Written by: Scott Fry
Steve Jobs was not successful because he was a progressive thinker, an advantageous businessman, or an extraordinary personality. He was successful because he was not complacent.
Substitute any other successful person into this equation, and it will yield the same result, that the true difference between being average and being successful is never giving in to the perpetual tendency toward contentment. The overwhelming inhibitor of success is complacency. As we grow both personally and professionally, we often look to mentors to help show us best practices and expand our thinking as we approach new situations. Although helpful, this concentration on doing what is right often fails to focus on an attribute that is a toxin, leaking into all aspects of your life, developing an attitude of contentment.
If you put your focus on never being content, rather than focusing on “how” to do something, then you will find success.
Overall, people often get too comfortable with their life and their surroundings; they are too content with their profession, their relationships, and their passions/hobbies, leading them to be “comfortable.” As a cow is confined to his or her own grazing land, content with the situation that is upon him or her, so we find ourselves. For a successful life, we need to go beyond the confines we find ourselves in (or we put ourselves in). We should never be satisfied with the grazing land that is before us. Sure, naysayers might argue that, this mentality will result in perpetually chasing something that you can never grasp. I urge you, however, to be like Sisyphus, a Greek mythological character (the King of Corinth). Sisyphus was condemned for an eternity to push a rock up a hill and each time upon reaching the top, the rock would endlessly tumble back down to the bottom. So why did Sisyphus continue to endure? The author Albert Camus (cah-moo) argued that it was not until Sisyphus found existence in pushing the rock up the hill, that he found purpose in life. As young adults, we often have lofty goals that we work toward, pushing our own rock up the hill. When we reach our goals and we see the rock tumbling back down the bottom. Complacency is telling yourself that “you’ve already pushed up the rock” so why do it again? Like Sisyphus, we must find existence and purpose in striving to become excellent in every area of our life, which is a never-ending journey.
A friend recently referred to me as a “nomad” – as a reference to my recent experiences living and working abroad, but I find greater meaning in this comment that was made nonchalantly: it was an analogy for how you should live your life. No, I’m not advocating moving to a different country each year or even to live off of the land, but you should never let the “grass grow under your feet.” Life is too short, there is too much to accomplish, too much to contribute to the betterment of humanity to be “comfortable.”
So, what does this “contentment” look like and what are signs that you’re giving into this urge? Firstly, contentment can be found in every aspect of your life, and just because you’re successful in one area of your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re free of contentment in another area (or even developing the mentality). In my last article, “Why Details Matter,” I discussed the concept that the small details matter most. Contentment is not fussing over the small details. More concretely, it’s being satisfied with just taking home a decent paycheck or getting fair marks at work. It’s being an “okay” friend — not necessarily keeping up with old friends, not making it a priority to see them. It’s calling your parents or grandparents “sometimes.” It’s not giving your romantic relationships everything that you have… it’s general laziness, a lack of pride, and a lack of appreciation for your life.
“But, Scott, I would never let myself do that.” I hope not, but it’s a lot easier said than done. As Chris Farley said in his famous Saturday Night Live character Matt Foley:
I’m sure that as a young adult that you’re eager to get out and “rock” the world, that you’re going to “go out there and grab the world by the tail and wrap it around and pull it down and put it in (your) pocket.” Life is tough and long. It’s easy to fall into the mindset of complacency.
How do you prevent this slide?
- Celebrate accomplishments briefly and then move on to the next goal or next assignment. As cliché as it is, “stay hungry.”
- Surround yourself with great people. One, among many things, that I learned from my parents is that “you are the company you keep.” Surround yourself with motivated, accomplished people. My best friends are my inspiration, the fire under my feet, and importantly, they hold me accountable. They will call me out. They will support me. They will challenge me to become a better person.
- Self-reflect. Don’t just set goals, live them. Write a personal statement. Why are you here? After you meet your goals, the personal statement is something that will keep your life compass on straight path, not allowing you to drift into the land of contentment.
Be great. Have the winner’s edge.