Balancing Happiness and Ambition

It’s simpler than it sounds.

Photo by Joseph Costa on Unsplash

I wonder what jealousy feels like. Never felt it in my life. It’s just not me. I don’t look at people and feel bad for not having what they have. I’ll think about how to get my own version of what they have. I’ll even think about clubbing them on the head and stealing theirs, if I have to. But I never feel bad when they have something I don’t. Because no matter how smart, talented, pretty, or skilled they are, I know there’s dirt under the rug. I mean, I’m a perfect example of this.

On the surface, I’ve got it all. Money. Youth. Time. Strength. Opportunities. I know people want to be me — they’ve told me so. But that doesn’t make me feel good. In fact, it makes me uneasy. Because no one knows about the monstrous parts of me that make this all possible. They say that behind every great man is an even greater woman. But all I see behind me is a killer. A savage. A madman. Sure, I can get things done. But at the end of the day, who am I? What am I capable of? Do I even want to be me? I’m not sure.

That’s the funny thing about climbing the ladder, isn’t it? You have to strike a balance between staying happy — because that’s ostensibly what you want in the long run — and staying hungry — so you keep climbing up the ladder. But it’s easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle. Striking a balance between content and ambitious? That’s the problem of a lifetime. At least, that’s what I thought. Until I fixed it by accident.

I love this solution so much because anyone can do it. No matter how much or how little you have. Here’s how I discovered it: I was cleaning up my browser tabs one morning before work, when a YouTube thumbnail caught my eye. It was a new video from one of the small YouTubers I follow, a girl from Russia named Polina. The video was an honest expression of uncertainty. She was concerned for her future. Trapped in the dead end system that kids in her environment usually settle into as they grow up. As a fellow creative who grew up in another dead-end country, I empathized with her plight. But more importantly, I was committed to help.

Because this was a chance to make a difference in my own special way. After all, it’s the same problem I once conquered myself. Thus I have a duty to do what I can. To help others through the same thing. Besides, few people break through this wall at all. Leaving your country to explore the world as a kid? Not trivial. I had to give this girl the best fighting chance possible.

So on that very day, I reached out to Polina. Conveyed my appreciation. Pledged my service. And to my great surprise, she replied. A couple conversations later, I’m set to become one of her first patrons. With luck, I’ll be supporting her on her journey of exploring the world, honing her craft, and making movies. But what does this have to do with balance? Well, this is the solution. The best way to stay happy while fighting in perpetuity is to plant someone else’s flag on every inch of ground you gain. Generosity is the answer.

I can’t explain why that is. I can’t explain why this rejuvenates me so. Objectively, it’s risky. Objectively, it makes no sense. Everyone I’ve told has asked, “But what do you get out of this?” In fact, Polina herself once asked me the same thing. And yet this feels like the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life. It won’t be the biggest sacrifice I make. It won’t be the greatest show of compassion, either. But remember, this is someone I’ve never met. At the time of writing, she doesn’t even know my last name. We’re not family. Previously, we weren’t even friends. So I have no obligation to do this. And yet I reached out and made it happen, anyway. That’s why I think it’s significant: It’s absolutely intentional.

And there you have it. Not the answer you were looking for, but I promise you, it works. I’ve been a fighter all my life. That’s why I’ve won so much. But at the end of the day, every fighter needs something to fight for. That’s my greatest asset: A reason to break all my teeth and come back, smiling. And you can’t imagine how wide I’m smiling now that I finally have something greater than myself to fight for.

Trading bot engineer, songwriter, sponsor of artists. <mika@myika.co>

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