Saturday, February 2, 2013

Contentment: You Get What You Need


No matter how you plan and try, life never works out the way you thought it would. And that's what makes it so fascinating.

Some time ago I was talking with my friend Hammockman on the topic of planning for security later in life. What he observed is that it doesn't pay to plan excessively because things will never work out the way we think. Security is all an illusion, he said. And I agree with him.

I don't make new year resolutions any longer, but I do find that the beginning of a new year is a good time to think about what I can focus on that will be meaningful to me in the year ahead. I have found that if I keep moving toward what gives a sense of purpose to my life and eliminate all that is unnecessary and distracting, although I may not get what I want (in the words of the Rolling Stones song), I get what I need.

For example, for decades I thought I would live out my life in Juneau, Alaska, living in the old wood-frame gold miner's house I owned on Starr Hill. I couldn't imagine spending my days anywhere else. However I pursued my interests, and eventually landed in Yucatán, a region that in important ways resembles the Alaska of my childhood, an Alaska that barely exists any more. I maintain strong ties with my roots, but am happy in this new place.

I never imagined that career ambition and "accomplishment" would seem so unimportant. In fact, I've come to view much of what I once would have considered constructive or successful as precisely the opposite.

I would not have guessed that I'd be interested in agriculture, but now find myself fascinated by planting and growing things (not to mention eating what I produce).

I find meaning in dealing well with the most difficult problems. I never imagined I would have the capacity to be so patient.

I love people and love life in ways and with an intensity I had never expected would be possible.

I believe my best years are ahead of me. That is because I accept that we can't know what to expect, and therefore I feel prepared for whatever happens. I feel a steady force pulling me towards a future that is satisfying and meaningful.

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need



If this topic interests you, I recommend this thought-provoking book.


26 comments:

  1. Well put..... I find a combo of strategic planning and serendipidity works well 4 me. Opens up all kinds of options you'd never have previously considered. Good perspective in this post and thanks. Who'd have thought you'd find old Alaska in a flat, tropical peninsula in latinolandia?

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    1. I agree, planning is necessary, but you can't put all your eggs in one basket. Flexibility really helps.

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  2. Excellent. And inspirational. Oddly enough, I do feel that there's a grand life ahead of me. Just working on getting through some sadness and loss and onward. Thanks for the reminder that life doesn't end just because it changes (drastically) from the one I'd expected.

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    1. There's great meaning in doing your best, and doing it with dignity in adverse circumstances. I think you've done admirably, Lynette. When enough time has passed that is something you will be able to look back on with a feeling of peace and without regret.

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  3. Your comments strike a chord as I strive to be more mindful and appreciative of everything. I have been planning a move to the Manzanillo area for nearly 17 years and am now close to finishing the "professional" chapter of my life. I hope to achieve a similar contentment with the remaining time I have. Ron

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    1. Ron, I've found that the most important things are to simplify as much as practical, and to be open to what comes.

      I think that life gets better when you get off the work treadmill...as long as you can find something new to do that is meaningful to you.

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  4. I enjoyed your post Marc, but I can't get that Stones song out of my head. I went around at work today singing "You can't always get what you 'wawnt', which elicited some strange looks from my co-workers!

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    1. Monday you can sing, "You just maaahhht faaahhnd, ya git what-cha neeeeeeeeeed!" Maybe they'll like that.

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  5. Yes, yes you do. Every time I start to fret about where my next mortgage payment is going to come from, along comes another photo shoot, or new client, and I can keep walking forward. It's been a tough few years, but every time I had need, it was somehow met. I would like to live in a place where growing things is a reality 12 months a year. One of these days I may get there, hammock in hand.

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    1. It is amazing how things work out, especially when you keep focused on what's really important. I've had several friends in business comment to me much the way you have. One told me of a couple of instances in which he had enormous payments looming, and each time when he began to get really concerned about what he was going to do, a new contract or new project materialized just in time to keep things going.

      I'll loan you a hammock.

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  6. I've learned to live the Mexican way - one day at a time and in the moment!
    Me, the one who juggled all the balls, had three companies, and now isn't sure if or when she's leaving on a trip. That will be when I get the car loaded........ha. Life had turned out to be a delicious trip!

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  7. Yes, Marc, Viktor Frankl's book is truly amazing. (I should read it again.)

    There is some hubris in believing that we can know what will make us happy, especially if it entails "stuff". Simply looking in our own review mirror can be instructive in this department. (But I'll not lecture, as I certainly have too much stuff.) My approach has become simpler over the years: be a blessing today. It gets me out of myself. But there is some presumption that comes with this goal. Yet, we become what we pursue, I do think. ~eric.

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    1. I always think of the phrase "be the change you want to see in the world," pretty much the same thing.

      I always talk about simplifying, yet after having gone through a big simplification some time back find myself with "more" again. I'm working on it. Old habits...

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  8. Getting rid of stuff has been one of the most healing processes of my life. I almost feel like a new person. Ready to be reinvented. But always unplanned.

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    1. And I look forward to following the adventures of your next chapter.

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  9. Timely post for me Marc, and your link to the Frankl book is I think the fourth time this has been mentioned to me in recent weeks, a period when I have been stuck and struggling as never before. This latest hint I finally acted on, and ordered it for myself. Thanks!

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    1. It's a great book. That, along with "Walden" and a book called "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (get the 2008 or newer edition), were probably the three most influential things I read as I moved along this road. They work together nicely as a blueprint for a simpler, more focused and fuller life. There are many other good books on the theme, but these were my "big three."

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  10. I agree with you Marc. When I look back now I find that my priorities have changed radically since moving to Mexico. We really do live in the moment and don't think much about a future that is more than a week ahead. I find that it takes very little to satisfy my lifestyle and have no great ambitions or aspirations. I am content.

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    1. It's hard to live here with open eyes and ears, and not change. You and I are both examples of that.

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  11. Great book recommendation. I have another one for you: Happiness is a Choice by Barry Neil Kaufman. It is also excellent.

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  12. That's a most interesting post, Marc. I'm afraid that my studies missed the Frankl theory, so I appreciate the update.

    But let me suggest that your readers might also like the following interview with the author of "The Tenth of December", which is being raved about for insightful story-telling. Midway through the interview, the interviewee, George Saunders, describes his association with David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide.

    Although there is certainly a place for positive-thinking philosophies, I believe that they might at times cloud our visions to some real problems around us.

    This interview by Charlie Rose of George Saunders is a great favorite of mine:
    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12757

    (And here's a link about Wallace: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace)

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    1. Thanks, Alinde, I will take a look at this. I am always interested in learning more.

      The Frankl approach is far from a "positive thinking" philosophy. The first half of the book is a graphic first-hand account of the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. Frankl survived, and shares in the book what he learned about human nature in this struggle. He does not shy away from the ugly realities of life, in fact he advocates taking them on. However, he found that those who most successfully manage whatever happens in life are those who manage to find meaning, even in their suffering. I recommend that you read the book.

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  13. Thanks Marc, You can't even imagine how much I needed to read this... and take it to heart. I will save this blog and refer to it often!

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  14. I'm very happy it was useful to you.

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