Sunday, May 3, 2009


"Nobody ever got anywhere in the world by simply being content."

This quote is attributed to Louis L'Amour, a writer best known for his frontier adventure stories. From what I've read of Mr. L'Amour, he knew his share of hard times and adversity, and he certainly managed to rise above it and make a name for himself.

Mr. L'Amour is certainly worthy of admiration, and I think that most would agree with his philosophy. It suggests that we must constantly strive to improve our lives and ourselves. It warns against complacency and stagnation. We've heard the same sentiment expressed many times in other ways. "A rolling stone gathers no moss," as the saying goes.

The trouble with this philosophy, as I see it, is that it sets up its adherents for perpetual dissatisfaction. We can never be satisfied that our accomplishments are "good enough". The moment we do so, we are seen as quitters; lazy and lacking in ambition. No matter how much we have, no matter what we achieve, no matter how high we ascend the ladder, we must always reach for that next rung.

Is contentment really such a vice? Is it so wrong to be happy with our lives as they are, and not to want more? When do we relax, and just enjoy the fruits of our labors?

Recently, my brother-in-law suggested that I consider upgrading to a larger house. I live in an older three-bedroom bungalow, in a quiet suburban neighborhood. I like my house. There's plenty of room for my wife, my daughter and me. We have a small, one-car garage which suffices because we only have one car. There are things that I'd like to renovate or improve (we desperately need new kitchen cabinets) but I have absolutely no desire for a larger, more modern house. I'm happy here. This is good enough. I'm content. Should I feel guilty?

I'm a computer programmer/analyst by profession. I'm reasonably happy with my job. I enjoy my work, but I'm no workaholic. I put in my 40 hours a week and then I go home. I don't work a lot of extra hours unless it's absolutely necessary. I'm not working on any revolutionary inventions, I'll never be recognized as one of Canada's great writers (or even bloggers), I'll never find a cure for cancer and I'll never win nor even be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I'm just another cog in the wheel and, for the most part, I'm content to be so.

I believe that we can't all be great. The world needs its garbage collectors, its janitors, it's pizza delivery men and its insurance salesmen just as much as it needs its leaders, its rocket scientists and its visionaries. The wheel needs its cogs as much as it needs the engine that turns it.

I once heard a comedian (I forget which one) make the following observation. Did you ever notice that those people who claim to have lived before were always somebody famous? Everybody was once Caesar or Napoleon or Cleopatra. Nobody was ever the guy who used to clean the horse droppings off the streets in a previous life.

There's nothing wrong with striving to better ourselves, our lives or the world in which we live. I humbly suggest, though, that there's nothing wrong with being content with what we have either.

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