Rate of Change, Part 1: Contentment

I started March out with great ambitions and plans, all of which I have failed at. I’ve been thinking about that failure and how to adjust–either my plans or my behavior. I started, but never finished, a blog post about those goals. It said:

The fact that these goals continued to come up as two things I wanted to do and deciding that I would commit the time and resources to doing them are two very different things. In addition, they are frequently at odds with one another, especially when fit in around established goals like maintaining a happy family life and supporting it through growing a new business. In fact those established goals could take all of my time if I allowed them to. I’ve alternatively viewed additional goals as selfish or as sanity-retention. I’m still not sure which they are.

Here I am two weeks later and not only did I not make any progress on either of those goals, but I’m doing less work towards them than I did in February, when I was just flirting with them while going about my everyday life. Always the armchair psychologist, I want to figure out why.

A Tale of Two Bike Commutes

When I bike commute to work–and my car battery died while we were in Oklahoma so I’ve taken it as opportunity to force the habit–I normally take one of two routes. One route involves riding down two of the most affluent streets in Dallas. A quick survey on Zillow indicates a median home price north of one million dollars. The other route (just a handful of blocks to the southeast) takes me through a more economically depressed and ethnically diverse part of town.

When riding the former route I frequently wonder, “What do these people do to make so much money?” One time I arrived home and announced to Carissa, “I have a new goal to be eccentric and work from our house on Swiss.”

The latter route inspires me to be happy with less. I see people outside of their homes, talking with their neighbors. Old men give me puzzled looks from their front porch chairs. There are run-down houses and cluttered lawns, but there are also properties that are meticulously maintained. They communicate a level of care that doesn’t rely on financial agency. They have local markets they walk to. Their children play up and down the street. One time I arrived home and told Carissa, “All the stuff new urbanists are trying to create, these people have!”

While I covet the resources, space and comfort on display along the “rich” route, something deeper calls from the alternate.


I’ve always struggled with the balance between contentment and drive. I spent so much of my life discontent and striving towards some unknowable happiness that when I arrived at it I didn’t know what to do. More recent events then threw all ideas about contentment and happiness–or even trust in a higher purpose–to the wind.

But lately I have felt like I’m getting closer to this content-but-improving way-of-being. I’ve always admired people who seem totally content and yet continue to work hard and produce amazing things or live notable lives. Wayne Coyne comes to mind. I love the documentary Fearless Freaks mostly because it highlights so clearly the character qualities he has that have made him so successful–mostly the ability and willingness to consistently work hard over a long period of time. My recent post about Stephen Wolfram’s personal data tracking also accents these qualities of hard work and consistency.

This was originally going to be one post, but as it became longer and longer I decided to break it up. Hopefully I continue with the rest of it. Next up: Industry.

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