The investor Warren Buffet says, “The key to a great marriage is low expectations.”
I’m ambitious. I want to achieve great things in life. I have achieved great things in life — I’ve published two books, spoken at TEDx, built my own side business — but every time I reach a new “milestone” I celebrate it for abouttwo minutes and the I’m onto the next mission or goal.
It reminds me of two separate stories about ambition.
First, there’s the beggar’s bowl story (I’m going to butcher it, but bare with me):
A king encounters a peasant who has an empty bowl. The king asks the peasant what he desires. The peasant tells the king that fulfilling his desires isn’t possible. The king, being the king, says “nonsense! Wish for it and I will give it to you.” The peasant tells the king to think twice about his decision.
The confident King ignores his warning and orders the peasant to ask for what he wants.
The beggar has a simple request — fill the bowl.
First the king has one of his assistants fill the bowl with money. The money disappears and the bowl remains empty. The king orders the assistant to fill it with more…and more…and more…
Eventually, a crowd starts to form around the king and the peasant.
Now the King is in front of a large crowd with his reputation on the line.
The king throws more treasures into the bowl — jewels, golden coins, diamonds, everything.
Blinded by pride, the king eventually throws everything he owns into the bowl, to find it remains empty.
The king acquiesces to defeat and asks the peasant the secret behind this magical bowl. The peasant replies “Simple. It’s filled with human desire.”
A rich entrepreneur is on vacation on an island. He encounters a fisherman who spends his days fishing for a few hours, then enjoys the rest of his day playing his guitar and spending time with friends and family.
The entrepreneur notices the fisherman and tells him his fishing skills could be turned into a lucrative business.
The fisherman asks him why he should want to do that.
The entrepreneur explains that with the quality of fish in the area and the fisherman’s skills, he could expand his one-boat small time operation into a giant empire and sell the business for millions.
The fisherman asks “what’s next after that?”
The entrepreneur explains that then the fisherman would have free time to do whatever he wants.
I think of these stories when my ambition gets the best of me.
Happiness is a state of mind.
When you make a million dollars, the million dollars doesn’t change the way you feel about your life, you do.
You simply attribute it to the million.
In my latest book I talk about recreating your value systems from the ones society places on you to ones you develop yourself. I think the best you can hope for in terms of maximizing your happiness is finding out who you want to be, what you value, and what brings you joy in the moment, regardless of the results.
I admit, I still find myself attached to outcomes, because I’m human, but I try to revert back to the things I value most like:
- Creativity — Any day I get to create something is a great day. I try to write everyday, exercise my brain, and distill my thoughts. It’s like therapy for me.
- Impact — I feel great when I’m able to have an impact on others. When people reach out to me and tell me how something I wrote or said in a speech inspired them, the feeling I get from it is irreplaceable.
- Knowing — Knowing that I followed through makes me happy regardless of the results. I crossed writing books off my bucket list. I’ve spoken on stage in front of 1,000 + people. I pushed past my comfort zone andcompleted. There’s so much peace in not having to wonder “what if.”
The overarching theme I use to maximize my happiness is tying my well being to my effort, not the results.
Happiness comes from meeting expectations. If your expectations are about things you can’t control, you’ll suffer. I do suffer from this at times. If your expectations involve things you can control, you have control over your happiness.
Humans have both types of expectations. Unless you’re a hardcore Buddhist, you’re not going to remove your desire for the external completely.
Do your best to tip the scales toward expectations involving your actions, and the external outcomes you want usually come anyway as a result.
If you’re interested in reinventing yourself into a person with new and better values, you should learn more about my book here, because it’s awesome.