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Irons in the fire: Unsatisfied contentment

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 23 February 2018

Hard though it may be to believe, I am not the most tech-savvy guy crashing and burning his way along the information superhighway.

I’m not a complete dolt when it comes to modern gadgets, but you can see the lights of Idiot City from my front porch. I remember boarding a plane just a couple of years ago with a friend of mine who wanted the flight attendant to give me a special commendation during her pre-flight spiel because I had managed to use my new smartphone to retrieve my boarding pass. It was new territory for me.

If ever I text in a public place, a crowd gathers to watch the master idiot at work. I can only seem to make it work with the one-finger method. Speed and dexterity are not the hallmarks of my texting show.

It’s been a while now, but when my two youngest sons needed a cheap ego boost or a good laugh, they’d con me into playing Madden or Y2K NCAA Basketball or some race car game on PlayStation or X-Box or whatever infernal gaming system contraption thing they had.

I just never have been able to get the hang of mastering the controllers. It seems my problem is keeping the darn thing steady and avoiding massive overcorrection. If I drove like that down the freeway, I’d be constantly bouncing from rumble strip to guardrail, passing the middle of the road with regularity but never spending much travel time there.

I once worked with a guy who was an overachieving demon. He’d known a few failures but, with each one, he’d bounce back with ever more zeal in whatever his new venture might be. He was handy with a horse and a rope and had won and lost more than one fortune through a variety of endeavors. He was a classic “type A personality” who was never complacent and seldom at rest. I always admired his drive and tenacity.

A common theme in many of our conversations seemed to center around the dichotomy between the will to constantly strive for higher achievement and the idea of contentment. He seemed to believe the two to be mutually exclusive.

And, based on the merits of his successes, he made a convincing case. He’d often point to some mutual acquaintance or other and note how, if that certain individual had more spit and fire and determination, he could be a lot more successful or wealthy, or famous or popular, or whatever … instead, he seemed to be content with his situation. Then he’d add, in true George Costanza form, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

For years, I’ve pondered and struggled with the sibling boulders of contentment and achievement, and my juxtaposition between the two. When I look back on my 21-year-old self and the goals and visions that bounced around in my head, I am acutely aware I’m not in exactly the place I had planned to be – in some ways, that is.

In other ways, I may, in fact, be far beyond the mark for which I had initially aimed. I’m probably not too different from a good share of the earth’s population, bouncing from one side of the road to the other as we speed and stumble down life’s at once treacherous and sublime trail.

I’ve found the one right answer – several times. And it’s never been the same answer. And it’s probably never really been the right answer but neither has it necessarily been the wrong answer. Although the middle of that road is always in sight, it is ever so elusive. Why else would the ideal show steer stand at 37 inches tall and 900 pounds in 1958; yet the same ideal steer in 1979 was nearly 6 feet tall. The middle of that road has been crossed over several times in the past few decades.

My current position on the matter is: I’m striving for a state of unsatisfied contentment. I like contentment. It feels good. But if contentment leads to complacency, and complacency leads to idleness, then that is a road to nowhere, or somewhere even worse, if you know what I mean.

So for now, at least for the record, I’ll try to be content with my trajectory toward mediocre greatness.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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