DO: Be satisfied and happy.
DOO-DOO: Climb the “ladder of success” to be satisfied and happy.
I love telling people I was a pole-vaulter in high school. There is something about watching the immediate “I call bullshit” laugh slowly fade into a hesitant, skeptical “Oh, I think he might be serious” look and eventually settle in a social squirm of the body and tongue. “That’s surprising — wait, not surprising. Well it’s not surprising that you were a pole-vaulter, just that — pole vaulting, huh? That’s cool…I’m going to leave now.”
What I don’t tell them is that I wasn’t a very good pole-vaulter at all. The only reason I was on the team was because it was a “no-cuts” team. Apparently there’s no track event where even a 5-foot, 100-pound noodle of a person has a disadvantage.
It wasn’t just physical stature that kept me from being a star athlete. I lacked the attitude as well (along with everything else that makes someone a star athlete). All the best athletes have this no-nonsense, never-satisfied mentality that drives them to the highest level of success. I don’t know what you would classify my specific mentality as, but I got disqualified from competition for wearing a cape. (Twice).
I had friends on the team who were real track stars. They were the athletes that got to stand on the podium in the middle of the field at the end of the track meet. They were the athletes that got their pictures in the paper. They were the athletes that every parent was secretly watching when they were supposed to be videotaping their own kid.
But more often than not, they were the athletes that left every meet disappointed and discontent. No matter how fast they ran, they could always go faster. No matter how high they jumped, the bar would always be set higher. Winning the race, clearing the bar or wearing the gold was no longer enough.
I think there is a similar mindset at Stanford, a campus full of overachievers so competent at overachieving that we make it look like regular achieving. We wrap our identity and our worth in our accomplishments.
“It’s not enough to just be a doctor, I need to be going to the number one medical school.” “It’s not enough to just be a student, I need to be starting dozens of clubs while juggling 20 units and a dance team.” Nobody is saying this out loud, but everyone is saying this in one way or another.
This raises the most important question anyone will ever ask you. (Bold. Arrogant. Probably incorrect, but now you’re paying attention.) What is enough? What accomplishment or status, once yours, will leave you completely satisfied? If you don’t know what is enough, you’ll never know when you reach it.
I’m learning that it is a dangerous myth to believe ultimate satisfaction exists at the top of the ladder of success. It’s a dangerous myth to believe there is a top to reach.
I spent my first week this quarter planning out my classes so I could graduate two quarters early. I thought that the sooner I got out of Stanford, the sooner I could get to LA and start working in the film industry. Once I had a job or sold a script, I would be happy; that would be enough. And in that first week, I was completely miserable. I can’t see the future, but I can only imagine that even if everything went as planned and I reached that level of “enough,” it would not be enough.
The more I focused on everything I hadn’t accomplished, the smaller and more worthless I felt. The more I viewed contentment and satisfaction as something to be attained in the future, the less I was able to see it around me in the present. From personal experience, I’ve learned that the quickest way to curb the unquenchable thirst for success is with gratitude and humility. Recently, I’ve been trying to focus and be thankful for the things I have and the opportunities I’ve been given. When I lose sight of what I have, I get bogged down by everything I don’t have. But when I focus on what I already have, I find it tends to be enough.
I never really cared how well I did in track, and I loved every second of it.
If you sucked at sports too, then why not email Chase at ninjaish(at)stanford.edu?