i remember the first time i thought i was supposed to have my life together. i was a fifteen year old sophomore in high school; running track, acting in plays, getting grades that were up to par and overall pretty successful to the casual passerby. the problem lies right there, though. to myself i was far from successful. growing up as a kid who didn’t have as much as my peers, i was always hungry for more. constantly seeking out opportunities to step up to the next level. it quickly consumed me and became all i could think about; get better. “better” was the part that turned my childhood desire into a nightmarish roller coaster. what was better? how would i know if i was getting better?
most people associate wealth and status with being “better”. when someone is acting “better” than you they are looking down on you as if they sit higher on the food chain. i latched on to this ideal and took off running with it. if i was going to be better i had to have more status, more wealth, more things that other people would desire. this drive even got me complimented and people told me i had what a lot of people lacked: ambition. i was ambitious and insatiable. everyone applauded the way I would go after everything without giving a second thought and it felt good for a while; not only was i getting more status but everyone was praising me for it. one day however, i fell seriously ill. pain seared through my entire being and moving even hurt. shortly after this i was in and out of the hospital for about a month while they ran tests on me trying to figure out what was going on with me. during this time period i was seriously restricted on what i was able to do. my ambition had been blocked by a wall of sickness and weakness that was unlike me.
the days i spent laying in different hospital beds gave me time to think and find clarity. once i had stopped going after all of those things that i thought i wanted, i realized: a) I WAS EXHAUSTED b) i hadn’t slept well in a while and c) i was actually having way more fun just laying down and talking with my family. to be honest, at first, i panicked. i dreaded the thought that i could be okay not wanting more; this was something i feared more than failure…being content. content meant that i didn’t want anything else and i was just happy with the way things were; in my head that translated to always being that little boy who couldn’t keep up with his peers. it’s like that bed and those feelings were a time machine that brought me right back to the beginning and in that machine i felt stuck. as the days progressed in that bed, though the time machine moved forward, for the first time i actually sat and watched everything i'd been through and overcome. then, suddenly it dawned on me — being content with where you are doesn’t mean you don’t care about the future or that you’re stuck in the past, but that you’ve actually soaked in and recognize everything that you’ve been through and can say you are proud of it all. that’s what it means to be content. so when i finally rose out of that bed i was content with my past but ready to go after the future with ambition; i could look back and be content.
now that was fifteen year old me. twenty two year old has lived a few years longer and even with that epiphany, has struggled with this balance. it is so easy to fall back into the rhythm of letting your ambition cover your eyes to the blessings and success around you. through seven years it may not have always been a hospital bed — it may have been a unwanted grade, a probation, unemployment, or a whole slew of other things, but something always forces me to ground myself and look back. it’s hard for us to find that balance between ambition and contentment because society often forces us to view one as good and the other as evil. the reality of it though, is that if you’re never content your ambition will lead you blindly into your own destruction. so don’t be like me — trust and believe hospitals are not fun and those robes are actually very drafty. trade in the hospital bed for brunch with a friend or even a walk by yourself and find that contentment. i promise you, your ambition will not be far behind.