putting in long hours or “grinding” as they like to say — That by being a little smarter, you could achieve a lot more by doing less, by putting your brain to use. And I’ve gained some humility too, because not everything can be attained as quickly as you want. Some things are best left to their own time-frames, while you patiently gain all the necessary skills and wisdom. Because achieving something sustainable is always so much better than running on empty, than merely being the youngest or the fastest in whatever you’re doing.
But best of all, I’ve learned to have enough. I have the luxury to enjoy my present life as it unfolds.
Recently, I’ve been blessed to receive my fifth Dean’s List award. While it made my family proud, I was honestly somewhat indifferent to it. The real joy was in the learning process, in being in the classroom, and because of that, I knew I was going to be fine, award or no award. It was never something I deliberately worked towards. At the end of the day, you would have to go back to work anyway.
Not to say that these aren’t wonderful things to have or work for, but you just need to constantly be aware about the rung of your life on which you place those goals and aspirations.
Teach yourself to have enough. To have the assurance that you could find contentment in your inner life. A good litmus test for assessing where you are — Or rather, how obsessed you are with external events — Is to ask yourself, “Am I sure that I’m going to be fine, regardless of whether or not such a thing would happen?”
Teach yourself to be fully present, and to find joy in the smallest things — For me, that would mean drinking seven cups of coffee with a good book to read, listening to good music, sharing good laughs, playing with my niece and nephew, and of course, writing here every single week — Find the things that make you happy — Things that bring joy to you just by the sheer doing of them.
Jimi Hendrix was once asked if commercial success made him happy, and he responded, “All the things I thought were important before I had a hit record are just as important now. Trying to understand people and respect their feelings, regardless of your position or theirs. The beautiful things are still the same, the sunset and the dew on the grass. No material wealth changes the way I think about these things. If you’re looking for real happiness, you go back to the happiest days you had as a child. Remember when playing in the rain was fun?”
Exactly. Don’t you remember when small things like that made you smile?