“Naught’s had, all’s spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.”
—Shakespeare in Macbeth
I’m Successful, Now What?
There’s an old cartoon that is one of my favorites….its a drawing of a dog who’s sitting with his tail in his mouth and a book in his hands. The title of his book is: “So, you’ve caught your tail. Now what?” The fact that the dog had to consult this manual about what to do next, now that his tail has finally been caught, is a direct indication that “Naught has been had, all had been spent and his desire was got without content.” In a letter to H.G. Well, William James wondered why he was so obsessed with “that great devil-goddess success.” And, you’d think once we achieved that ever elusive goal, that we’d be happy about it.
The Pursuit of Happiness
This is, of course, the horrible lot in life for not only some dogs, but for the group of people we call the “Career Malcontents.” They’re never happy with what they have, and once they achieve what they thought would finally make them happy…..well, they aren’t. Why, you ask? One reason might be in line with Michelangelo’s theory: “Sometimes I think the happiness of man lies in pursuing, not in possessing. For the things possessed lose half their value.”
Are you a Career Malcontent?
Here are a few theories as to why Career Malcontents are not happy with what they’ve accomplished:
1) Sometimes they’re stuck because they lack the talent and skills for their ‘real’ dream job. If their current career is their third or fourth choice, you can imagine the crushing disappointment they must feel. Even if they are successful, it will never be their ideal career.
2) They set high standards for themselves and the fact that their own expectations cannot be met is frustrating to them—to the point where it sours their lives.
3) They set high goals for themselves, knowing they can never attain them, but they use that self-imposed ‘failure’ as an excuse for never accomplishing anything.
4) They like attention so they play the role of the victim who never has any breaks or never has anything good happen to him/her. The attention they get from sympathy and being malcontented is much better than any kudos they could get if they were happy and successful.
5) They don’t know what they want from life. They set goals that are not true to who they really are, and when those goals are attained, it feels hollow and unsatisfying.
6) They might have attention deficit disorder and might get bored easily, thus needing to be dissatisfied with everything so they can feed their cravings for change.
7) They might fear failure, fear change or fear success—never being satisfied is a protection from all 3 because always “chasing your tail” means the end never comes, thus failure or success or whatever you fear never happens.
8) They might not be prepared for the truth. The truth being any combination of lots of variables. Such as, the truth about my plans for the future might be skewed and unrealistic so when I get close to achieving my goal, I suddenly realize I don’t want this goal after all. It wasn’t realistic or I learned something along the way that makes this goal unattractive. And, like the dog in the cartoon, I’m asking myself NOW WHAT??? Even worse, I feel like Naught’s Had and All’s Spent FOR NOTHING!!
9) Related to, and a continuation of #8, is what Shakespeare referred to “Dwelling in Doubtful Joy”—Let’s say you catch your tail after decades of trying. You realize its no big deal, in fact you hate the way it tastes and you can’t even remember why you started chasing after this goal in the first place. So, since it took so long to accomplish this feat, you pretend to be happy and gratified. All the while, you’re scanning the horizon for the next ‘big thing.’
10) Career Malcontents are rarely in it for themselves. They’re following someone else’s dream or obeying someone else’s direction. Like Johhny, who’s going to medical school because his parents are both M.D.’s.
Case Study: Marvelous Marvis
Marvis was a quintessential chaser of his own tail. He was highly disorganized, highly charged with energy, had a short attention span, had a low threshold for boredom, and had a lot of creative ideas. He was the Career Malcontent’s Perfect Storm! During the 16 years I knew him, he had 5 patented inventions, 10 start-up companies (that all failed), 6 careers–which included 9 jobs, and 3 wives!
His theme song was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” His favorite book was The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow because it’s about a person like him, who is constantly on an odyssey to find himself. In fact, there is a quote in the book that reads, “I know I longed very much, but I didn’t understand for what.” That was Marvis.
The fact is Marvis caught his tail hundreds of times, and most people thought he was successful. But he never knew what to do once he reached his goals. He didn’t have a plan for himself—he operated by the READY, FIRE, AIM principle. He believed that the goal was the thrill of the chase or the rush of adrenaline once the result was obtained. And he never learned that the TRUE goal is knowing wthe targets you’ve set are fulfilling in some way. He never took time to aim, he was in constant rapid-fire mode.
Forget the Pursuit: How to Attain Happiness
Here is how Marvis plans to find satisfaction and fulfillment in his career:
1) He is going to do what HE wants to do. He not going to follow advice from some half-baked acquaintance or take direction from one of his 3 ex-wives.
2) He’s going to stop “Dwelling in Doubtful Joy” and stop pretending that his career is satisfying and that he is happy. He’s going to cut his losses and move on.
3) He’s going to set realistic goals for himself. He’s going to carefully establish plans that meet his skill level, his financial limitations, and his time constraints.
4) He is not going to fear success. More importantly, he is not going to fear being committed to one career or one idea.
5) He is going to select a career goal that highly interests him, thus eliminating his fear of boredom. In the past, he used distractions such as constant busywork to keep him from getting bored; but he was never interested in what he did.
6) He’s going to crawl before he runs. His career path will begin with a job that might not be ideal, but it will lead him towards his long-term dream.
Of course, success isn’t guaranteed for Marvis, but if/when he does catch his tail, he’ll now know exactly what to do next!