On Contentment

Settle in, kids, it's time for a story.

It's about a person who we'll call Schmeth. They spent the majority of the past year not working, recently moved to a different province, and have now started a new, casual job in ambulatory data collection. It's a job they did before and were very good at. It transpires that they still are, and, even better, their coworkers and management are very pleased to see them return.

Despite the job feeling very comfortable, Schmeth has already gotten the impression that they should try and get out of it as soon as possible because they're "so smart", "they could (should) do more", and "there's lots of postings right now."

Now, Schmeth is a little wary of these sentiments, since it was in fact a promotion from this job that led to a position which, while paying more and being more "prestigious", was a terrible fit for them and their skills, desires, sanity, etc. And really, what Schmeth wonders most is... why is it such a problem for them to feel content?

Surprise, it's me. And here's what I've learned from this.

Checking and choosing contentment

For me, contentment is feeling comfortable with where I am. It doesn't mean things won't change or I'm afraid of that happening. Rather, it's acknowledging and being grateful when things are good.

This doesn't mean I accept feeling content at face value. Why? Because I believe contentment is, by nature, transient, and should be experienced in an informed manner.

What if my contentment is actually causing other problems? I could be overlooking parts of the situation that will cause issues down the line. In the job example, being content in a job that's too niche or doesn't have portable skills might be a problem when I'm not longer content there. Because feeling content is relatively rare, it can be good enough to obscure those things.

On a related note, it's possible that my contentment is a default decision. Maybe I'm assuming where I am is the best place I deserve to be. Perhaps I'm basing that contentment on an expectation that change would always make things worse. If I'm content by default, that's indicative of a lack of desire to improve, change, or grow, and again, that'll be a problem when contentment fades.

Finally, perhaps my contentment isn't doing good things for me. If what I need most is to be under pressure and testing myself at all times, then a fairly routine job may not be meeting those needs. But if I have those impulses covered in other areas of my life (that don't depend on my making rent), maybe that routine, challenging enough job is exactly what's necessary. Either way, I need to examine what contentment is bringing to my life.

So what about other people?

If I've come to the point where I feel my contentment is genuine and good, there will inevitably be people who have a problem with it. Or have a problem with me not having a problem. There are lots of reasons for this.

They may simply not believe it's possible to be content. They can't know what your personal code is, or what you're dealing with, or any number of factors that influence your contentment. All they see is the outside. For all you know, they see a person in a job that's beneath them, and they think repeatedly mentioning your options will be empowering.

It's possible they fear the fact that you're content, especially if it's in a situation that's very far from their personal idea of good. If you can be content, what's wrong with them? That's a scary question to ask yourself. Again, they'll probably try and convince you that you haven't considered something important.

A very likely reason that these people probably aren't even aware of themselves is that our society prizes difficulty. If you have or are perceived to have certain abilities, then you should be challenging them at every turn. Related to this is a social value for hard work and career orientation. We're expected to centre our lives on the paid work we do, define ourselves by that title, and again, spend every moment in struggle to make the money that supports the linear life course we're prescribed.

This leads back to disbelief and fear because the idea that a person might not want to struggle in their work or do that work for recognition is a foreign one.

What would Schmeth do?

Given that this is my life at the current moment, here are the things I'm doing to preserve my contentment.

Verbally affirm it. Seriously. Not in an accusatory or pointed way, but by finding ways to show that I'm enjoying the work I do and I'm in the place I want to be.

Take suggestions with grace. In my case, I know that most of these people are in the "wanting to empower" camp, and I don't want to criticize their caring by disparaging how they show it. Let's just say I've said, "Thanks, I'll think about that." a LOT over this past week. ;)

Be thankful that you know yourself. When I compare how I feel now to how stressed, anxious, and insecure I felt when I took the "better" job as recommended... while it's true I'm only guaranteed full-time work this month (casual ongoing), right now I feel challenged but capable, I wake up knowing I'll do a good job and not be sick with stress, and I have time to do other work and enjoy the people in other parts of my life.

And that feels pretty darn content to me.

2017 Resolutions: 6 Month Check In, Part 1

Going Cruelty-Free: Part 2