Contentment vs. Complacency: How to Be Happy While Grinding Towards Success

The people are focusing on the wrong part of ambition: the results.


Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 5 min read

Is ambition a curse? In the famous play “Julius Caesar” by Shakespeare, ambition is described as a “serpent’s egg, which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous — and kill him in the shell.” Brutus and the other conspirators believed that people with too much ambition will never be satisfied: they’ll always want more. And ultimately Caesar was killed because of this belief.

But if ambition is a curse, what about people like Larry Page or Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey? These people are all extremely ambitious, and yet they are some of the most admired people in the world. Are these people cursed by ambition? The difference is in perspective.

Ambitious people who think that ambition is a curse portray themselves as some hopeless/valiant hero striving towards an impossible goal. They view success as some far-off goal which they are destined to spend their life working towards. These kinds of people are usually miserable. They are focusing on the wrong part of ambition: the results. They think that ambition is a curse because those results will never be achieved. And because they are so focused on those far-off results, because they think ambition is a curse, they are never happy with what they have.

Everyone with ambition has struggled with this. They get so caught up in their grand, idealistic dreams that they can’t be happy with their seemingly dingy state of survival right now. So how can we, as ambitious people, overcome this curse of ambition and stay happy in the present?

How can you appreciate the beauty of life if you’re only focused on the end of the path? Take a look at the beautiful scenery around you, and enjoy the journey!

Focus on the journey: on the path to that ambiguous, uniquely-individual thing called success. For example, don’t spend time day-dreaming about what your glorious success will look like in the future (something I sometimes struggle with). Instead, focus on the small manageable steps that you can take in order to reach success. Take pride in the small projects you’ve made and the interesting people you’ve met with. Know that results are temporary and instead focus on doing all the things you can while you still can. Be content, not complacent.


Ambitious people understand that they can never be complacent. If they’re really trying to achieve that unachievable goal, they will always have to be moving, always changing. Take Jeff Bezos. He left his high-salary, finance job to work in a little office and start Amazon. He was not afraid of letting go of his safety-nets, and instead worked to create the future that he wanted to live. Even though many people would be happy with that high-salary, finance job, it was not enough for Bezos and he was not afraid of acting so. Even after he created Amazon, Bezos was not complacent, continuing to improve it and improve it and never having a Day 2 mindset.

As soon as anyone say to themselves, “OK, I feel like I’ve done enough; I’ll just sit and relax on my bum in my 54 million dollar private island for the rest of my life” they have stripped themselves of any ambition they previously had. Complacent means you’re ok with just enough. You’ll be “happy” in the job that pays just enough, in a house that’s just enough, with friends that are just enough. Being complacent means you’re too scared to try and improve the situation in which you live, maybe too scared to even think about doing so.


This quote by Oprah Winfrey really sums up complacency vs. contentment

On the other hand, being content means being truly happy with what you have. You’re happy with the job that you have, the house that you own, the friends that you talk to, while still striving to make them better. Contentment does not conflict with ambition. Just because you are thankful for what you have does not mean that you can strive to take more.

These ambitious people who think ambition is a curse, and are thus cursed by it — the people who view ambition as a destination and not a journey — are not content. And when I’m talking about “these ambitious people” I’m talking about you. About me. We all need to learn to embrace contentment to overcome this curse of ambition and reach happiness.

So how? Down below, I have a list of high-level action items and resources we can all go through and practice in order to be content.

High-Level Action Items for Contentment:

  • Practice Gratitude everyday. Put aside a little section in your daily journal where you list the things you were grateful for that day. Gratitude is so important because it reminds the brain what it has to be happy about (and there are a lot). By reminding yourself about all the things that already make you happy, you can be content with your current self while still striving towards a greater future. Gratitude does not conflict with ambition because ambition is more about the future while gratitude is about the present.
  • Don’t think of results. Don’t think “When I get … I’ll be happy.” Practice living in the moment and focusing on the journey.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Life is a single-player game. Your success is different from the success of other people. Your journey will not be the same as the millions of others out there.
  • Help others. When you help people, you’re really helping yourself. You’re subconsciously telling yourself the type of person to be and the type of person not to be. And you grow as fast as the people you help grow.
  • Keep on growing. Build action plans for how you can reach your full potential. Never stop moving, never stop changing. Don’t be complacent. Here’s an article I wrote on finding your direction and working towards it.

So after learning contentment while still honing your ambition, what will your life look like? Well, I can’t say for sure but I can imagine that first you will be a lot happier. Contentment is literally defined as being happy with what you have! The trick, however, is being happy with what you have while still having the desire for more. This statement seems like a paradox, but, in reality, it’s not. You can be content with what you have while still grinding everyday towards a better future for yourself and others. Contentment is about being happy in the now. Ambition is about your path in the future.

This article was originally published by Kevin wang on medium.


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