About a year ago, I saw a friend of mine.
He was dissatisfied.
He’d built a successful company but hadn’t been able to sell it.
He wanted to make some money.
He wanted the things successful people have.
He wanted a house abroad.
But he couldn’t sell his company, so he didn’t have any of those things.
Which is why he was dissatisfied.
Last week I saw him again.
He’d managed to sell his company.
He’d made a lot of money.
He’d bought a beautiful house in France, with lots of land.
But now he had something else to be dissatisfied about.
He couldn’t see why he was working so hard for someone else.
He didn’t see the point anymore.
He wasn’t sure if he should pack it all in and quit the rat race.
Work on the land, be self-sufficient.
He was dissatisfied.
Which seems to be the human condition.
We’re dissatisfied about something.
Everything would be alright if only we could fix it.
So we fix it.
But everything isn’t alright.
Because now we have to find something else to be dissatisfied about.
I think this is because we’ve all bought the Hollywood myth.
That dissatisfaction is a good thing.
We need dissatisfaction because it’s what drives us to succeed.
We think, if we stop being dissatisfied we’ll stop trying.
So we hang on to our dissatisfaction like a security blanket.
It’s what’s known in America as ‘The Protestant Ethic’.
Too much enjoyment is a bad thing.
Which means we’d feel guilty if we were satisfied.
So we have dissatisfaction built into our core.
Like a neurosis.
It’s always at the back of our minds.
If we get satisfied we’ll get lazy.
Because dissatisfaction is the motor that drives us to succeed.
That’s what the myth tells us.
But I’m not sure that’s true.
Don’t get me wrong.
I love to work.
At least, I love the work I do.
And I assume there are other people who love the work they do too.
But working because you love it is very different to working from fear.
Working from fear is similar to living from fear.
Being frightened about what you’re missing out on.
What should you be doing that you aren’t?
Should you be working harder, making more money?
Or should you be having more fun, more parties, more sex?
Or should you be meditating on a mountaintop in India?
Whatever you should be doing, this can’t be it.
Well, one thing is certain.
While we’re wondering about all these things, we’re not doing them.
And we’re also not enjoying what we are doing.
So we’re creating dissatisfaction without satisfying it.
Is that sensible?
How about looking at it this way.
That dissatisfaction is just random input that we have to deal with.
We deal with random input all the time.
Fear of the dark.
Fear of hospitals.
Fear of failure.
Fear of looking stupid.
This dissatisfaction is just another one of those.
In Singapore they have a Chinese expression for it, “Kia Soo”.
It means “Fear of missing out.”
That’s what runs most people’s lives.
Fear of missing out on what someone else might have.
Fear that someone may get something you didn’t.
These are the people who are rushing everywhere.
That push in front of you in a queue, on the tube, or the bus.
Cut in front of you in a traffic jam.
People who are driven by insecurity, dissatisfaction.
So here’s the paradox.
We choose to feel dissatisfied.
Then we feel bad about being dissatisfied.
How much sense does that make?
Surely, if we buy the myth that dissatisfaction is the motor for achievement, then we should feel good about being dissatisfied.
If we don’t buy that myth, why do we choose to feel dissatisfied?
That way we can only end up like my friend.
Constantly dissatisfied about being dissatisfied.