Personal development

The Art of Balancing Your Attitude

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

“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.

Peter writes about how to change your life at The Change Blog. He is also the author of Starting a Blog and Audio Book Downloads.

  • “Success follows doing what you want to do. There is no other way to be successful.” – Malcolm Forbes

  • One of the best things I’ve ever done to achieve a balanced state of happiness like you suggest in your article is to set goals that I know will be totally fun and enjoyable to achieve. The end results matter, of course, since I’m always aiming for something, but even if I don’t quite hit the target, I know the entire process was an amazing ride to be on! 😛

    I’ve heard of that ‘FISH! Philsophy’ and have seen it around here in several settings, but I wonder how effective it really is?

  • So true! You’ve got me really thinking about times in my life when I unknowingly used the Fish Philosophy to get through bad times when I couldn’t escape them for one reason or another until the timing was right. In those cases, I believe the Fish Philosophy saved my life.

    For example, as soon as my family came to the U.S. when I was 5 years old, they turned to me and relied on me for so many things (because I learned English very quickly and because I was the oldest child and we were dirt poor) that I didn’t feel I could NOT help them. Both my parents were working hard, so I didn’t mind making the sacrifices — even though my mom physically abused the living tar out of me about once a week. I didn’t know there was any other way.

    Then, as our financial situation got better over the years, I couldn’t help but notice that my parents continued to demand all my spare time to help them with their work, housework, and gardening while they found time to relax and enjoy their leisure activities. Unfair? I thought so. Did I want to leave? Many, many times I fantasized about running away or even killing myself because on top of all this my mom continued to beat me mercilessly — though the frequency of the most serious knock-down, drag-around beatings dropped to about once a month. And, my dad for the most part let her.

    So, why didn’t I leave? My three younger sisters. I shielded my mom’s attempts to beat them with my own body, redirecting her fury onto me whenever I could. I never fought back. I was totally brainwashed to never lift a finger against my parents. But, luckily my sisters were not such dutiful daughters. There finally came the day when one of them threw a heavy metal chair at my mom in self defense. It missed her, but she got scared enough to stop physically abusing us. So, why didn’t I leave after my mom stopped doing that? Because: (1) her emotional and mental abuse never stopped; and (2) if I left, my sisters would have to do all the work that was required of me and I felt guilty about abandoning them to both those things.

    What I’m trying to say is that the Fish Philosophy made all those years tolerable in that my “cheer” was my conviction that I was somehow saving my sisters from my parents (and saving my parents from each other b/c their own nightmarishly blooding fights is another story). But, I wonder if I should have left all that craziness a lot earlier than starting to pull myself away from it in my late 20s and dragging out that process until my late 30s — especially when all my sisters were grown up, done with college and still as needy as ever.

    I should have abandoned Fish Philosophy as soon as I realized this, but I didn’t. Habit and a misguided sense of loyalty to family, I guess. Anyhow, thanks for a great post and reminding me to stay alert to the need to balance my own happiness/satisfaction into the mix!

  • Great well written article giving people a philosophy on the actions of their life.

    Small World Great Minds

  • So true! Success requires one foot in the present and one foot in the future. If you stay in a bad situation, make you know why and that it’s a good reason. Have a plan to eventually get out and into a better situation. It’s easier to endure anything if you know you’re taking steps to get yourself out someday. Thanks for the great post!

  • Great article Peter, thanks. I think the corollary to Don’t Settle is Don’t Leap Too Soon. I come across a lot of people professionally who look for the slightest reason to leave a job without giving it a genuine go. They are often lured by the notion that the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. Talking with them later it seems it rarely is.

    This is in part because there is no such thing as a perfect employer or job, if we’re honest with ourselves. There will always be things that bother us and things that please us. The art is in periodically assessing the balance between the two and, for me, as long as the pleasing things remain in the majority then I stay. I say to people that I have been with my current employer for the length of time I have “not because I’m too lazy to leave but because it continues to work for me”. It’s an active decision and it’s definitely a balance.



  • Dom

    Very good article.

    I believe you can see the consequences of not having this outlook very quickly in the realm of sports. It’s important to remember the big picture, but yet maintain yourself in the present. How many times have we heard of the all-star team who gets beat by the underdog? Too many times to count.

    Not only that, if a team or athlete continually looks into the future, but neglects the present, they miss the small, important steps to bigger and better things.

    Again, great article. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Hi Peter,

    Down to earth philosophy!

    I believe finding your purpose in life is the key to achieve this balance between the present and the future.

    Knowing your purpose and living it everyday will bring joy to the present as well as hope for a bright future.

    The first, and most important, step towards success is to put yourself on the RIGHT track. When you do that you can easily balance and CHOOSE your attitude.

    Tohami, “The Success Pharaoh”

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  • Enjoyed the article. If we all learned to be happy in the now – while striving for a better future, the world would be a nicer place.

  • That was a great article – simple and to the point. Thanks for sharing it around!

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