The internal battle of being content vs. achieving more

This article is from our Weekly Scoop, a weekly email with tips and practical steps to help you achieve your business, career, and life goals. Click here to sign up and get exclusive strategy and talent content in your inbox every Wednesday morning.

[Written by Steve Van Remortel on August 19th, 2020]


“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” – Socrates

Are you content with where you are and what you’ve achieved, or are you longing to achieve more?

Many leaders struggle with this question, and to be honest with you, I’ve been wrestling with it myself.

This is an internal battle most of us face that comes to the surface in a leadership development process that looks to resolve our greatest challenges. It is a discussion I often have with other leaders. I am not suggesting I have it all figured out because that is far from the truth but let me share takeaways from these candid and vulnerable development sessions.

This conundrum of contentment versus wanting more is rarely discussed outside of our own minds because leaders do not want the negative perceptions that can come from either being too content or too discontented.

If I am a leader that is content, it may be perceived that I can’t motivate and lead the team because I am satisfied with where we are at.   If I want to achieve more, it can be perceived that money and success are more important than other priorities in life when in fact, the main reason I want more is for the other priorities in life, like my family.

It is one of those perceptions as a leader that others may get wrong regardless of where you are on the continuum.

When I say continuum, I see it similar to work-life balance. I am unsure what work-life balance exactly is, but I know I am conscious of moving toward a better balance. I think about contentment versus wanting more a lot to find that balance.

Contentment versus more is not about having more than someone else. That is envy, and any time spent on that is wasted energy. It is about being happy with where you are but also wanting to achieve more.

This is not an either-or decision, and I am not suggesting that you can’t have one without the other. We all want to be content, and at times we might find ourselves there. A sense of accomplishment in our life. And at other times, we may have a strong desire to achieve more and not feel guilty about that.

The irony is your drive to achieve more is what can help lead to that feeling of contentment.

What is important is that you are conscious of where you are on the continuum and thinking about whether it’s appropriate with where you currently are in your life.

One of the best places we can end up in this internal battle is to be content but always have a plan in place to achieve more. To be satisfied with where you are at but still have the next steps in place to accomplish your professional and personal goals.

To achieve that, like any significant task, break it down into incremental steps that allow you to see your progress:

  • On a scale of 1-10, (1 = completely content and 10 = focused only on wanting more) assess where you are on the continuum
  • Are you content with that number? (no pun intended). If not, where would you like it to be? 
  • Once you understand where you are at, you then can develop your plan to be more content and/or achieve more
  • Brainstorm a list of action plans that you can complete to bring that number closer to your goal
  • Now that your plan is in place make it a habit to consistently celebrate who you are and what you have achieved. That can be a fun objective for every weekend

Socrates may be right in that if we are not content now, we will never be. But the mindset I have experienced in successful leaders is to be content today for where we are at but have a plan to achieve more tomorrow. As you achieve more, the more content you will be. Those who plan – are content!