On one hand, you’ve got articles that emphasise the value of “more”. Steve Jobs says, “Don’t settle.” A new study on LinkedIn proclaims, “Acquire multiple skills to rise to the top.” And if your full-time job isn’t enough, you should definitely start a side business.
But the Internet also says that life isn’t all about achievement. Billionaires enjoy the same can of Coke as everyone else. Gratitude provides you with the biggest boost to your happiness. If you’re going crazy with stress, remember: It’s just a job.
So which perspective is right?
Should we plough full steam ahead towards our dreams, or take time to smell the roses?
What Gets You Out Of Bed In The Morning?
Okayyyy, sure. But very few people ever go deeper than that. Almost nobody asks themselves WHY they want to achieve financial freedom in the first place.
I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be a billionaire just to lie on the beach. After 2 months, you’ll be so bored that you’ll feel like jumping naked into a pot of curry just to entertain yourself.
Or maybe you have an idea of the person you want to become, the experiences that you’d like to have, and the accomplishments that you’d like to achieve in your career.
Ah, ambition. It’s a wonderful motivator.
In fact, it’s sometimes too motivating. Ambition drives us to work harder so we can rise above our crappy paygrade. It makes us so busy that we don’t have time for our kids. It keeps us working through the night, inching towards that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Does anyone else see the problem here?
Ambition Alone Doesn’t Make You Happy
Tell me if you’ve heard this narrative before: “I used to work at a dead-end job. Every Monday, I would sit down at my desk, sigh, and power on my laptop. Then one day, I discovered the Make-A-Gazillion-Dollars-Through-Forex-Trading Course, and now I’m sipping martinis by the pool!!”
The trouble with this – and other ambition narratives – is that it presupposes that you hate your current life. That somehow, there’s a better life “out there”.
Is there really? We’ve all read about successful executives who earn billions of dollars… and are still miserable.
Psychological research shows that happiness comes from within, not from external circumstances. That’s why lottery winners and earthquake survivors quickly return to their previous levels of happiness.
We might think that a higher salary, quitting our jobs, or retiring early might make us feel better, but the truth is we can be happy right now. Gratitude is the key.
Being thankful that you get to go to work and earn a salary. Feeling happy that you can come home to a spouse who laughs at your stupid jokes. Appreciating the small things like free snacks in the pantry or the breeze on your face as you walk to lunch.
But waaaaitaminute. If happiness is more of a decision, then what’s the point of striving for more? Should you just settle for a mediocre life, and forget about ambition altogether?
That brings us full circle, doesn’t it?
In other words, to be gratefully ambitious (or is that ambitiously grateful?).
I’m an ambitious person. I’m happy to admit it. I have goals around the skills I’d like to master, the experiences I’d like to have, and the person I’d like to become. I think it’s healthy to be hungry for a better future, in whichever way you define “better” (it doesn’t have to be about money).
But at the same time, that ambition doesn’t have to spark from dissatisfaction. I love my life as it is, even if it isn’t entirely problem-free. If none of my ambitions materialise, I’m pretty sure that I’d still die happy.
It’s about appreciating how frickin’ amazing your life is right now, while staying hungry for the future.
It’s like being on vacation, while writing that book you’ve always wanted to publish.
It’s like playing with your kids, while grooming them to become entrepreneurs.
How do you start to be gratefully ambitious? Two practices to try today:
- Ambitious: Have 3 Big Things you want to achieve in the next 3 months. 3 months is a reasonable timeframe – long enough to accomplish something significant, and short enough to keep you accountable.
- Grateful: Write down 3 things you’re grateful for every day. (Or you can use an app like coach.me)
Do these every day, and soon you won’t have to choose between being stressed or stagnant. You can have the best of both worlds, and an amazing life.
What about you? Do you lean more towards ambition, or gratitude?
Which one can you level up today?