The idea of minimalism really resonates with me. I’m not sure why I find it so appealing, except that I’ve never really been a big one for “stuff”, and it seems to generally cause more trouble than it’s worth. But here’s the deal: it’s not the stuff itself that’s the problem. It’s the attitude that the stuff is necessary for happiness. That we have to own as much stuff as the next guy in order to prove that we’re as successful. And sometimes we adopt the same attitude with other things in our lives as well. I need to have not just the stuff, but the prestige, the house, the location, perfect body, the whatever. And we even compare ourselves to others in completely abstract ways. I need to be the most minimalist minimalist, the most eco-minded eco-warrior, the most successful, the most surviviest, whatever draws you.
Whatever things or accomplishments we want, we’re never going to be satisfied until we’ve got enough. The problem comes in when we inappropriately define “enough”. If it’s always more than what we have, we’ll never reach it. While I’m not sure I want to pledge to not buy new clothes for a year, this post from Becoming Minimalist really points out our difficulties with contentment.
It might seem like I post on contentment a lot, and I guess I do. Part of it may be because I struggle with it myself. But part of it is because I think this is one of the biggest problems in western society. We are never satisfied with what we have, because instead of seeing how much more we have than others, we look at those who have more than us. This applies to belongings, homes, cars, spouses, just about everything. Even primarily internal things (like wanting to be more minimalist) can become an issue if we allow ourselves to become discontent with the level that we’ve reached.
Now I’m not encouraging a sense of complacency, either. We should be striving to improve ourselves where we can. The problem occurs when we start beating ourselves up about what we haven’t yet achieved, instead of seeing how far we’ve come. This can happen in any endeavor. We can’t be proud of the 10 lbs we’ve lost, because we have another X lbs we want to lose. We can’t be pleased with the progress, because we haven’t reached the goal. This is why it’s recommended to break a large goal down into multiple smaller ones, that way we can celebrate the little accomplishments on the way to the big one.
But here’s the crux of the matter, and I know I keep harping on this, but I think it bears repeating (because I know I need to hear it continually): We need to stop comparing ourselves to others. I can’t be the best you; I can only be the best me. You can’t be the best me; you can only be the best you. It has taken me about 40 years to realize the truth of this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to constantly remind myself. I have to be happy with the baby steps that I’m capable of taking today, knowing that even if I’m not speeding towards my goal, at least I’m making progress in the right direction.
So today I want to encourage you. Don’t look around; look at yourself. Don’t agonize about how much farther you have to go until you’ve achieved success (no matter what the goal is); look into your own past and see how much progress you’ve made. If you feel like you’re not heading in the direction of your goals, make the necessary course corrections. Go back to school, take on an apprenticeship, ask for on-the-job training, join a gym, find a co-conspirator working toward the same goal, whatever will help you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. And celebrate the tiniest successes. No matter how slow your progress seems, it’s still progress. Keep on keepin’ on.