The number one reason you’re not satisfied

Are you satisfied? People ask us this question all the time — waiters in restaurants, assistants in shops and, perhaps most usually, our loved ones when we’ve apparently done something wrong. But I’d like you to ask yourself this question today. Or more accurately, I’d like you to ask ‘Am I satisfied with my life?’ That is to say, all aspects of my life — relationships, career, wellbeing. From what I see all around me among my friends and family, I guess the answer for most will be ‘No’. One of these aspects (or maybe more) will probably not be where you’d like it to be. But just stop for a moment. Have you defined where you’d like each of these to be?

The traveller without a destination

Before I consider this further, I’m just going to tell a story. A typical modern woman, let’s call her Jane, decides she wants to go to France on holiday (pretty big country, but that’s as specific as Jane has decided to be). She turns up at the airport and says to the ticket sales assistant, “One ticket to France, please.” The sales assistant replies, “Where in France? I’m afraid we’ve got no flights to anywhere in France until tomorrow, when we have two flights to Paris.” Jane pauses, unsure what to do until the ticket sales assistant suggests, “If you want to go somewhere today, we’ve got some bargain $300 tickets left for Bogota.” Jane shrugs and says, “Hey, I didn’t want to go there, but, I’m here now and there’s a flight going, all right, give me a ticket.”

Jane’s on her flight to Bogota (which she didn’t want to take), obliviously enjoying some quality in-flight entertainment, when the pilot comes over the tannoy and says, “Sorry, folks. Colombian traffic control’s gone on strike so we’re going to have to land in Panama City.” Jane is royally annoyed, particularly for someone who didn’t really want to go to Bogota in the first place. Landed in Panama, she rushes around the airport trying to find a way to get to Bogota. I mean, she has to get there, right? A taxi driver offers $500 to take her and she agrees in a flood of relief and slaps down her money.

Once in Bogota, after an awful car journey, our intrepid traveller then struggles to find a hotel and eventually finds only the most expensive hotel in the city has space, a suite at $500 a night. She takes it, of course. It’s much more than she really needed but she really wants to be in Bogota, doesn’t she? If that’s the price to pay, then she’ll pay it. The receptionist then asks, “So, madam, what brings you to Bogota?” Jane pauses, racking her brain and then it hits her. “Hang on a second,” she exclaims, “I’ve just spent $1300 getting to Bogota and I didn’t event want to be here in the first place.”

You don’t really know what you want

This is a crazy story, isn’t it? No one would be that daft, would they? Yet, that’s what most of us are doing everyday. Pouring lots of money, time and / or effort in getting to a destination we didn’t want to get to anyway, but somebody (friends, family, the media) just happened to suggest. If Jane had said, “I want to go to Paris, because I’ve always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower,” (i.e. defined exactly what she wanted and why), she wouldn’t have been distracted by the ticket sales assistant’s offer of Bogota in the first place. Instead, if she had said, “OK, I’ll take a ticket to Paris and come back tomorrow,” she would have got where she wanted to go and without all the wasted investment of time, money and emotional strain.

And this brings me to my point: this is why we aren’t satisfied. We don’t take the time to consider what we actually want from our careers, our relationships and our wellbeing. Even if we do vaguely define these things, we rarely, if ever ask why. Instead, we go where people suggest or where we think other people think we should go. Once we get going, though, we convince ourselves these things are what we really want. And so, we go at these ‘goals’ full-pelt until one day we stop and ask, “Why am I not satisfied?”

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