Personal development can be confusing. One moment we’re told to think big, set goals and take action towards creating the future we desire. The next, we are told to live in the now and be thankful for what we have.
I have come to the belief that a key to being both happy and successful is a balanced attitude. This is an attitude where, for example, satisfaction and dissatisfaction co-exist. To better understand what I mean, lets look at an example where a balanced attitude is essential: work.
A Fishy Philosophy?
My first “proper job” out of university was in a call center for a large corporation (sidenote: you may be interested to learn How to Deal With Call Centers). It was here that I first heard about the “Fish Philosophy”. The following passage perhaps best encapsulates this philosophy:
“I heard shouting and turned to see a fish hurling through the air into a man’s arms. A cheer followed, and the fish was expertly wrapped and given to a laughing woman. I was laughing, too. I watched for fifteen minutes. The shouts, cheers, and laughing continued—mixed with flying fish. At the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington, it’s another day at work. We should all learn something from them.”
Now, let me state clearly here that I agree: there is something we can learn from these people. I have encountered many permanently cranky people in the workplace who would do well to take the Fish Philosophy on board. However, call me a cynic if you like, but I was always suspicious of the way in which this philosophy was promoted top down by a large corporation. Why? Because I see great danger in people tricking themselves into thinking they are in a good situation when that is not actually the case. The call center I worked in had some fantastic people and was often a surprisingly fun place to work, but strip those things away and what I (others’ experience may be different) had was an often stressful, and largely unfulfilling, job.
“Don’t settle”. Steve Jobs gave this advice in his Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005 (see video here), and it has stuck with me ever since. Implicit in this advice is that it is good to be dissatisfied with our work situation when that situation is not right for us. The word “dissatisfaction” has a very negative tone, but I would like to point out that dissatisfaction does not necessarily create unhappiness. In my experience, happiness is as much about stretching ourselves as it is about acceptance.
This brings me to an important point: when it comes to our career, it is critical to look ahead. It is only when we know where we want to be that we can then know what skills we should develop, knowledge we need to acquire and education/ training we should undertake.
The Need to Be Present
That being said, a common career mistake that I witness is not being present in the now. This can lead to two major problems: (1) unhappiness; and (2) poor work performance. As previously mentioned, it is important to consider the future. But we should not live in the future. If we are present in the moment, there is a far better likelihood we will experience the same happiness as those fisherman in the Pike Place Fish Market. The other danger of not being present is the potential for our work performance to be negatively affected. Ironically, in chasing our next promotion is it possible to neglect the very tasks that will guarantee success in our current job.
The Balanced Attitude
So far I have suggested that it is healthy to be both satisfied and dissatisfied. To accept the present and yet want more. If you remain unconvinced, it may be because such dualism is unfamiliar to you. I would point out, though, that in Eastern religion/ philosophy (in particular Taoism) it is understood that two opposites can exist in harmony and transmute into each other. Consider the Ying Yang symbol, which represents the two competing energies that are found in all things, but must be kept in balance. Excess of any one energy is harmful as it disrupts this balance.
Admittedly it is not always easy to balance our attitude, hence the title of this article referring to it as an “art”. But when we can keep two forces in balance, then we will have the perfect attitude with which to approach life.