I want to change the world. I want to have a beautiful wife and kids. I want to travel the world. I want to be physically fit. I want to meditate every morning. I want to wake up early every morning. I want to go to sleep at a good time. I want to be with friends. I want time to myself. I want to be yogi. I want to be adventurous. I want to be risky. I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to teach yoga. I want to run a triathalon. I want to write a book. I want to be wealthy. I want to run charities. I want to make others happy. I want to make myself happy. I want…everything.
(*Catching my breath…* Phew, that was a load off my chest. Try it, it’ll feel good.)
Five years ago, I worked as a management consultant — I earned good money, loved my coworkers, and enjoyed the work. But…there was a problem: I did not feel like I was changing the world; I did not feel fulfilled; I did not feel important. So, I packed my schedule: I started training for the NYC marathon, raising $3,500 for Livestrong, chasing a girl who was not over her ex (bad idea), working on my ideas for a website that would change the world, developing pro bono consulting plans for the firm I was working for, and studying for the GMATs (because I wanted to go to a fancy business school).
Here is what happened: I finished the marathon, raised $3,800, stopped chasing the girl who was not over her ex (horrible idea), stopped working on ideas for a website that would change the world, developed plans that were not successful in convincing my firm to do pro bro consulting, and I would rather not mention my unsuccessful GMAT score. Or, in summary:
It’s a disease. I wanted more; I wanted more perfect; I wanted more happiness. I thought all of those things were integral parts of my growth as an individual. In a state of continual competition with myself and others, I got caught up in a wild goose chase to grow, grow, grow.
Lesson 1: Ask why? And, then ask why four more times. Looking back, I thought all of those things would make me happy, but, in reality, a lot (probably most) of it was my ego.
Lesson 2: Slow down. I thought the more quickly they became a reality, the sooner I would be fulfilled — not so much 🙂 Slow and steady wins the race. The chairman of the management consulting firm I used to work for always said, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” He started an amazing consulting firm, took it public and sold it, and is now battling (and hopefully winning) cancer.
Lesson 3: Focus. Doing one thing really well is better than doing 10 things not so well, but even more importantly, it would have given me the space to enjoy.
At the end of the marathon, I was walking side-by-side with this old woman in her late 70s or early 80s.
She looked at my grim face and said, “You just finished a marathon, smile!”
I fake smiled and attempted to raise my hands. I wasn’t feeling that happy or even that I excited. I asked her, “Is this your first too?”
Beaming, the old lady said, “Nope, it’s my 20th.” I could see that she ran for the sake of running and nothing more.
Lesson 4: Accomplishments (or Outer Conditions) ≠ Happiness: Our control on the outside world is limited , temporary and illusory. We think if we can gather all he conditions to be happy, then we will be happy. To have everything to be happy dooms the destruction of happiness because if something is missing we will not be happy. (See the wise words of Matthieu Ricard here).
Lately, as I am figuring out my next steps in life, I have been thinking about: What do I want? What is important to me? What path should I take? I hope I can learn from my past and my previous post 🙂