The Bait

Here in North America, at least in recent generations, we have been told that just about anything is possible. You really can be an astronaut if you put your mind to it. So, you think you can dance? Well, get yourself on national television and strut your stuff. We always think that there is something better for us just around the corner. This can be motivating, but it also have a detrimental impact on your life too.

Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize

Well-defined goals certainly have their value. They can empower you with a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. You have a reason to be doing the things that you are doing, because they are leading to something greater. You’re waking up for those early morning practices, because you might may be able to make it to the big leagues some day. You study extra hard for all those exams and you stay up all night writing those essays, because that college diploma offers so much promise and possibility.

And that all sounds great. However, how many times have we had the experience of being disappointed when we actually get the reward for all that hard work? You save for ages so that you can buy that new iPad, you get a honeymoon period where you fall in love with all its features, and then the poor tablet starts to collect dust in the corner… because now you have your eyes on another prize.

“I’ll Be Happy When…”

During my senior year of high school, I experienced my fair share of the typical teenage angst. I felt like I was missing this or missing that from my life. I told myself that I’d be happy when I had a “real” job outside of the family business. I told myself that I’d be happy when I had a steady girlfriend. I told myself that I’d be happy when I had a car to drive around town.

And in a span of a few months, I managed to get all those things. I wasn’t unhappy, per se, but I still felt there were many missing pieces to the puzzle. Later on in life, I told myself that I’d be happy when I moved out. I told myself that I’d be happy when I made a career for myself, bought a home, or got married. And while I again got all those things, I still felt incomplete. There was always the thought in the back of my mind that things could be better.

The problem with “I’ll be happy when” kind of thinking is that it limits your ability to be happy now. Sooner or later, we learn that incentives can be counter-productive sometimes and it has never been about grabbing the carrot dangling on a string at the end of a stick. Life isn’t a race. You don’t really want to be the first one to the finish line.

Cherish the Past, Live in the Present, Plan for the Future

So, what does this all mean? Should we all just give up and settle for a life of mediocrity?

I’m not so sure. What I can tell you is that I will try to shift my perspective on what life is and what it should be. I will try to discard the “I’ll be happy when” mindset and be grateful for what I have earned already and what I do have right now. We should still have a sense of purpose and we should still make appropriate plans for tomorrow, but don’t forget to smell the roses today… even if you still see that carrot just beyond reach.