Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wanting More

One of the remarkable, long-term side-effects of using unhappiness as a motivator is the operational belief that wanting something other than what you have means that there is something wrong with what you do have

One partner decides to end a relationship and the other responds saying, "I don't understand. I though we were doing well together. I know we've got our challenges, but I thought that you loved me!"

An employee leaves a job and her boss says, "I'm surprised that you're leaving. I didn't know that you were unhappy here!"

After years of eating spaghetti for dinner every Wednesday night, a son suggests to his mother that it would be great to have sushi instead; the mother replies, "Sushi! You never said anything about liking sushi. I thought that you enjoyed my spaghetti!"

We seem to have this intrinsic belief that to want something other than what you have, you must actively not want what you do have.

Which Kid?
The other day, in Tough Questions, I mentioned that one of my favorite questions to ask parents is, "Who is your favorite child?"

The question almost never fails to elicit an array of responses, none of which is an answer to the question. If you really want to get to know someone, observing how he answers a questions can tell you so much more than the content of his answer.

I believe parents struggle with the which kid question because they believe that choosing a favored or favorite implies something unfavorable about the other child or children. For one to be "better", another must be "worse."

The impact of this kind of thinking (i.e., the selection of one implies something bad or wrong with the others) is subtle, pervasive and powerful.

I love competing. I love working with people who challenge me, who have skills I don't have, who can do what I do better than I can do it. I believe that competition keeps us strong and causes us to grow. I also find the absence competition (being challenged, stretching and growing, challenging others) to be boring. Over the years, my best friends have been the ones who have also been my strongest competitors, the most challenging.

Many people hate competition. They see it as something that causes undue pressure, stress and strife. They'll frequently ask, "Why do we have turn this into a competition?" or assert, "Having children compete puts too much pressure on them and undermines their self-esteem!"

In the end, as long as we have the simultaneous demand by two or more organisms for limited environmental resources (such as nutrients, living space, or light), we'll have competition. It's the nature of things. It's inevitable.

Everyday you encounter situations where there are fewer prizes (jobs, meals, university slots, apprenticeships, dollars, seats) than people who want those prizes. You can squeeze competition out of a system (a work environment, a school, a church), but it just makes that system vulnerable to other systems that foster internal competition.

So, the question is not "Shall I compete or not compete?"; the question is, "How can I compete in a manner that works for me?"

Loving Winners
It's not surprising that our attitudes towards competition are less than... err... could be... well... they suck.

Watching the Olympics with Iris, I listened to commentators use phrases like "That's going to hurt him", or "See how she landed! There's just no excuse for that!", or "That was just terrible, he should have...", while describing the performances of world-class athletes as they executed nearly impossible feats--feats that only a few people on the planet might even attempt.

Through the media, we're routinely exposed to extraordinary performances by athletes, musicians, and actors (with capabilities far beyond our own) accompanied by critiques that are derisive and degrading. Our perspectives have been skewed towards "what's wrong" with the performance. I've heard kids describe NBA basketball players with words like sucks and idiot.

Without even noticing it, most of us have replaced a love of competition with a love of winners. Perhaps many of us avoid and hate competition because we've never actually experienced it?

Wanting More
Lately, I've found myself wanting more from my relationships. It's taken a while for me to put my finger on it, because I was employing some of the same judgments that parents do when asked about their favorite kid.

I really enjoy talking with people and getting to understand them. I can spend an evening enthralled in what others might perceive as inane conversation simply because the topic of conversation has taken a backseat to the behaviors and beliefs of the person with whom I'm conversing. When you're curious about people, anyone can be interesting.

Lately though, I've become more and more attracted to people who are passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, open to change, strong in thought, and really good at what they do, particularly people who can do what they do better than I can do it.

I have so many friends who are loving, supportive and sweet people, but who lack passion and energy. They are who they are with little interest in growing or changing; they're not particularly good at reasoning or argument, and they're not particularly good at what they do. I've always been able to make our times together wonderful and interesting. But lately, I've been wanting more.

For years, I've spent evening after evening pursuing topics of interest to the people around me and I've loved it. But now there are topics that I really want to explore and discuss, topics that require background, explorations that require mental agility and well-performed leaps of logic, subjects that are easily taken personally. I've started introducing some of what's on my mind to others, only to spend hours in discussions that never get out of first gear, feeling as though I'm stuck in traffic.

There are many factors. Some friends have a hard time with conversations not about themselves. Others don't have the background or mental stamina to go where I want to go. And others, trying to support me, take offense on my behalf, completely derailing my train of thought and resulting in me helping them.

Every one of them is wonderful. Every one of them loves me. I love them.

And yet, I want more. And I've been judging myself for that.

On Sunday, I was sharing some of these thoughts with my amazing friend, Mark Kaufman. His sweet and well-intended response was, "Why can't you just decide to be happy with what you have?"

What's Next?
I had a boss who once told me, "Never take a job that you're qualified for. You'll be out of there in a few months."

I'm not sure where all this will lead me, but it feels really good to start to get clear on what's going on for me. I'd love to hear your thoughts and insights.

Happy Tuesday!


  1. Hee Teffy, (I'm smiling, because calling you this somehow reminds me of BW, who creates the most endearing names when he writes you!)

    "But now there are topics that I really want to explore and discuss, topics that require background, explorations that require mental agility and well-performed leaps of logic, subjects that are easily taken personally."

    Can you share with us specifics about the topics you like to explore in depth? And I would like to know what has caught you interest in specifically those topics. What is your intention for the exploration? Are there goals you would like to reach by exploring these subjects? What kind of support would you like exploring these subjects?

    I'm looking forward to your answers. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hey Mark,

    I think you didn't understand my question to you on Sunday. I didn't mean to imply that you should stay with what you have, I just wondered why you felt you had to be unhappy with it while looking for something better.

  3. Hey Mark,
    Thank you for your clarification. I'm pretty sure I wasn't feeling that I had to be unhappy with what I had until I found something better.

    However, I was definitely doing some unhappiness in the form of judging myself for wanting something better.

  4. Yo dude!
    Solid insight. And on the topic of insisting that those around you play up to your level, I am reminded of a story.
    Some thirty years ago I went white-water rafting through the Grand Canyon. Our guide explained to me that, while all the other companies that ran such excursions had to earn licences to operate from the government, there was one operator who had been granfathered in because she was one of the first to ever run the rapids on that river. Rather than employ fancy rafting techniques to navigate a least risk path through the rocks and water she would just tell her clients to stay low and hang on.
    One day, as the park rangers were fishing her and her tour group out of the river after they had capsized on the roiling river, she commented to one of the rescuers "Y'know, they just don't seem to hold on like they used to."

    Maybe you don't need to slow down the river to accommodate you companions, you can just fill your boat with higher performing riders.

    OK, I know you already knew that, but I do so love to tell that story!

    Happy Paddling!


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