You’re in a war with your mind every single day. You find yourself caught between daydreams you feel like you’ll never truly reach and the sobering reality you have to live out day to day that makes you complain.
You feel like you should be doing more, then you don’t do more, and you feel bad about yourself for not doing more.
On the whole, your life isn’t all that bad either. It could be worse, but you spend all of your time living in your reality so it’s hard to see anything outside of it.
That’s the hard part about regulating your emotions and behaviors in general — you have to be you constantly.
You spend most of your time thinking about how your circumstances affect you, how the problems in your life are bothering you, and what you want to do with your life in the future.
That’s not a bad thing, but you have to know when to apply your self-interested thinking. You also need to be able to step outside of yourself and see the bigger picture from time to time to keep yourself grounded.
That’s where these two concepts come in. If you can master both of them, you’ll be able to persist on the ‘road to success.’ These concepts can be used like you’re driving on an actual road where you need to shift gears up and down depending on where you’re at.
There are different levels of each concept you should use at certain times, too. I don’t have the perfect answer for you, but that’s the point.
Never search for the perfect answer. Focus on the delicate balance and constant iteration it takes to succeed.
The level of entitlement in the West is out of control. I’ve been harping on this for a while now because I see the negative psychological effects it’s having on people.
If you live in the West, you have much to be grateful for. Gratitude is the emotion you need to master in order to stay grounded long enough to succeed. And while people all across the world can practice gratitude, I want to focus the conversation on Americans and those in the West — people who really shouldn’t be complaining about anything at all.
Look at your life. Try, for a moment, to suspend your judgment and look at the picture I’m painting of the society you live in. Odds are you live in an apartment or home with central air conditioning, have internet access and have access to at least one car. I’m guessing you have a smartphone.
While you might be working class, or perhaps even at or near the poverty line, you’re still one of the wealthiest people on planet earth comparatively. Also, compared to people in past generations, you’re extremely wealthy.
I get it. It ain’t all sunshine and roses whatsoever. But, if you’re in that category of people who isn’t severely destitute and has access to technology to change your life. Be thankful.
I watched this comedy special once by Ronny Chieng and he said that Chinese people “look at America like the NBA.” Where we see a country rife with problems, which is true, people from the outside looking in see it as a massive opportunity and often treat it as such.
This reminds me of another story from college. My professor taught in Japan. One day, he told his students they could leave class early. They looked at him puzzled, sad. The students thought he was punishing them.
They valued education that much and were grateful to have the chance to learn. Contrast this with Ivy League students protesting about their oppression and you can see the problem.
Again, the point isn’t to pretend we live in a perfect society. But if you focus on the upside, you’ll be in a position to experience the upside. So many people in our country, in our hemisphere, have lost sight of gratitude to the point they can’t fathom the idea of upward mobility anymore. It’s sad.
Don’t be one of those people. Be grateful. Be honest about your level of opportunity. If you think about it deeply the answer is obvious.
Remember that thing I said about walking a delicate balance? Well, gratitude can become a crutch and an excuse to keep yourself from using this next important emotion, attribute, or state of mind – ambition.
You have the counterarguments to ambition. There’s the eastern philosophy argument that all desire is rooted in the ego and ultimately causes suffering. You have the concept of lifestyle creep where enough is never enough — the more successful you get the more success you want. Ambition has become synonymous with greed.
As I’ve become more successful in life, I haven’t gotten extremely happier, per se. As I made more money, the money, in fact, did not buy happiness. So why keep pushing? Why keep trying to ascend to higher levels?
Honestly? Just to see what’s possible and grow. That’s the payoff. And it’s a payoff worth experiencing.
That’s the ultimate goal of mastering gratitude and ambition combined — the pursuit of a spiritual journey. You never get the perfect answers and no one is happy all the time, no one.
But through this journey, you do raise your baseline level of happiness — the type that’s rooted in meaning. You’re grateful for what you have and what you’ve earned over time. You can get to a point where you don’t need to do anything, but you just want to.
At a certain point, you just come to the conclusion that life is a game you have the honor to play. You go as hard as possible doing the things you love. Not the things that make the most money or get you the most status. But the things you have a deep-seated desire to master.
The goals don’t matter, but breaking through that wall of rationalizations and self-doubt does matter. You get that earned sense of pride combined with a real sense of gratitude because you took advantage of the opportunities available to you.
Some days I wake up and I’m like, “Holy crap the world is full of amazing possibilities.” Not even in a corny way, either. It just becomes logically obvious as you continue to grow and iterate that this thing called life we get to be a part of is sheer insanity, especially for us to have our basic needs met.
Do yourself a favor and be honest with yourself about both sides of this coin — gratitude and ambition. No one’s around. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not when you’re all alone with your thoughts.
Even if you’ve been persuaded one way or another by the media, your friends and family, politics, whatever, you can always get back to the source and find the truth.
It’s down there somewhere. Find it and use it.