How to Be Happier With What You Have

What do you want? And why?

Welcome to One Thing Better. Each week, the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine (that's me) shares one way to be happier and more effective at work — and build a career or company you love.

This edition is sponsored by ZeroBounce, which helps you earn more money with email marketing. Scroll down to learn more.

Today’s one thing: Wanting to have something.

That one thing, better: Having something you want.

Made with DALL-E

You want something badly.

You work hard for it. You sacrifice for it. You long for it. You obsess over it.

So here’s a question that might jolt you:

What if you already have it?

This might not sound true. But stay with it a moment. Because the answer could change how you feel — and the decisions you make next.

To start, I’ll share how this revelation impacted an old colleague of mine... and how it changed my own work too.

What do you really want?

Earlier this year, I heard from an old colleague named Shawn. He had a question: How can he make more money?

His career path was not lucrative, and now he’s in his 40s and feeling bad about it. He dreams of earning $100,000, and wanted to know: What could he do differently? 

I brought him onto my podcast, where my cohost Nicole Lapin and I offered some ideas to earn more. Shawn said he’d pursue them — and he did!

But a month later, he wrote me with a surprising revelation: “Now I realize I am content to work very hard, and to be very dedicated at my job, and to maybe not make $100K.”

Why? Because when he began pursuing what he thought he wanted, he realized what he actually wanted… and what he already had.

It’s time for you to do that too.

The four questions that matter

I have four questions for you to answer. But let’s start with just two:

1. What do you want? 

2. Why do you want it? 

These feel related, but they might not be.

To show how, I’ll give you my answers:

1. What do I want? To create a livelihood fueled by my own ideas, and to own as much of that work as possible.

2. Why do I want it? Full autonomy of my time.

I’ve been using that phrase for a while now — full autonomy of my time. It’s given me a sense of purpose.

I said it to a friend recently. She asked, “What does full autonomy of your time actually look like?” So I described my vision: working on things I love, controlling the flow of my day, traveling a lot...

“But isn’t that what you already do?” she said.

This stopped me cold. I’d never thought of it this way. Instead, I kept thinking about my work as a kind of tension: I have things I own (like this newsletter) and things I don’t own (like Entrepreneur magazine). And this means I own some of my time, but not all of it.

But my friend helped realize: There’s less tension here than I thought.

If time is important to me, then I have already built a career with that in mind. Sure, not every minute of my day is joyful, but nobody can claim that anyway.

This revelation doesn’t change my larger goals. I still want to build things for myself! But it helped me appreciate what I have, which is calming and helps me make more rational decisions.

The point is: When we are overly focused on what we want, we overlook what we have — which means we can’t make the best use of it.

Now it’s time for all four questions

Above, I gave you two questions. Now I’ll repeat them, but add two more — to help you go through the journey I did: 

1. What do you want?

2. Why do you want it?

3. What does it look like to have that?

4. Do you already have it?

When you ask yourself these questions, you clarify the things you’re really working towards. Maybe it isn’t about money or status. Maybe it’s something more elemental.

This is what my old colleague Shawn discovered, after Nicole and I gave him some new ideas to make money.

He spoke with his boss. He started plotting them out. But then he started to consider the implications.

This new stuff would take time. Shawn knows what that’s like — he spent a decade working 70-hour workdays! Now he’s married, and he values spending time with friends and family, and taking care of his health.

“I am in a spot in my life and career that I am not sure I want to make many more commitments,” he told me.

Shawn thought he wanted money. Then he realized he wanted a happy lifestyle... and he already has it.

“I am choosing the imperfection caused by making less money over the imperfection of negative health and less free time,” Shawn wrote. “And I am completely fine with that.”

Those are beautiful words.

Our own perfect imperfection

Would Shawn appreciate more money? Sure. Would I appreciate more downtime? Yeah.

But life is not about achieving perfection. It is about, as Shawn wrote, choosing the best imperfections.

Please understand: This is not me telling you to settle. It’s also not me telling you that ambition is bad. You want something? Go get it. I sure will.

Instead, this is about being fair to ourselves… and clarifying what we’re really working towards.

Maybe you work hard because you want validation — but you are overlooking the validation you’ve already earned.

Maybe you have doubts about a relationship you’re in — but you’re not accounting for all the ways in which it makes you feel good.

We will always have things to strive for, and we should! But we do ourselves a disservice by imagining ourselves at the starting line — as if everything we have, or everything we’ve accomplished, does not factor into what we want next.

You are not at the starting line — in your personal or professional life. You are many paces ahead. You have already achieved some (or more?) of what you want. Your next decisions should be informed by that.

Do not beat yourself up because you’re halfway there. Instead, stand atop your accomplishments. You have good things in your life, and you worked hard to get them, and that is worth something. So enjoy them. Appreciate them. You earned it. And you can always add to them later.

That’s how to do one thing better.

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P.S. Miss last week’s newsletter? It was about how to stop comparing yourself to others who “work harder”. Read!

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