“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. 'Til your good is better and your better is best.” St Jerome
These words were printed upon a poster, which hung on the door of my first grade classroom. Words meant to inspire and motivate. I would imagine most walked by but I read these words, memorized these words and began to live my life by these words—perhaps a little too much.
There are two types of people, those who are satisfied and those who are not. I haven’t conducted research or collected data but I have observed that each type’s level of satisfaction doesn’t seem completely dependent on the attainment of education, successful career, promotions, and/or material wealth. I have known individuals living in a modest house, working a low to mid-level job and completely content. And conversely, I have known someone who has a Ph.D., lives in a mansion, drives an expensive car and is dissatisfied.
So, what is contentment contingent upon? Why is satisfaction so easily gained for some and not for others? Is it a matter of motivation? Is it pure and simply drive? Are those who are easily fulfilled not driven?
It is easy to state that a person who is easily content with his or her current station is unmotivated or even lazy. But it is an inaccurate and careless statement since someone’s ability to feel happy and successful is a complex matter involving many factors as well as perspective. Perhaps someone who isn’t constantly striving has a more relaxed temperament, positive outlook, and/or has placed value on something unseen or immeasurable.
Alternatively, one who is driven isn’t necessarily careless with distorted priorities and the inability to feel happy. Sometimes drive is merely the motivation to improve upon oneself and goals. It can come from external pressures or an internal force pushing for an unachievable perfection. I know this type. I am this type.
Even as a small child, I never felt particularly exceptional at anything apart from being exceptionally average. So how did I compensate? I worked hard, very hard. And because I wasn’t the fastest runner, the best in math or an extraordinary violinist, I learned the value of trying harder. I soon realized that what couldn’t come easily could be overcome with hard work but my success also taught me that there was always room to improve. The 95% on a test that I studied so hard for wasn’t satisfying when I knew that I could earn a 100% by studying even more.
But what happens when working harder isn’t working?
Because I have always depended upon and found success in pushing myself until I achieve my set goals, I am perplexed and slightly devastated when trying harder doesn’t work. What happens when an hour spent in the gym six days a week doesn’t yield you the weight loss you want? What happens when you write and rewrite but can’t finish the chapter? And what happens when working harder doesn’t help?
For me, what happens is usually frustration followed by discouragement chased with a double dose of pushing past my body’s limits and my mind’s capacity. However, I am learning that there are times when working harder isn’t the solution.
Sometimes one needs to allow life to unfold and take its natural course. For sometimes the less we try to steer, the straighter we drive until the direction of our path becomes more clear and certain.
Although my drive sometimes drives me crazy, I wouldn’t change it. However, I am learning that flowing with the current rather than fighting it brings much more success and happiness even as I strive to make my good better and my better best.
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International