I laughed as the soupy concoction of milk and eggs bubbled and fizzed in the pan. An ever-expanding white foam, my experiment was likely to be a culinary failure and a personal victory.
I’m like a small child in the kitchen. I had no idea what would happen if I poured milk into a pan of frying eggs, but I liked both ingredients individually, so why not mixed?
Katia came to my rescue, turning the fluffy clouds of milk-egg into something resembling food.
I may not be a master chef, but I’m no stranger to achievement. In my 25 years on this planet I have been extremely blessed. I have played soccer, chess and guitar at a high level. I ran a marathon (without training), thrived in advanced mathematics classes, learned French, learned to memorize a deck of cards in under 2 hours, and am traveling the world doing something I love.
For me, the secret sauce to having success in life and enjoying it immensely – to simultaneously be thrilled with where and what I’m done yet be able to doggedly pursue new ambitions – is to strike a good balance between different varieties of experience.
We can broadly categorize these into two categories: depth and breadth.
To reach our full potential, learn faster, and unlock more opportunities it’s important to have both breadth: a wide variety of experiences, and depth: mastery and wisdom gained within a single type of experience.
In fact, it’s the gathering of wisdom in multiple modes of experience and then making connections between them that seems to truly enrich our lives. This is where we can create systems of knowledge in our mind that lead to more achievement, greater creativity, and deeper insight.
For instance, I have been learning Russian, and Katia and I are undertaking a challenge where we speak almost exclusively Russian – save for critical exchanges of information and explanations of words or phrases.
And I noticed something exceptionally interesting.
That, the more I learned in Russian, the less I could notice my success and the more I felt I struggled. In fact, on the second day of our challenge, I felt I had regressed.
Yet this was not at all the case – at least according to the native Russian speaker who could recognize such a thing.
And analytically, I knew this to be true as well. I had a wider vocabulary, recognized certain words quicker, and understood rapid speech more clearly. Yet it didn’t feel like progress.
Because in any part of our life, when we have too many things to keep track of, individual things become hard – if not impossible – to appreciate.
When all I could say was “I’m hungry”, “Where’s the toilet”, “How do you feel?” and similar simple phrases, every time I was able to use one successfully resonated. I was so limited that I was able to notice and appreciate every single time I succeeded.
Later, having command of hundreds of words and thus 1000s upon 1000s of possible combinations, such success came so often that each individual one became insignificant.
Instead, the things I couldn’t say became much more obvious.
So even though I was progressing, it appeared like I was regressing.
Which is a lesson that’s remarkably applicable to our normal lives.
We tend to go through life measuring our success by how much stuff we’ve accumulated or how much we’ve accomplished – a “having” mode of living.
And yet we end up focusing on all the things we don’t have, instead of appreciating what we do.
Could this be a symptom of actually having too much?
In addition to learning Russian, I’ve also been traveling out of my backpack these last 11 months. I went from having a ton of stuff to only how much I could carry (actually, not even that much, as my bag wasn’t full).
And now I appreciate everything own. Heck, for the first time in my life, I know everything I own. I can actually name each item.
It seems like when we have a lot, it’s impossible to keep track of it all and it becomes ever easier to see the things we lack.
This is no way to achieve happiness. We can never have everything, and focusing on the things that are missing robs us of any opportunity to be satisfied with the present.
Learning Russian and noticing this happen with my language skills, to feel the sensation of regression when I was actually progressing, made me realize that when this process occurs elsewhere in our lives it’s often beyond our control. It’s a subconscious process in our minds.
The idea that we need more is actually a completely natural and logical one. Just like I needed more vocabulary or skill constructing phrases, we can easily feel the need to earn more, own more, and accomplish more.
We need to counter these thoughts with a recognition, understanding, and acceptance of where we are right now.
Particularly, to cultivate the feeling that we are already in a place where we deserve to feel good about ourselves.
That, while it’s okay to pursue the allures of “more”, we can’t do so with the notion that this will make us finally deserving of our own acceptance.
We can always have more.
And we can always lose it.
The only way to be enough, or to feel like we have enough, is to realize that we are enough as-is. A-priori.
That all the external stuff really has nothing to do with us. It most certainly doesn’t reflect our value as human beings.
That’s why I’m a fan of the income limit and other tools that help us define for ourselves how much is enough. It can be difficult to be that specific, but it’s even more difficult not to be and feel like we’re constantly chasing a moving target.
Slow down. Do less. Feel more.
As soon as we are enough, we’ll realize that we have enough.
As for specific techniques, I’ve written about many of my favorites that should help build a strong foundation for your happiness skyscraper:
But remember, if you want the results – you have to put in the effort. I can give you the recipe, but you’ve got to get in the kitchen and start cooking. And on that note, I really must be going, I think I hear the macaroni screaming.