How Much Is Enough?
Ambition is one of our culture’s most closely held values. Determination, hard work, and the achievement of an ever larger part of the dream are imprinted on us as “the way” from our childhoods. Being told you’re motivated and ambitious is considered a high compliment.
Do you have enough money? Love? Time? Excitement? Fulfillment?
More is more.
Or is it?
In full disclosure, I am a striver. I’m happiest when I’m working toward something — whether it’s a new work idea, business goal, or household project. I have generally thought this was one of the better parts of my personality, and yet, if I’m honest, there’s an underbelly to it. I’m rarely, if ever, satisfied.
I’m in good company. In her must-read book, Daring Greatly, researcher Brené Brown calls this phenomenon the culture of scarcity. From the moment we awake, our first thoughts are of what’s lacking: that we didn’t get enough sleep, or we’re late for work, or behind on a project. Brown writes, “Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem…Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking.”
All too often, our self-worth is attached to what we achieve, produce, or accumulate. Our fix is to work harder. And we do. Americans work more hours now than at any other point in our country’s history. (For a preview of what may lie ahead, look at Japan, where they are literally dying from overwork. Termed karoshi, it’s inspired a national health campaign.)
We’ve heard repeatedly that more work doesn’t bring happiness. Study after study shows that money, after getting above the line of self-sufficiency, does not improve life satisfaction. Fulfilling relationships, doing for others, a well-rounded life, and creative outlets all do.
Yet busyness lures us. A fellow entrepreneur and I were talking about this very topic, and pondering how much is enough. She shared this sentiment and it stuck for me: “the work is infinite, but your time is finite.” The tension between what you can do and what you should do will never go away, only your mindset can change.
So how do you determine when to be satisfied? Here’s what been helpful for me.
- Set an intention of enough. When you find yourself clamoring for the next promotion, sending one more email, or bringing on another client, make sure you’re doing it for positive reasons and not from a place of scarcity. It’s easy to mindlessly go through the motions without thinking through the outcomes. For every action, there’s a reaction — so choose wisely.
- When in doubt about an action, ask yourself: “For the sake of what?” This is a powerful question that forces us to examine the root causes of our behavior. With my coaching clients and myself, I’m amazed at how often the answer is: I have no idea.
- Have a regular personal strategy session to determine your goals for your career and your goals for your life. This doesn’t have to be an expansive process — one hour of thoughtful reflection can do wonders. Just be sure to hold this time at least once every year. We are often in complete conflict, i.e. I want to make double the money and have a more fulfilling family life. When you line them up, the contrast can be stark.
All this being said, I’m still glad I have a fire in my belly about my work and my life. Yet, I know for certain that there’s good ambition and unhealthy ambition. I’m still striving, but striving to stay on ambition’s good side.
How do you determine how much is enough? Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
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