Thursday, February 01, 2020

Sometimes, enough really is enough

Our consumer society runs on the premise enough is never enough. Whatever you have—wealth, possessions, power, fame—is only the basis for getting more. Every achievement is no sooner reached than discarded. You’ve done that; on to the next goal.

Bigger, better, farther

Everyone is constantly striving to get somewhere else. Wherever you are today, you’re quickly convinced that you need to move on. The organization tells you where to head for next. Gurus constantly urge you to set yourself goals, assign a time line, establish some way of measuring success, and so enable yourself to achieve whatever you are told that you want. If you reach a goal, set a new one. Do well in life, and your goal should be to do better. Reach a career goal, then forget it and set a new one. Hit this month’s budget and you can be sure next month’s will be bigger, tougher, more challenging. All this within a culture of urgency and push, rather than one of slow, gentle, thoughtful progress.

This pattern raises three questions for me:
  • Why do people behave like this?

  • Is it natural and inevitable, as people assume?

  • Is there an alternative, besides “dropping out?”

Ambition sometimes gets out of hand

When achievement drive is allowed to take over, the result is precisely what I’ve described. Once reached, every goal instantly loses its value. We’ve been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt. It no longer counts for anything. This is sad. Enjoying what you’ve achieved is one of the great pleasures of life. Does it make sense to spend hours preparing a gourmet meal, only to throw it away as soon as it’s ready? Don’t you want to savor it?

If you discount each achievement the moment the goal is reached, what effect does that have on others? Imagine a child coming home from school elated by some success, only to hear his or her parents rush straight from “well done” to setting another, tougher goal. “Okay, you did that. Big deal. What we expect now is . . . ”

Far fetched? Not really. That’s exactly how many bosses behave. Achieve—even surpass—your current target and your reward will be a new target that’s bigger, tougher, and probably less achievable. It’s what people are urged to do in the rest of their lives. And it isn’t natural behavior, it’s learned. You don’t see animals hunting, catching their prey, then instantly rushing off to hunt again. They eat, then relax until they need to move on. Primitive tribes “waste” time sleeping, socializing, dancing, and creating art works. If this obsessive, goal-oriented behavior were natural, they’d be spending all their time inventing the wheel, trying to corner the market in loincloths, setting up multi-tribe trading cartels, and building thatched shopping malls to sell cheap goods bought in from more primitive tribes in the area.

So do you give up? Drop out of the rat race and go back to oil lamps and horse-drawn wagons? I don’t think that’s going to work, do you?

There is an alternative. Slow down. Take a little time to celebrate and enjoy each achievement. Praise is worth far more than money. Say “well done” and congratulate others as if you mean it. Take time out to celebrate success—both yours and other people’s. Savor the pleasure of a job well done. When you’ve enjoyed to the full what you worked hard to achieve, then you can start to think about moving on. No pleasure lasts forever. There’s a natural point when people start to focus on recreating the pleasure by setting a new goal.

Over-active achievement drive can and should be tamed. Take time to appreciate this life. It’s the only one you’ll have, so if you rush through it from one goal to the next, never pausing to enjoy anything, you’ll reach the end having done much and enjoyed little. That doesn’t seem much of a life goal, does it?

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Anonymous said...

Sometimes the lead-up to something fabulous is just as enjoyable (if not more so) than the object or experience obtained. My husband simply cannot understand that planning for a trip, budgeting, thinking out the itinerary, and the things to do and see is part of the pleasure of a trip. Taking time to savor is so important.

4:13 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon.

I agree with you. The lead up (and savoring the experience afterwards) are major parts of a complete experience. Rushing past them destroys a great deal of the available pleasure in life.

Keep reading, my friend.

7:15 AM  
Sujatha said...

Your article and the comments completely resonated with me. I don't know whether it is aging or kids or what, but in the last few years, I've learnt to substantially slow down and appreciate small accomplishments both at work and in personal life.

8:30 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Sujatha. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:01 AM  

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