The Life-Changing Magic of Having ‘Enough’
What would happen if we stopped constantly lifting our eyes to the next target?
My dream was to write one book. A real, published book. For years, that was my vision of success.
It took a long apprenticeship, but it happened. I sold my first book at age 25. And then, almost immediately, it became clear in my mind that — you know what? — real success is writing a bestselling book. Before I could pin up the first newspaper clipping about my debut title, I started writing a proposal for my next one.
I wanted to be a millionaire. Did it. I wanted to buy my own home. Did that, too. Then, when I found my dream house, I remember thinking, “If I can just get this, I’ll have everything I want.” A year later, I was ripping out the floors and remodeling the whole thing because I craved something better.
Looking back, it’s hard to say whether the proper response to all this is pride or exhaustion.
Austrian writer Stefan Zweig tells us, “History relates no instance in which a conqueror has been surfeited with conquests.” The human mind, our drive to acquire, is insidious, moving the goalpost as soon as we approach it — or sometimes before we’ve even seen it.
Evolutionarily, this makes sense. Humans have always pushed for more. It’s how our species soldiers on. But is ceaseless yearning the path to happiness? Is it a necessity for creating great work? I’m not so sure.
The writers Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five) and Joseph Heller (Catch-22) were at a glamorous party outside New York City. Standing in the palatial second home of the billionaire host, Vonnegut began to needle his friend. He described the exchange in a poem published in the New Yorker in 2005:
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money than your novel Catch-22
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got…