Sunday, April 27, 2014


Contentment.  It's not something inherent in most humans I know and certainly isn't built into our culture.  Whether it's the newest gadget filled 600hp car, designer handbag or upscale material for a countertop we're all subject to desire for the fancy things our world tells us we need.  This desire usually doesn't stop at material items, our education and career systems are centered around progression and we put ourselves in debt up to our eyeballs to get a degree that for some results in years of stress through constantly striving for the next rung on the ladder.  Even in the spiritual realm there is temptation to compare yourself to others, how much they serve, what Biblical verses they can quote off the cuff, how many minutes they spend in prayer etc.

The dictionary definition of contentment is "a state of happiness and satisfaction." It's a conscious choice of these two things,  a fact proven by joyful people all over the world that most of us would consider poor and uneducated.  One of the most impactful commentaries I've heard on the subject was this sermon (which I need to save to my phone and listen to regularly).

To me contentment means being happy with who/where/what you are and the circumstances surrounding you.  The crux is, for people with obsessive tendencies like myself, the quest for contentment can drive us (and the people around us like our spouses) mad.  As I'm typing this actually I realized there's a fundamental problem with using "quest" and "contentment" in the same sentence implying that some action is required to be content thus showing how off base my thinking can be at times!  In fact, on many occasions I've managed to turn efforts at life improvement into things that destroyed contentment and my overall outlook, how's that for a paradox?

My questing for knowledge and understanding (sounds much better than obsessiveness) can be helpful (at least in my opinion) and the resulting detailed research has helped drive many decisions that otherwise may have fallen victim to indecision or incorrectly driven by emotion.  My internet history usually tells the story, page after page relating to whatever it is I'm on a quest for knowledge about.  On a side note, what the heck did we do before the internet?? I guess everyone was too busy plowing their fields and milking their cows for sustenance to worry about investment strategies and how many pounds of boost the stock bottom end of a Ford Festiva can take. Maybe I should find a time machine, a lack of research tools would certainly give me time to focus on other things...

Anyways, my current questing process is much the same but my focus has shifted over the years to things typically more useful for my current stage of life.  Don't get me wrong, Craigslist is still #1, but searches in the car section which in the past led to car forums, parts sites and sometimes a spreadsheet as an electronically built project came together now lead to evaluation of mpgs, cargo space and rear hip room on the quest to find a money saving driving appliance to haul the gang around in.  There was also the recent bender on investing (which also used to be a Craigslist-based activity that has become less profitable due to shifts in supply/demand of 20 year old Volvos), living in a world of value averaging, REITs, discount rates and the time value of money trying to get a phD in finance in a few days and driving myself nuts in the process. This endeavor also led to stressing about not having the capital to put newfound knowledge to work but that was probably for the best since it would be better to learn via funny money tracking on Etrade or Motley Fool than losing actual cash due to false confidence.  I did find some handy resources like ERE and the Mad Fientist that helped me realize that "early retirement" for me is looking more like "hopefully before I'm dead".

My latest craze has been career-related, stemming from prep for a mentor program at work.  A seemingly innocent "Mentee Prep Packet" led to career development questing--taking multiple personality tests, annoying my boss with questions about what he'd like me to achieve and what steps I should take to get there, reviewing my job matrix to see where I can improve (turns out at only 9mo into new role that's pretty much everything and I began to question if I was in the right place) etc.  Fortunately that was all short lived and interrupted by actual work needing to be done and in the end I realized I overkilled it (as usual), drove myself (and probably my wife) nuts (as usual), but I guess not my boss since my badge worked when I walked in the building Friday. I also came to the conclusion that I have a great team, lots of opportunity, management that has some level of confidence in me (we'll see if that backfires on them) and I have it pretty darn good.

I'm not sure what the takeaway or really the point of this post is (other than to maybe give myself a place to come back to for an occasional reminder) but I do know that when left unrestrained my questing can steer me away from my center, distract me from devotion and focus on my family, friends, job etc.  Ultimately, satisfaction and fulfillment only come from God, as I was reminded by this week's reading from Chuck Swindoll's Parenting: From Surviving to Thriving for our small group.  There's also a fine line between contentment and complacency and you have to know your inclinations to know which you need to be aware of at any given time.  For me, when find myself (or someone points it out for me) immersed in research on my phone 24/7, fodder for my Beer Me section being collected faster than usual or I find the need to zone out to TV to shut my mind off I know I need to step back, take a deep breath and enjoy my circumstances.  As the Strengths Finder says (might as well get some use out of that new knowledge), you have to know and focus on building your strengths and be aware of weaknesses and don't let em slow you down...

No comments:

Post a Comment